UPDATE: CLOSED. Portland’s Inaugural Vegan Iron Chef Winner, and her family, have left Portland. The cart has been sold. Hopefully, they shall return in the near future and open up another cart or restaurant! We wish them the best.
|Asaase Ital Palace Cart Brief Review|
|Overall||Service||Food Quality||Atmosphere||Vegan Options|
|Location: 1600 SW 5th and College #(503) 851-2511|
|Hours: weekday lunch||Times Visited: 3|
Summer 2009 may forever be known as the period the food cart renaissance exploded in Portland, Oregon. It’s hard to keep up. Everywhere you turn, there is another new cart or roaming taqueria, and many are vegetarian or entirely vegan, if not quite vegan friendly, like Koi Fusion and Whiffies. In fact, since Spring, at least seven vegetarian carts have opened: Homegrown Smoker BBQ, Spud Locker, Valhalla Sandwich Co., Wolf and Bears, DC Vegetarian, Sonny Bowl, and Asaase Ital Palace.
Asaase Ital popped up on the PSU cart lot at SW 5th and College in early July. The staff has confirmed that they are now entirely vegan, have rid the menu of the honey that was present when they first opened, and switched to agave. Credit the early vegan visitors!
There are three things that struck me about this Caribbean food cart even before I ordered-
First up: The cart itself. It’s painted colorfully in bold sections of of green, yellow, and red and has a custom awning with green beams. It stands out on its side street.
Second: While you’re checking out the cart, your nose begins to tingle and your mouth just may begin to salivate. Take in the aroma of thyme, coconut, ginger, and more. Welcome vegan Caribbean food to Portland!
Third: The staff. I can’t remember the last time someone working at a cart, particularly their own cart, wasn’t warm. The duo behind Asaase , who are also involved wit the New Born Tribe Community Center on MLK, offer samples of soup and drinks and initiate real conversations about what you want to order and what to expect. The graciousness of the small business owners in Portland is a beautiful thing.
The menu at Asaase Ital is at once both clear and overwhelming. The choices are there, and I’ve enjoyed items from each section of the menu. The main dishes are served as small or large plates ($6 and $9). The idea of spending $9 on lunch, let alone from a cart, nauseates me, so I’ve gone with small plates every time. It’s a to-go box worth of food, always providing me with at least a small serving of leftovers. If you’re going with a friend, share a large plate and side item, such as the adorable, miniature, puffy, made hot for you, Fry Bread pieces (5 for $4), or add veggie fish or chickun to your order. If you’re looking for a bigger meal, go for the large plate or order a small and soup or a side all for yourself.
With my first bite of the Red Red plate, I thought, why don’t I make Caribbean food at home? I love it! The dish is a creamy red, deeply tomato flavored porridge chock full of black eyed peas and grains. Served with it are the classic pan-fried plantains, though I’ve heard of an order missing these before. You can’t deny the deliciousness of these golden plantains, but their crisp outsides have varied from light to dark both times I’ve tried them. The Gold & Greens plate is a popular dish of savory large red beans stewed in a tomato coconut broth with chopped greens over a bed of yellow rice. It’s a well rounded plate, but I do wish there were more greens. I can’t decide which plate I prefer between the two. They’re both exceptional, and gluten free. If you thought you knew cart food, think again.
If you’re partial to faux meat, you’re in luck! You can add veggie fish or chickun to your meal if you want to up your soy protein intake ($2 to add veggie fish, $4.50 for a side of chickun). It’s the likes of which Portland rarely sees outside of a few Chinese and Thai restaurants, such as Vegetarian House, Thai Food Cafe, and Vege Thai, or the frozen aisle at Fubonn and Food Fight! The staff says the veggie fish is gluten free as well. You know the type – fish shaped and pink colored, which Asaase has made their own by seasoning the outside. I never eat veggie fish, but I heroically tried my friend’s and actually liked it! The chickun is a tender piece of pepper-happy jerk spiced soy protein wrapped around a lemongrass stick. It’s certainly tasty and I want to share the order again, but one or two pieces is enough for me. I can only do much so faux protein alongside such an already satisfying meal, I tend to leave that fun for vacations to NYC.
The food at Asaase Ital reaches restaurant quality and is not dished instantaneously. Come prepared with patience; the wait here is longer than other carts I frequent, but worth it. The shortest wait I’ve had for one order of food was at least 10 minutes. The longest exceeded 15 minutes on my third visit, when the cart had a small crowd. I had ordered my entree immediately, but two friends decided while two more orders were placed, and didn’t receive their food for nearly 30 minutes. The same went for my delayed request for fry bread. Call ahead for large orders at the number posted above or if you’re in a rush, but keep in mind, this is not the type of meal made for wolfing down in ten minutes.
There’s a bench to the side of the cart to wait on or take your meal at, or you could walk a couple blocks north to the PSU Park Blocks. It’s silly, but I’m practically counting the days till Asaase opens a small sit down location. Or at the very least, adds some additional seating.
They offer smoothies and cold or hot ginger tea, but unless you’re searching the PSU area for a smoothie, I’d hold off and spend the money on adding a savoury lentil-filled sambusa ($2) or indulge in the faux chickun. My cold ginger tea was something fierce- we’re talking crisp, cool, ginger overload on a hot day, but I can resist for $2.50. There are too many tempting menu items! One day I’ll make it early enough for the tofu scramble plate. The idea of a Caribbean influenced scramble is rocking my mind.
Fan of great food with bold flavors? Check this place out. It’s something special.
Red Red Plate with Plantains