Saturday, September 27, 2014

Quick Hits: People's Pig

When we moved to Northeast Portland it wasn't unusual to have our sleep interrupted by the occasional spurt of gunfire. It wasn't coming from our street, but close enough, within a quarter mile or so, to keep me awake through the inevitable sirens that would follow. Mississippi, Williams and Alberta were streets best avoided after dusk, not just because they were lined with derelict buildings, but the nightlife they attracted back then was of a distinctly shadowy variety.

Fried chicken sandwich, mac salad.

That's all changed now, of course; our sleep is much more likely to be interrupted by a dog barking at the neighbor's cat or a passing squirrel. The derelict buildings have been repopulated with trendy shops and bars, or torn down altogether to make giant condo developments. Expensive city bikes have replaced the broken-down cars that used to cruise the avenues.

The Tropicana was one of the businesses left over from those early days, a neighborhood soul food restaurant and barbecue joint owned by 90-year-old Lula Parker that had survived from a time when the neighborhood was a bustling commercial center full of African American-owned businesses. Most were razed in the building of Memorial Coliseum in the late 1950s and the expansion of Emanuel Hospital in the early 1960s, a land grab which decimated the vibrant community and displaced residents. (See an excellent visual history of the neighborhood by Portland historian Thomas Robinson.)

Last year Ms. Parker decided to retire from the business she'd owned for more than 55 years. Which was fortunate for Cliff Allen, who'd been looking for a brick-and-mortar location for his People's Pig. They came to an agreement on the condition that he wouldn't change the interior. Not that he'd want to, mind you, since its simple counter and row of booths are wrapped around a behemoth brick smoker that Allen says can smoke 300 to 400 pounds of meat at a time.

Allen also isn't the type to need some fancy designers to zhoosh his vibe. Like the food he crafts, he likes to keep it simple: deeply smoked fried chicken, smoked pork shoulder and ribs served on parchment paper-lined trays, either piled high (the "plate" version) or almost contained in a hearty roll. Sides are also basic and equally crave-worthy, featuring macaroni salad, potato salad, beans and a slaw. Prices? Also reasonable. The sandwich, for eight bucks, comes with one side, the plate, ten bucks with two sides.

The fact that it's walking distance from our house? I'd say the neighborhood just took another major turn toward the positive.

Details: The People's Pig, 3217 N Williams Ave. 503-347-2357.

No comments: