Friday, September 14, 2012

Shut the Screen Door!

Abbe and Jebby are back with a mouth-watering review of one of Portland's most accomplished Southern cooking establishments; Screen Door.

 Abbe’s Meal: Carolina Pulled Pork Sandwich with Mac n’ Cheese
          First of all this meal doesn’t look like a sandwich when it comes to you, it looks like someone put a piece of toast on either side of a pig and then made it a coleslaw hat. I wasn’t sure how I was going to get this luscious beauty into my mouth, but I knew I was going to make my most valiant of efforts.
The textures and flavors of this meal were amazing; a lightly toasted bun with crisp edges, tender melt in your mouth smoked pork, reminiscent of good old backyard BBQ,   and fresh, crisp slaw in a tangy sauce. The way these 3 simple ingredients complimented each other was like nothing else I’ve tasted. Usually you would expect some BBQ sauce dripping all over your plate, enticing you with sweet and savory scents of honey and chilies, but this little darlin’ stands on her own, no “secret is in the sauce” needed here, just a skillful chef with a whole lot of love in his hands.
          My sandwich came with a heaping pile of fresh fries, which did not disappoint. Cooked to perfection and lightly salted, I was practically licking the crumbs off the plate.
          I also ordered myself a side of Mac n’ Cheese. I have tasted my share of this internationally loved dish all over Portland, from The Delta Café’s jumbo rigatoni noodles in white cheese to Le Bistro Montage’s Old Mac with a garlic cream sauce and parmesan, so when the waiter brought me a bowl covered in melted cheddar, my taste buds were tingling. This mac n’ cheese was far different from my previous exploits; with traditional tiny elbow noodles swimming in a creamy medium cheddar sauce and topped with a bubbling layer of cheddar that’s baked immaculately. And when I say “side” of mac n’ cheese, I mean I was given the smaller version of a bucket.
         Overall this meal was everything I could have wanted from its menu description and more, I left with a full fundus and penguin like waddle.

Jebby’s Meal : Crispy fried buttermilk –battered chicken with tasso ham gravy, mashed potatoes, and collards.
          What a mouthful! In every single way, this was a spectacular meal. A visit to this restaurant is a treat. It is the type of place I wouldn’t want to go more than a few times a year because it is special, and I wouldn’t want to ruin that specialness by making it a common occurrence. Something about this place has a way of uniting us, when we all begin to drift our separate ways, the atmosphere of Screen Door pulls us in for a big to-do and we all remember just how much we enjoy breaking bread together.
I ate the fried chicken last year on my birthday, and this year I considered shrimp and grits, but the fried chicken at Screen Door is so amazing I had to have it again, it is simply too luscious to pass by. You receive an impossible amount - huge slabs of the moistest, mouth-meltingest chicken that has ever had the good fortune to pass through your eager lips. I don’t know how they do it, the batter is thick, audibly crunchy, peppery as the dickens and wouldn’t dare slide off the chicken. Dear Screen Door, please tell me your secret to keeping your fried chicken dressed, even as we obliterate it with our forks and knives.
The mashed potatoes are buttery smooth and creamy, but I do take issue with the tasso ham gravy. The last time the gravy tasted the same. It has a bit of a… I hesitate to say it, but a gym-sock taste. It reminds me a bit of the Easter ham end that has been left in the oven too long and has turned into a piece of strange ham-jerky. It just tastes… weird. I don’t find it to be a particularly tasty complement to the mashed potatoes, but thankfully they are delicious enough to eat on their own. It’s not horrible gravy, but it doesn’t do the chicken justice. Pro-tip: cut a strip off of your chicken and dip it in mashed potatoes. Dunk in gravy if desired. You’re welcome.
            I would eat a bucket of Screen Door’s collard greens. They are perfect. The stalks are tender, the leaves just degraded to the point where they begin to give up their delicious liquid. Every so often, a delicious chunk of ham will appear, tucked into the fold of a leaf. If all mothers made Screen Door’s collard greens, I don’t think we’d ever have a problem getting children to eat their vegetables again.
Finally, I had a few hurricanes with my meal. The specialty cocktail choices are slim if you aren’t a fan of whiskey, which I am most certainly not. The hurricane looks and tastes like a tropical vacation in a glass. It comes to you in a tall fluted goblet full of pink deliciousness topped with fruit. They don’t taste like they’re going to get you hammered, but before you know you’ve had two of them and you’re walking up to Chopsticks 2 to make a fool out of yourself singing Patsy Cline. Or maybe that’s just me.

Abbe and Jebby’s Dessert: Banoffee pie, Lemon Pudding pie, Pecan pie, and Pineapple upside down cake.
We ordered a smorgasbord of deserts and shared with our friends.
The banoffee pie was a surprise; Jebby doesn’t normally enjoy the flavor of bananas. But smother them in rich caramel and envelop them in flaky pie crust with fresh whipped cream, and even the most anti-banana banana haters will be singing a different tune. Although, Abbe still refused to try it. She is an extreme anti-banana banana hater.
The pecan pie came in tartlet form, with the same sumptuous caramel paired with candied pecans and more fresh-whipped cream.
The lemon pudding pie was tart and refreshing, topped with heaps of fresh, ripe strawberry slices.
Our final dessert was a pineapple upside-down cake, which was served with ginger ice cream, the perfect complement to the warm, caramelized pineapple and decadent buttery cake.
Screen Door Overall:
Many Portlanders already know the secret of Screen Doors magic, so if you want to eat here expect a wait. If you have a party of 6 or more you can skip the line with a reservation, but don’t dare be late or show up without your complete party, Screen Door’s policies are strict and an empty table doesn’t sit empty for long.
Screen Door uses all local and seasonal ingredients so they can “maintain the connection between farm and plate” as they put it. Their southern inspired menu brings a fresh perspective on down-home soul food cooking to Portland and definitely gives some of Portland’s other Southern inspired eateries a run for their money.
The atmosphere at Screen Door is unique; not an overtly large establishment, but well laid out; my favorite aspect being the open kitchen, which we had the pleasure of sitting near. Watching as the busy and always good looking staff hustled people’s meals to and fro, we got to indulge our foodie fantasies of trying everything on the menu by being true voyeurs. Drooling with gaping maws at the myriad of meals being carried past us only heightened our desire dive face first into our plates.
The décor at Screen Door is somewhat rustic with a modern flip. Lots of wood paneling and lots of wood in general, Screen Door has a clean and simple look. You won’t find a lot of kitschy Portland art or clever and snarky chalk board specials, but you’ll find it comfortable and that’s all that matters when your knees deep in your Mac N Cheese pouring Hurricanes down your gullet.
All around Screen Door offers a new way to eat Southern in Portland and a better way to get tipsy enough to sing Karaoke two blocks down. 

Screen Door's memorable menu can be ogled over here:

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