EACH YEAR, Portland’s winter vegetable malaise sets in like a perennial ailment. A primal urge seems to say, “No more thick-skinned squash, lay off the leafy greens, and please … no more pork.” It’s also the moment when John Stewart, chef-owner of Meat Cheese Bread in Southeast Portland, looks for the call from his asparagus purveyor, aptly dubbed “the Asparaguy.” (“No one knows his real name,” Stewart claims, “but every year he shows up at our doorstep in the beginning of March hauling hundreds of pounds of asparagus.”)
A veteran of ultraseasonal fine-dining destinations like Park Kitchen, Stewart opened Meat Cheese Bread in 2008, setting out to refashion his white-tablecloth talents for complex flavors, tricky procedures, and extravagant ingredients for the humble sandwich form. As soon as the first, purple-tipped stalks of the season arrive, Stewart begins crafting his asparagus sandwich, stacking green spears on airy loaves of Fleur De Lis ciabatta and selling them by the dozen to hungry locals.
1406 SE Stark St
Portland, OR 97213
At the core of Stewart’s recipe is the happy marriage of asparagus and eggs. It’s a classic Italian pairing wherein asparagus is the bright star, whether shaved into a frittata, baked under poached eggs, or blanched into salade niçoise. The key ingredient in Meat Cheese Bread’s riff on the tradition is a hearty bacon relish. “It adds a nice smokiness and acidity that cuts through the richness of the egg,” Stewart says. Paired with simply grilled asparagus and a shaving of parmesan, it’s one of the most satisfying ways to showcase Oregon’s supreme spring vegetable.