Portland’s Pig Nirvana

By on November 13, 2017


By Doug Mitchell

When Famous Amos opened his first cookie shop on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles, Wally himself would bring a huge electric fan outside the small bakery every time he fired up the oven and turn it on high. Pretty soon, the sweet aroma of chocolate-chips melting in brown sugar would waft through the streets eventually bringing droves of L.A. cookie monsters to scarf down what would become the cookie sensation of the ‘70s.

The nose knows, said Durante; and he was right.

Take a walk along Williams Avenue in the north section of Portland, Oregon when the People’s Pig outdoor smokers are doing their thing, and the succulent aroma of slow-cooked pork and chicken will have you salivating in your tracks, as it draws you to the little 1950’s shack that Portland Monthly Magazine called the Best Barbeque in the City of Roses in 2015.

And just in case your nose is runny from all that Portland “brisk” cold air, you have but to follow the billows of white smoke coming out of the giant bomb-like furnaces off to the shack’s side.

No, we haven’t selected a new Pope, it’s just owner-chef and barbeque master Cliff Allen cooking up another mess of his sensational ‘cue. Allen is one of those successful food cart entrepreneurs who gained enough reputation and cash to open his own brick and mortar place (although in this instance, it’s probably more wood paneling and sticky tape) in one of the hottest new food areas in this town of “hottest new food areas.”

The shack had been a staple on North Williams for decades, and if my information is correct, when the previous owner retired and sold the place to Allen, she insisted that the “décor” remain the same. It has.

The chairs and booths show every sign of their age, and the walls, adorned with personal photos and other memorabilia of times gone by, could probably use some, shall we say, “light touches.”

But the smoked meats and barbeque going on inside tell us this is a place to be reckoned with. Zagat agrees, giving them 4 ½ stars in 2017. As the name promises, this is mostly about pig, and the little porker is prominent on the menu with slow smoked and barbeque versions of pork shoulder, a Cubano sandwich and various size racks of St. Louis style dry-rubbed ribs.

Despite this obvious glorification of the swine, it’s the lowly chicken that seems to draw the star attention, garnering the top spot on the menu. Through a combination of smoke and frying, Allen has come up with a chicken recipe that defies accurate description, but which provoked the Oregonian newspaper to come close to calling it, “Portland’s sandwich of the year.”

The only problem I have with the menu is the lamb. It was cooked to perfection, juicy and tender, but far too fatty. I think pork fat is the cure-all for all flat recipes, duck fat is the perfect frying medium and even beef fat can have its place in the fat pantheon. But there is something about big chunks of lamb fat that tends to turn me cold. But hey. That’s just me.

Fortunately, the lamb sandwich I tried last week came with a very sharp steak knife to trim off the excess. Most of the meats can be ordered as a sandwich or as a plate. The sides are all excellent, and include a good size portion of collard greens, cooked with large chunks of pork; creamy coleslaw, which adorns one of the pork sandwiches; plus my personal favorite- black eyed peas, as well as potato or macaroni salads.

If you’ve got a southern sweet tooth, you can order a side of cornbread drenched in cane sugar syrup.

People’s Pig is open for lunch and dinner daily from 11 AM to 9 PM with extended hours Friday and Saturday nights. Happy Hour 3 PM to 6 PM weekdays. Cocktails, wine and beer. Limited seating with some outside tables and a new patio in the rear. Call ahead and To Go orders, catering. 3217 N. Williams Avenue, Portland, Oregon (near Freemont). 503-282-2800.

About Doug Mitchell