[Updated January 2010 – according to reports, Junior Ambassador’s is closed and will not re-open]
Description: To describe this neat orange cart as specializing in “*panwiches and ice cream”, is to say Alice in Wonderland is merely a book about a girl and a rabbit.
For eating at Junior Ambassadors is to transport yourself to another world. I guarantee you there is no other food cart like this anywhere else. Well, in this stratosphere at least. Perhaps they eat like this all the time in the land of Mostlandia, a topsy-turvy place inhabited by the likes JR. Ambassadors’ owner Rudy Speerschneider. For you see, Rudy is a mad food cart scientist. An evil gourmet genius. The Salvador Dali of the Portland food carts. A poet the likes of Ferlinghetti with a griddle. A cook who shares certain DNA with Alice B. Toklas. A man who basis his menu on dreams and premonitions. Inspired by the seasons and whatever force of nature artistic muse possesses his spirit. I’m not kidding.
But is the food good? Yes. Very Good. Made fresh and made with care, everything I’ve had here is balanced and a delight on the tongue. Satisfying to the tummy and presented with flair.
First off there are the panwiches. Described by Rudy as, “*griddled cornmeal and whole wheat pancakes are the bread, panini grilled.*” These sandwiches (of sorts) are like flavorful toothsome soft bread paninis stuffed with all sorts of goodness. They are wonderfully inventive and include things such as the Turkey Ruby – “like a Reuben, but with a homemade Applekraut ( red cabbage ) & Swiss cheese, Tangy sauce, on the New Rye Panbread”, or the Tuna Melt (the time I tried it, it was made on a cornmeal panbread, and contained Lime-Cilantro, Tomatoes, & Cheddar cheese). Sides for the panwiches include a refreshing ginger slaw or Cheez-Its. It’s like comfort food made by your mom. If your Mom was Bjork.
Soups are whimsical but substantial and rotate daily. I could never do the descriptions justice, so I’ll just let Rudy do the talking:
The soup of the day is not only guided by the season, but also the weather. Like Split Pea on a foggy day or a brothy stew on an under the weather day, or a goulash on a muddy day.
Finally, In Rudy’s world, ice cream is not just a dessert but is perfectly fine anytime. Indeed, Rudy states Mostlandians consume almost every meal and beverage in ice cream form and well, that’s something this Portlandian can certainly groove on. Thus, the menu guide is divided into breakfast ice creams such as (cantaloupe or maple syrup “strip tease bacon”), lunch ice creams (caprese sundae, strawberry chipotle), dinner ice creams (coconut curry, corn on the cob), snack ice creams ( ginger snap cookies n’ basil, or chocolate and pretzel stick), drink ice creams (green tea, apple cider for example), and dessert ice creams that are a bit more mainstream (chocolate, orange, etc.)
At first I was horrified, then intrigued, then amused by the thought of the Smoked Salmon and Cream Cheese Ice Cream Sundae. Yes, you read that right – Smoked Salmon and Cream Cheese Ice Cream (WTF?). Then I tried it. Whoa. Riddle my taste buds. It was…delicious. It took my brain a couple of minutes to compute the cold, the creamy, the savory, the smoky fish and sweet of the cream cheese together with the added elements of dill and capers. But be damned, it somehow all worked in harmony. Served with flat bread type crackers and a sprinkle of dill and caper relish it was the bagel and cream cheese as reinvented by leading molecular chef Ferran Adria. Seriously, it was wonderful.
Yes, it might all sound a bit out there and obtuse, perhaps even childlike. And yes, it is certainly different than your standard Pad Thai, burrito or Indian combo cart meal. Yet there is something entirely charming, entirely transportive and entirely satisfying about the food at Junior Ambassadors. Plus covered seating, amusements like a chess board and the friendly chef/owner make this cart a wonderful addition to the Portland food cart scene. Highly recommended.
Sample Menu: (changes frequently. Be sure to check out their WEBSITE)
Spring PANWICHES: Griddled cornmeal and whole wheat pancakes are the bread, panini grilled. Served with side of house made ginger Slaw or Cheez-its or Soup (add $1.50).
TURKEY RUBY ~ like a Reuben, but with a Applekraut ( red cabbage ) & Swiss cheese, Tangy sauce, on the New Rye Panbread. ~ $6
VEG OUT ~ a roasted & seasoned assortment of vegetables with melted cheese ( Currently: Red Peppers, Zucchini, Sweet Onion, Garlic & Feta. ) ~$6
TUNA MELT ~ with Lime-Cilantro, Tomatoes, & Cheddar cheese. ~$6
GRILLED CHEESE ~ with Sharp Cheddar & Blue Cheese. ~$5
( Peanut Butter and Jelly is always available ~ $4 )
homemade ICE CREAM: Flavors change with the season and as each new batch that has to be made.
$2.50 a scoop ~ $4.50 for two scoops ~ $6.50 a pint ~
Crazy Ice Cream Flavor of the Week: Smoked Salmon & Cream Cheese Sundae
(yup, that’s right…topped with Dill sprinkles and a Capers relish, served on a Cracker. )
Ice Cream Flavors “On Scoop”:
Gingersnap Cookies & Basil
Maple Strip Tease
Coconut Curry (vegan)
Vanilla Bean ( $4 as a Root beer Float )
homemade SOUPS: Soups change daily and seasonally. Served with a Panbread.
$3.00 cup ~ $5.00 bowl
Ginger Honey and Cayenne TEA
Hours: This Cart Closed in 2009.
Location: CLOSED – Location was the lot next to 4734 N. Albina (on N. Albina near the corner of N. Blandena)