Since I’m a self-professed “foodie” (not crazy about the term, though), I’m always on the lookout for the latest, hippest, trendiest eating joints in and around Portland. The places that locals rave about, and that the national media picks up on. So, when I saw an article on Bunk Sandwiches, a Portland hole-in-the-wall that had just been featured on The Food Network, I was intrigued. I’d heard of this place before – it consistently ranks up there on lists of the top local restaurants – and this article was a loving ode to their Cubano Sandwich. Apparently, the host of The Food Network’s “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” declared this sandwich, well, the best Cuban sandwich he ever ate. My curiosity now piqued, and with nothing better to do on a Thursday (my weekly batch of assigned articles complete), I punched the address into my trusty GPS and headed out to discover for myself whether this sandwich lived up to its hype.
Bunk Sandwiches is located on the east side of Portland, not the “sexy” part of town. It’s more industrial and working-class. The restaurant itself couldn’t be more unassuming if it tried. It’s one of those blink-and-you’ll-miss-it places; the most noticeable feature is a boxy air conditioner hanging out the window. But, in my experience, these sorts of places always have the best food, so I wasn’t worried at all.
I stepped inside to a dimly-lit shoebox-shaped room with a long counter, a scattering of tables, and a chalkboard menu. No need to even glance at it, though; I had come for the Cubano, and nothing else would do. I placed my order and grabbed a table. A couple of scary-looking guys were making sandwiches behind the counter. They looked like extras from The Sopranos and spoke in grunts and sidelong glances. All part of the ambiance, I told myself. Besides, they were wearing black t-shirts with white lettering that read BUNKITY BUNK BUNK. It’s hard to take guys dressed in attire like that too seriously. I got there around 11:30, which was the perfect time – within 15 minutes the lunch crowd had arrived en masse, with a line out the door.
My sandwich arrived on a plastic tray with a handful of potato chips that were almost an afterthought. The thing looked good, so I didn’t waste another second, and dove right in. Even though it’s a cliche, the Cubano was exploding with flavor. It was meaty and pickle-y and mustardy and cheesy and – quite honestly – one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever eaten. It was so good I wanted to lick my fingers afterwards. It was so good I did lick my fingers afterwards. The sandwich consisted of layers of ham, marinated pork belly, pickles, Swiss cheese, and mustard, all grilled to salty, briny perfection. Kudos to my BUNKITY BUNK BUNK gangster-slash-sandwichmeister. I can say that Bunk Sandwiches lives up to its hype!
Afterwards, I drove a few blocks to the Hawthorne District, a cool, laid-back, trendy east-side area of independent shops and restaurants popular with hipsters. There are “incense shops” and tattoo parlors mixed in with a Cold Stone Creamery, so it’s a pretty eclectic part of town. I always enjoy walking around there and browsing through some of the stores. I spent over an hour in a “vintage” store alone – I love poring over stuff like that. It’s like an antique shop but everything is from the 1970s and newer. Kitschy avocado green flour canisters, mushroom salt shakers, groovy lamps, that sort of stuff. I didn’t buy anything, but was tempted. I did pick up a couple of used albums from Jackpot Records (I love me some vinyl) before returning home. All in all, a great day.
Bunk Sandwiches got me to thinking. They’re exactly what we need more of: independent sandwich restaurants run by actual chefs, with an emphasis on high-quality and unique sandwich creations. Why should Subway and Quiznos get all the business for food that is, comparatively speaking, a huge step down in quality? I would much rather pay a little more (or a lot more – my sandwich and chips were $8, but hey, you only live once, right?) and support the local economy. Especially when the sandwich turns out to be one of the best I’ve ever had.
I can think of a few other Things We Need More Of, too. Lucky for you, I compiled a list.
- Independent sandwich restaurants run by actual chefs, with an emphasis on high-quality and unique sandwich creations. See above. All hail Bunk Sandwiches.
- Michael Keaton. I watched a Netflix movie a couple of nights ago called The Other Guys. Though Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg star, Michael Keaton has a major role, and when I saw him in the film, I realized it had been a long time since he’d appeared in anything. Michael Keaton was Batman, for crying out loud! And Mr. Mom. And Beetlejuice. (And Jack Frost, but we’ll overlook that one). Michael Keaton is hilarious and a great and versatile actor (not to mention one of Quentin Tarantino’s go-to guys). More Keaton, I implore you!
- Global cooling. This global-warming stuff is for the birds! Literally. It sure as hell isn’t for the polar bears or the glaciers. I’m tired of hearing how every year is the warmest on record – only to have the following year trump the previous one. If I owned stock in Hawaiian Tropic I might think otherwise, but I don’t, so I don’t. It pains me to see old weather records showing Portland used to get 20-30″ of snow every year; now we’re stuck with boring rain. I want to make a snowball and throw it at somebody, damn it!
- Billy Joel. Wherefore art thou, Piano Man? In the 70s and 80s, you ruled the airwaves. You even had that historical concert in the USSR in the midst of the Cold War. Then you decided to make classical music instead. Why?? Beethoven had his sonatas, but you, my friend, should stick to singing about uptown girls. It’s your bread ‘n butter, man. Besides, we have to endure way too much Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber these days. The world needs more soft rock with a slight edge that only Billy Joel can provide. We didn’t start the fire – but you did. Time to stoke those embers again; it’s been far too long since you’ve released new pop songs.
- Apple inventions. When it comes to groundbreaking products we can’t live without, Apple Computer is the undisputed king of new technology. The iMac changed the look and feel of personal computers. The iPod was an iNcredible iNvention that revolutionized music on the go. The iPhone showed us how much we all need smart phones. And the iPad is the coolest tablet since the stone ones Moses lugged around. iCan’t wait to see what Apple comes out with next!
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. And of course, I could come up with a list of Things We Need Less Of, but I’ll save that for a future post.