Restaurant: Juniper, Portland, Oregon
Twas the end of my vacation, and after a late flight in from Honolulu, Hawaii, and a walk of doom from the wrong train stop to the hotel my friends and I were staying in…around 11 p.m. at night…my Friday morning started off really well. My two friends who have no food allergies took in a Portland, Oregon staple…Voodoo Doughnut…for breakfast.
It had been discussed that we would do some shopping around Portland and then hit up the food pods for lunch. In fact, after a bit of researching, my roomie found the perfect pod for us to visit…due to one food cart where she knew I could get something to eat.
The food cart…Juniper.
Juniper is a worker-owned food cart that was founded by five (5) women – Kashi, Lizz, Elena, Frencesca, and Summer. They serve nourishing, vibrant, whole-foods that are consciously sourced. Their menu is seasonal and features local and global flavors that pair lesser known produce with familiar favorites. They are proud to offer meals that are mostly organic, local farm sourced and made from scratch. They encourage you, above all else, to “Love Your Food.”
Speaking of food, this team of ladies work hard to source foods grown locally, supplied by small businesses, with worker-focused and community driven practices. They keep the food on their menu in sync with natural availability, which also helps keep our bodies in sync with the seasons. They believe that access to healthy and sustainable food is a social justice issue and have set sort and long term goals for themselves aiming at using their position in the food industry to open doors to people who have trouble accessing healthy and steady food sources. And with all that going on, these ladies do their best to keep prices on the menu sustainable for them to stay in business, to be able to source foods in a way that is in line with their mission, and to also stay accessible to a large cross-section of people.
But, that’s not all…these intrepid food cart entrepreneurs built their menu with high awareness of food sensitives and allergies. Their menu items are and always will be gluten-free and vegan (completely free of dairy, meat, honey, and egg), and limited on the amount of soy ingredients – meaning they sparingly use tamari, tofu and soy curls. If necessary, they are happy to substitute or eliminate the tofu or soy curls completely from an order.
With all that said…on Friday morning, I spent the day drinking amazing coffee, ducking into local shops, and just checking out as much of Portland as I could while hobbling around. I handled it well enough, but when noon rolled around, I was more than ready to eat. I knew what I was getting from the food pod, and Cathy pretty much knew what she wanted…so we walked the other carts so Jenn could figure out what she wanted to eat. And after a little wandering…we made our choices. Cathy was left over at I Hearth This Cart, as she had her eyes on the small Loaded Tater Tots ($4.00), which are tots layered up with Tillamook cheddar cheese, bacon, and green onion, served w/ chipotle ranch. These are, by the way, gluten-free. Jenn got a quesadilla…I don’t remember from what cart. She gave Cathy her avocado. I was waiting on my dish for most of their orders and eating. But…I won’t complain.
The one reason I chose Juniper over all other food carts at that specific pod was because of the vegan and gluten-free options. This was one very safe cart for me to dine in without wondering how I would feel afterwards. And, honestly, the one dish that caught my eye first and foremost was one of their offered sandwiches…
The Vegan BBQ Bacon Sandwich.
OH HELL YEAH!!
Juniper’s Vegan BBQ Bacon Sandwich (7.00) is BBQ soy curls, cabbage and carrot slaw, avocado, and coconut bacon, piled onto two grilled slices of their homemade gluten-free bread. I got mine with a T.A.S. Coconut Water ($2.50). I waled up to the cart and said I had heard stories of this sandwich and said that was what I wanted for lunch. It was a bit of a wait, but they were hopping at lunch time. Never a bad thing. And I don’t mind waiting for food I can see being prepared right there in front of me. And trust me…this sandwich was worth the time standing on the sidewalk holding a can of coconut water. HA!
But the wait was well worth it. The sandwich looked and smelled amazing. The soy curls gave the BBQ “meaty” portion of this sandwich a great depth of flavor. It really made the sandwich feel like a sandwich. The coconut bacon was amazing, as smokey, delicious bacon made out of coconut always is. And the slaw and avocado just completed the full affect, adding texture and a bit of cooling deliciousness. The toasted gluten-free bread was done to a golden perfection. And this was all served up with a side of greens, lightly dressed. How amazing.
First bite was love. I shared a piece with Cathy, and she said it was “pretty tasty.” Which means, she liked it but didn’t love it. HA! She was eating deep fried potato tots…of course my healthy and amazing sammie wasn’t going to win out. But to me, this was perfection. It’s a food I can’t get from any of the meager selection of food trucks here in the area, nor anywhere else I have visited…which was the main reason that Juniper was where I wanted to eat. There was no getting around that. I wanted that sandwich before I even left for Hawaii…and before I made it to Portland. And it was everything that I expected. For the record, the coconut bacon tastes like bacon…not coconut. And it is awesome. So, pretty tasty is a total understatement and doesn’t do this cart the justice it deserves for the quality and standard of food that they are putting out. Above all else, one of the best vegan and gluten-free sandwiches I have ever been able to eat. So far above anything else offered anywhere else. Miles above. I love sammies…and this one…was just what I wanted, needed, and ended up devouring. I was so happy it was on the menu when I got to Juniper’s food cart.
If you are in Portland, be sure to make the most out of your stay. Check out all the different varieties of food pods out there…eat at a food cart. But if you have food allergies and food restrictions like I do, head over to Juniper at the food carts on SW 3rd and Washington. If they have it…get the Vegan BBQ Sammie. Trust me…all expectations of any sandwich that is vegan and gluten-free…will be exceded. This was sandwich nirvana for me. I only wish I had been able to go back for another one before leaving town.
I will be back though. And I know where I’m catching a bite.