The Best Lunch We Had in Portland: Lardo's Sandwiches + Sugar Cube's Sweets
"Eat your sandwiches from Lardo* then come get your sugar from me," said Kirsten Jensen from the window of her Sugar Cube trailer, parked in the same lot as Lardo. Once on wheels too, Lardo opened a brick-and-mortar this year and it doesn't get much better then eating one of their serious sandwiches, followed by an ice cream sandwich from Sugar Cube.
We listened to Kirsten, except we couldn't wait until dessert to try her Fizzy Lifting Drink: fresh ginger, plum drinking vinegar, salted plum "rocks" (that she buys at an Asian market), and ginger ale. It's exactly the tart, acidic, bubbly drink you need to cut these rich sandwiches.
Just look at that fried chicken. The boneless, skinless thigh meat is first buttermilk-brined overnight then rubbed in smoked paprika and garlic powder, then breaded and fried. Served cold, leftovers-style, the mighty hunk of chicken meat is still plenty juicy and tastes even better with Valentina hot sauce ("the Sriracha of Mexican food," as Max describes it) and creamy crumbles of Oregon blue cheese, Nueske's bacon, and mandoline-sliced-thin garlic dill pickles. It's one of those sandwiches where you're not entirely sure how to eat it, but then you just open wide and go for it.
The Cold-Fried Chicken Sandwich has been a staple on Lardo's chalkboard menu. We also tried the lamb special, deeply lamby after being slow-smoked for five to six hours. It's a baba ghanoush-like eggplant puree, fresh mint, meaty heirloom tomatoes from Groundwork Organics in Eugene, and goat cheese whipped with heavy cream, salt, pepper, and parmesan.
Lardo's chef-owner Rick Gencarelli is a Culinary Institute of America grad who's worked in kitchens in San Francisco, New York City, and a Vermont farm-inn-restaurant (the Inn at Shelburne Farms) but decided to move to Portland for the heck of it. "The best way to know Portland and for Portland to know him" was by opening a truck first, which he did in 2010, and now less than two years later, he's opened the new Lardo, a sandwich shop and bar with craft beers on tap and fun cocktails.
Rick says the "Pig Out" sign was somewhat inspired by this "Meat Dept." one at Olympic Provisions, the nearby salumeria. "The sign, the white subway tiles, the stools—it's all a mix of old and new at the same time."
It was now time to visit our pal Kirsten again for sandwiches of the sweet variety. She's been baking from her wee convection oven inside the trailer for four years ("it's insane, I agree!") and she recently published a cookbook. After studying pastry in Chicago, she started her "one-woman band" and you can't help but love this woman. She bakes soulful sweets, labels them with adorable signs, and serves them on vintage plateware.
How could we not get this Twisted Toll House Ice Cream Sando: it's two trailer-baked chocolate chip cookies studded with hazelnuts from the Freddy Guys orchard in Monmouth, Oregon, and a fat scoop of roasted banana ice cream with salted caramel in the middle. There are so many good things happening at once here: cookies, chocolate, Oregon-grown hazelnuts, roasted banana, ice cream, salted caramel...
But if that wasn't enough chocolate for you, get the Triple Threat Cookies. Triple chocolate chunk cookies baked with espresso and pecans smashing together a layer of silky, deeply chocolate ganache. You don't know where the chocolate cookie ends and the ganache begins, it's so decadently chocolaty with a coffee nuttiness and pecan nuggets.
"My friend dropped off some Italian plums," Kirsten said, pointing to the plum crostata on the glass display. This flaky, all-butter pastry was so good, it almost made Maggie cry (tears of joy).
We can't think of a better place to eat lunch in Portland. (And if vintage furniture is your thing, check out Lounge Lizard on the same block.)
Lardo + Sugar Cube
1212 SE Hawthorne Blvd, Portland OR 97214