I may have eaten at one of the best food carts in Portland this past weekend.
There is a new restaurant coming to the downtown area, just west of the Fox Tower, called Violetta. Their restaraunt space is currently being worked on, but instead of waiting around for it to be finished they decided to open up a food cart - called Etta - in the new Director Park, very close to where the restaurant will be.
Director Park is new - it's similar to Pioneer Square (two blocks away) in the sense it's wide, open, and can be a nice gathering place. The seating is plentiful, the architecture is pleasantly contemporary, there is a water feature, and I believe it's set on top of underground parking. Given the proximity to central part of downtown shopping and business, it's the perfect location.
Violetta's motto is "slow food, fast." What does that mean? It means you get food made to order with high quality, locally-sourced ingredients, and they do it in a timely manner. The menu has burgers, breakfast foods, salads - all fairly basic, but with freshness. That's not to say you won't get this quality in other food carts - absolutely not true - but with them it's a point of pride.
Etta's has been open for a few months now, but this past Saturday was their first weekend day. They did it as a test run to see if anyone would come - and it must have worked out because they are going to be open this Saturday as well.
Wifey and I read over the menu online before we went and ended up deciding we were going to be getting quite a bit of food to try it all out. The first item we ordered was going to be a breakfast sandwich with bacon, but they had a Saturday special of eggs benedict for (I think) $8.50, so we had to get that.
One thing about eggs benedict is the eggs can be messy. Sticking a fork into them can cause yolk to run all over the place, and this being take-out food that could have been a problem. Instead the eggs (there were two in an order) were cooked perfectly to where they still had a bit of softness to them but didn't run all over the place. The hollandaise sauce had great flavor, and the wheat English muffins had just the right amount of crunch. Not only that, they held that crunch even after sitting under the egg and hollandaise sauce for a bit. Two thumbs up for the eggs benedict for sure.
The second item we ordered were the beignets. They come with either espresso chocolate sauce or apple butter, and we - of course - opted for the chocolate sauce. They were wonderful bits of fried dough, with not too much powedered sugar and not greasy at all. A bag of them contained about 10 for $6 - we had a few then and took the rest home to have with afternoon coffee where a few seconds in the microwave were all they needed to be perfect again. While these were excellent, it would be nice to be able to get half the amount. Unless you are sharing 10 of these little guys can be a bit much. Still, very yummy.
Finally we ordered a burger and fries, thinking we'd take that home and have it for dinner later. We did that with the burger, but in retrospect we should have known better thinking we could do that with the fries. We decided to eat the fries with the eggs benedict, since taking them home would mean eating them cold, nuking them and making them soft, or putting them in the toaster oven and probably burning them; none of those options would do justice to their flavor. And these are really good fries. They are handcut from Yukon gold potatoes - our favorite - and fried just right so not be too greasy. Excellent flavor, perfect crunch, and the small order ($3) was plenty with our brunch.
Then there was the burger - wow. Full disclosure: we did not eat this fresh; instead we took it home, put it in the fridge, and then heated it up for dinner. And it was still damn good. They have plenty of options, but we opted for half-pound bacon and cheeseburger for $10 (hey, we were splitting it). Even though it wasn't fresh this was one of the best burgers I've ever had, and I don't give that praise lightly. The pasture-raised beef was cooked just right for both of us, which is amazing since I lean towards preferring my meat medium while Wifey prefers only a slight bit of pink - this was right in the middle (it was probably pinker fresh, but the microwave cooked it a tad too). The accompanying bits - pickles, lettuce, onion, tomato - were fresh, tasty, and nicely proportioned so not to overpower the star, the meat itself. The bun, a brioche from Grand Central Bakery, was also pretty dang good.
The service was excellent too - and like their slogan, fast.
The only thing I didn't love about the cart was the coffee. However, since the French-pressed Caffe Vita was free last Saturday to all customers, I can't exactly complain about it either. I'm not sure if it was the blend, if the beans were a little burnt, or if maybe I just don't like French-pressed coffee, but it seemed bitter to me. It was free though.
And yes, this was the most I've ever spent at a food cart, especially for two people, even if it ended up being two meals and an afternoon snack for both of us. It's handy, though, that they take credit and debit cards - most carts are cash only. It's a little more expensive than other carts, but the quality of the food justifies the cost.
I absolutely, whole-heartedly recommend making Etta a destination on your eating travels. When Violetta opens (website says late May or June), Wifey and I will be there as well. If it stands up to our first trip to Etta, this could very well become our go-to dining option in downtown Portland. Go there. You will like it.