Addy Bittner slices a slender baguette, arranges about a dozen small, dark-chocolate discs (73 percent cacao) on the bread’s pillowy face, adds a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and a dash of salt, then tucks this meth-caliber assembly of bread, sugar, caffeine, and love into a small oven. A twist of the knob and… power failure.
Bittner’s sprightly gray, black, and red food cart, labeled "Addy’s Sandwich Bar" with a distinctly Parisian flourish, is parked amid one of downtown’s busiest food cart "pods"—the corner of SW 10th Avenue and Alder Street. As she vaults over stacked cardboard boxes to reset her circuit breaker, Bittner, sporting a shaggy pixie haircut, all-black canvas sneaks, and a worn-in Blazers T-shirt, neatly encapsulates Portland’s newest brand of restaurateur—as played by Audrey Tautou. Her electricity may fail, but her duck confit and house-made country pork pâté rule.
Addy’s Sandwich Bar could be a metaphor for the whole city.
Less than a decade ago, a Portlander who frequented one semi-sanitary burrito truck could smugly feel like an urban insider. Today, Multnomah County licenses more than 300 food carts. Within 100 yards of Addy’s alone, pavement gourmands can savor Korean tacos, first-class espresso, and walloping Bosnian pitas. A half-dozen gyro options jostle with a week’s worth of banh mi choices. Cult-favorite pork yakisoba competes with single-dish purveyors of Bangkok street delicacies. One newcomer promises "anything you can stuff in a dumpling."
No one planned Portland’s cart revolution. In a city that tends to workshop and white-paper every last particle of its existence, "the carts" are a rare local instance of Taoist urbanism. And in the process of letting them happen, the city stumbled upon a form of kudzu capitalism—powered by propane tanks and makeshift wiring—that reclaims and revitalizes vacant land. Portland’s food-cart phenomenon couples the city’s obsession with gastronomy and a dirty-fingernailed, DIY brand of free enterprise. It’s the perfect combination for the dynamic talent this city attracts, and for our gloomy economic times.