There are some regions of the country whose food style cry out to the soul, and Southern cooking is one which enjoys wide appeal. For a long time friends had been telling me I needed to try the food at NE Portland's Screen Door, and Carrie and I finally had the opportunity the other night to stop in.
The first thing you should know is that if you plan on coming in for dinner, you need to come early and plan on a wait. We arrived at 6:00PM and waited more than an hour to be seated. Like many places in Portland's independent food scene reservation is 4-Letter word around these parts, so waiting is the only option. Fortunately, you can wait at the bar if seating is available there, or order from the bar to drink outside on the benches if the weather permits. The usual wide and decent selection of local brews awaits, as does a well tended bar.
Carrie had been on a 30-day juice fast prior to our visit, and craving a burger in the worst way so the menu was a waste of time for her, but I was looking for something special and wasn't disappointed. The menu is a mix of structured meals more comfortable for Northern diners and a Southern tradition frequently referred to as "Meat +3", allowing you to select your protein and three "side" dishes. In Southern cooking sides are the cook's take on a fairly standard list: mac & cheese, greens, sweet potatoes, grits, hush puppies etc. Screen Door adds a Portland flair by adding vegan and organic vegetable options to the side menu, and then takes it to the radical extreme of a Vegan only menu with rotating specials.
Carrie's burger was perfectly cooked to order, and while not exceptionally creative it is an exceptional burger that easily finds itself in my PDX Top 5 Burger list. Served with a mountain of dill pickle slices as large as the patty itself along with a pile of fries she was able to break her juice fast without regret.
I went with one of my all time favorite southern dishes, and the dish by which I measure any Southern restaurant - Low Country Shrimp and Grits. When done wrong (as is often the case in the Pacific NW) the cheesy grits that are the foundation of this dish are a thick mess closer to their Italian cousin polenta than what any Southerner would call grits. The folks at Screen Door know how to prepare grits right, cooked long enough to be soft yet still thin enough to "run through a fork but coat a spoon". Atop these perfectly cooked grits are shrimp cooked in bacon and red-eye gravy that had me thinking of several diners I frequented while living and traveling in the Southern US.
If you like or have an interest in trying Southern cooking, Screen Door is the best example of this amazing culinary tradition I've found in Portland. This is Fat Boy Heaven in EVERY sense of the phrase. They are located at 2337 East Burnside Street in NE Portland's Burnside District.