by Megan Giller | TexasMonthly.com
You’re walking through the east side. In front of you dashes a flannel-clad hipster, carrying recycling on the back of his bike. Suddenly he pulls over, to a food trailer park brimming with trucks featuring quirky names and colorful, kitschy exteriors. You’re in Austin, right? Not so fast. Let’s take a little field trip to Austin’s rainy sister city, Portland. Westward ho, my Texas friends!
I ventured on the Oregon trail last week to check out the scene, and oh, how the original traders and trekkers must have wished for such a manifest density of gourmet options. Like in our fair state, the food trucks there band together in trailer parks and city blocks, often in dizzying array, with their greasy Thai, grilled cheese, wienerschnitzel, doughy pie, you name it. But I found a lone trailer so good that I had to share with you.
PBJ’s is a modest-looking cart in the northwest part of Portland. But the gourmet peanut butter–inspired sandwiches they serve are hardly the snack some of us gobble in desperation. Instead, they are masterful grilled creations, made from scratch with the finest ingredients. In other words, PBJ’s takes to heart the song we all sang in preschool: “First you take the peanuts and you crush ‘em, you crush ‘em.” I hope you remember the rest. They certainly do, with homemade peanut and almond butters and other local ingredients, all of which won them second place at Portland’s third Eat Mobile food cart festival, in April 2010. In fact, the cart is doing so well that the owners are thinking of expanding to—you guessed it—Austin. As a completely obsessed peanut butter aficionado, I’d give my right arm to eat these transcendent sandwiches every day.
My favorite was the Spicy Thai, a savory sandwich with a spread of rich peanut butter, sriracha sauce, curry, a dash of orange marmalade, and a dotted layer of fresh basil leaves. Sure, it might sound strange, but the flavors worked to create a spicy and slightly sweet treat. Sandwiched between thick slices of grilled, buttery challah bread, it tasted like a dream.
So did the Joy, a gut-busting sandwich with thick, slightly grainy almond butter, homemade dark chocolate ganache, and homemade coconut filling. Served on the same grilled challah, the goody brought me back to my preschool self. (Picture a grown woman swinging her legs while sitting on a city bench, with chocolate and peanut butter all over her mouth, hands, and jeans, occasionally taking sips from her milk carton. Fortunately, she is blissfully unaware of anything but the sandwich at hand.)
After those two unsurmountable mountains, I didn’t make it to the Betty, with pb, Gruyere, bread-and-butter pickles, white pepper, and sea salt; the Hot Hood, with pb, black cherry jam, jalapeño, and applewood-smoked bacon; or the Pumpkin Pie, with pb, pumpkin butter, caramel sauce, and pie crust. I could keep going, but I’ll spare you the drooling. We all know that in my latent state I wouldn’t share my sammy with you anyway.
In case y’all are in Portland: 919 NW 23rd (702-743-0435). Wed–Sun 11–5.