SCAN LOCAL menus and you’ll turn up plenty of tastes for the times: pork rinds escorting a “mustardy dipper,” a sandwich packed with deep-fried Nutella, a chocolate brownie wearing foie gras mousse, even a parfait starring pork livers.
Ever since 2002, when Noble Rot transformed mac and cheese into an icon of serious and Voodoo Doughnut glazed a house special in NyQuil, Portland cooks have been winking their way to notoriety. Fun, of course, is an irresistible ingredient. But, let’s face it: everything has an expiration date.
This makes it all the more delicious to find fried mozzarella as the gods meant it to be: crusted in fresh bread crumbs, crackling-crisp, oozing hot white cheese, stretchy and decidedly homemade, served without a pinch of irony. And it comes courtesy of one of the city’s great cooking talents, Jerry Huisinga, at an undercelebrated gem of an eatery, Bar Mingo.
Righteous cheese sticks are just the beginning of Mingo’s departures from Portland cool. Garlicky fresh sausage snuggles up to hand-beaten polenta and glistening hot greens. Pasta arrives in a whopping six homemade varieties—actually rolled and cut daily. Risotto banishes local competitors simply because it’s the real thing, made in fresh batches three times a night with the concentration of a surgeon installing a ticker. The common ingredients? Rigorous technique, simplicity, and time. Most restaurants take the shortcuts and serve you the consequences.
Long before Portland morphed into Porklandia, the legendary Genoa was the epitome of this style, digging into Italian classics with a bravado that would send a chill through today’s bacon-wrapped dreamers. Arguably no other eatery saw so many current Portland stars pass through its kitchen, most notably Cathy Whims (Nostrana), John Taboada (Navarre), Tommy Habetz (Bunk), and Kevin Gibson (Evoe). But over 22 years, as the others came and went, Huisinga remained, until Genoa moved to modernize in 2005. Taboada nicknamed him “The Hammer”: “He was one who made us get it right.”
Now Huisinga’s old-school obsessions live on—but in a casual, affordable, less ritualistic storefront that could be decorated by your aunt. Bar Mingo is the $$ Genoa—steeped in authority and holding plenty of the old recipes, but for a fraction of the price. That includes an impressive repertoire of tone-perfect pastas—Huisinga’s specialty at Genoa since 1983—cooked with the right bounce and chew and sauced the Italian way, sparingly but just enough to elicit a gasp of pleasure. A recent haul included long flaps of pappardelle noodles with clinging bits of rabbit ragú, earthy and elegant; about five miles of ultra-skinny spaghetti tangled up the Roman way, with flinty cheese and cracked pepper; and a jewel-like square of lasagna, deep, nubbly, freckled with reassuring browned cheese spots, and weighted with creaminess and tang.