CLOSED 10/2011 – Location: N Mississippi and Skidmore.
South of SE 13th and Lexington, in the heart of Sellwood’s “antique row.” (Located in the 7900 address range, kitty corner to the Sellwood Library, and a few blocks north of Tacoma Street)
[Updated 1/2011 - Garden State is now open at Mississippi Marketplace. You can read our other review of this cart here.]
Description: “Italian Street Food from the Willamette Valley.” This shiny new wagon is Portland’s only cart offering Sicilian street snacks. They also sell soups, grilled chicken, salads and one sandwich offering – grilled peppers and sausage on a ciabatta roll. Garden State uses organic and local ingredients as much as possible with most of their produce and all of their chicken coming from Gaining Ground Farm located in Yamhill, Oregon.
As for the Sicilian part, the Arancine here are the best I’ve had in Portland. An order ($4.00 or $6.00 with a side salad) includes four tender larger than golf-ball sized balls of tender risotto rice liberally seasoned with saffron and stuffed with your choice of either cheese or a meat based marinara sauce. Dusted with super fine bread crumbs, you order and wait while they are fried in front of you to dark golden perfection in fresh tasting oil, and they come out crispy and still warm without being the least bit greasy. Pure comfort food. The creamy on the inside and crunchy on the outside Sicilian fried potato fritters known as Cazilli (also $4.00), are just as good . Both are served with lemon wedges and a light tomato sauce on the side. This is the epitomy of good cart food; simple, fresh, quick, reasonably priced, and highly addictive.
Garden State has only been open for less than a month, and they warned me that they are still tweaking with their menu to figure out what works and what doesn’t, and that it will change frequently depending on the seasons. In the meantime I can highly recommend their textbook Pollo alla Diavola (aka Devil’s Chicken), a traditional Tuscan spicy grilled chicken that is rubbed with crushed black peppercorns and dried red spicy peppers, and cooked under a weight making it slightly charred on the outside but remaining juicy and succulent within. Served with grilled bread and a large salad it is meant for two diners although one person with a very giant appetite could probably cope. ($12.00). I didn’t try the grilled pepper and sausage sandwich ($6.00), but I did take a peek at somebody else’s, and trust me I will be back soon to try it.
There are a couple of things you need to know about Garden State. There is no seating (yet), so you’ll need to plan accordingly. This could be a bit of an issue as things like Arancine are best eaten right out of the fryer. I ended up gobbling mine down standing right there in front of the cart, but then again it wasn’t raining. In addition, Garden State is located in an emerging “food cart court” parking lot (kitty corner to the Sellwood Library) and there is some construction going on around it as the owner puts in a seating area and patio, and as other carts settle in (there is a taco truck and Asian type cart opening soon as well) making it a little chaotic.
Regardless and despite these issues, those Arancine are pure poetry and although this isn’t your typical cheapie Portland street food, the quality of ingredients and careful approach to cooking make Garden State worth the money and the drive to Sellwood. This is a terrific new addition to Portland’s food cart scene and I’m certain it will soon be a popular favorite.
Sample Menu: Arancine (option of cheese or meat ragu) – $4.00 (or $6.00 with a salad).
Cazilli – $4.00 (or $6.00 with a salad).
Grilled Sausage and Peppers on a Cibatta roll – $6.00
1/2 chicken grilled devil’s style with salad and grilled bread (for 2) – $12.00
Soup of the day – $5.00 with bread
Salad Specials (rotate) – $4.00 – $6.00 range (approximately)
Soft Drinks, Coffee, Juices, etc…. – vary in price
Hours: Lunch 7 days a week: 11:30 to 3:30.