Grilled Cheese Grill: Changing the World with Grilled Cheese
Alder Pod Cart
SW 10th and Alder, Portland, OR
Darlings of the Willamette Week Eat Mobile Festival and winners of the Carty Awards, who wouldn’t love Grilled Cheese Grill? Evoking buckets of nostalgia and warming your tummy as the best comfort food around, I’m not exaggerating when I say Grilled Cheese Grill makes the best gooey grilled cheese sandwiches around.
Grilled Cheese Grill operates three carts in Portland, we stopped in at the downtown cart on 10th Ave, part of the Alder Pod of food carts in the downtown core. This cart has a limited menu but the other two (larger) Grilled Cheese Grills are on the other side of town. One thing is for sure, Grilled Cheese Grill has dominated the Portland street food scene by offering irresistible grilled cheese sandwiches to all types of diners from downtown office workers to the late night club goers on the other side of Burnside Bridge.
We stopped by the downtown cart for a quick breakfast and ordered the day’s special: the BEC: bacon, egg and American cheese on white.
We also picked up a ‘hall pass,’ 12 stamps equals a free sandwich. I found it particularly endearing that their stamp was a little school bus. Totally playing up the wholesome, grade school angle, Grilled Cheese Grill gets top marks for marketing: quirky, memorable and perfectly tailored for a grilled cheese food cart. I do always think about school box lunches, after school snacks and field trips on big yellow school buses whenever I eat grilled cheese.
In fact, one of Grilled Cheese Grill’s trucks is a big yellow school bus – this truck is located on NE 11th Ave. and Alberta. Opened late, and parked in a lot with picnic tables, this truck caters to the late night crowd. What’s better than a hot cheese sandwich after a night of clubbing, drinking and dancing?
There isn’t seating provided at the Grilled Cheese Grill cart downtown, that’s one of the big drawbacks about street food, sometimes you just have to scarf your food, standing up. Thankfully, since most of the food carts in Portland are found in pods, you can easily perched under an awning or front counter of another cart that is closed that day. That’s what we did.
Our grilled cheese sandwich was served up hot with crispy grilled white bread and even crispier bacon on the inside. I was most impressed by the giant strips of bacon inside the sandwich. The fried egg was well seasoned and made this sandwich very filling. And the star of the sandwich: that brilliantly orange and gooey melted cheese glued this whole sandwich together. It totally hit the spot.
I like to think of grilled cheese sandwiches as the perfect food metaphor for a little city like Portland: simple and classic and also serving as a platform for limitless creativity. Grilled Cheese Grill offers a variety of different grilled cheese sandwiches, everything from melted brie to a sandwich featuring artichoke hearts and sundried tomatoes. Portland is a simple little city that offers the best of all worlds: a bustling downtown, urban core with a dash of small town charm with an incredibly strong sense of community and social responsibility.
I’ve been to Portland several times and have always felt that the city inspires an astounding amount of creativity. It’s a place where citizens are empowered to protect the city’s unique characteristics as well as initiate social change to better the world. It may be the reason how so many pods of food carts can survive in the city. An entertaining book titled Cartopia by Kelly Rodgers and Kelley Roy analyze the food cart phenomenon in Portland.
Cartopia discusses Portland’s famed livability in detail, documenting a 1960 local protest to remove a highway from the Portland waterfront. This is marked as the launch of “neighbourhood activism” (page 62, Cartopia), Portland developed a reputation as a place where members of the community could affect change and better their world. The food carts in Portland also benefit from looser municipal policies when it comes to street vending. Most of the food cart pods are situated on private lots too, there’s not much the city can do in terms of red tape on private property. A food cart vendor also generates 50% more revenue than a parked car (page 49, Cartopia) so you can see why owners of private lots support food carts. Not to mention that pods of different food carts livens up the neighbourhood and promotes sustainability by encouraging foot traffic.
The growing trend of food carts are here to stay in Portland and have even been viewed as “the leading edge of a massive trend toward localization,” creating a healthy, thriving and growing “economic development force” (page 80, Cartopia).
Food carts can been seen as small portable businesses or just a stepping stone to a storefront, many restaurants such as Cathcart and Reddy (New York City) and Tacofino (Vancouver, Canada) started out as food carts.
Grilled cheese has always had a special place in my heart (and tummy!) and I can’t wait to revisit, maybe for a late night snack at the Alberta Street location!