Everyone always raves about the street food in Portland, and for very good reason (see our 10 favorite carts here). But we wondered: what about Eugene? Is there any exciting street food happening in this college town just 100 miles south of Portland?
When we asked around the Eugene farmers' market, our new friend Thomas from Sweet Leaf Farm assured us that the city's very best cart is the Party Cart. It was like being invited to a party in a town where we didn't know anyone.
If you define "party" as a camper covered in fox paintings parked next to the Healthy Pet store off Friendly Street (could there be a better street for a party?), then yes, this is certainly a party.
Tiffany Norton and Mark Kosmicki started the Party Cart in April of 2011. The couple was tired of working at other restaurants and bakeries around town and wanted to breathe some new energy into the Eugene food scene. "Eugene would be better if everyone didn't move to Portland," said Mark. They considered moving too, but decided to stay. And they're quite ambitious for a little cart, changing the menu every week. "It's pretty nutbag of us," Mark said.
When we recently visited, it was "Greek Week" with a special menu composed by visiting chef, and a buddy of theirs, Alex Bourgidu formerly of Genoa in Portland. On the themed pop-up menu: watermelon salad with ricotta salata, green beans in tomato sauce with feta and oregano, zucchini and yogurt soup, lamb gyro with tzatziki on cart-made pitas, cabbage-wrapped dolmathes, octopus and skordalia, and semolina cake for dessert.
Ever had octopus from a cart? We hadn't either, but it was cooked as nicely as any restaurant could have done it: tender with some charred edges and drizzled with plenty of good olive oil.
Tiffany and Mark were able to take the week off while Alex was "rogue cheffin' it." Now that they're back in the cart kitchen, the rotating menu features deviled duck eggs, rockfish and shrimp soup with lemongrass and ginger, chile braised beef with heirloom soft polenta, and fried wheat berries.
But bigger picture, they plan to open a restaurant in Eugene. "We want to do it like Joe Beef with the menu in constant flux, and as much as we can will be sourced from Oregon."
The Party Cart
2777 Friendly Street, Eugene OR 97405 (map) Healthy Pet Parking Lot