Bunk Sandwiches in Portland, Ore., taps into a nostalgia we all yearn for: the corner sandwich shop. The '50s lunch counter with a man named Frank that asks you "the usual?" and when you say yes, you don’t even smile to yourself smugly because it doesn’t feel cool — it’s just your life.
Those kinds of classic joints may be disappearing, but Bunk is bringing them back, and with a healthy dose of spunk, too. The Southeast Morrison Street location may be channeling some of the divey qualities of your favorite Americano joint, but it’s not without an edge of its own. Once, in the spring of 2010, during rap king Lil Wayne’s incarceration, I noticed "Free Weezy!" scrawled across the chalkboard menu. If only they had a tributary sandwich called "Let the Meat Build."
Run by good friends and sandwich aficionados Tommy Habetz and Nick Wood, Bunk has been getting plenty of Portland love since its opening in 2008. Already, they have two locations — one in SE and one downtown — plus a boozy bar and music venue, Bunk Bar, on Water Avenue and a "Bunk Truck" that you'll be able to catch cruising around the streets of PDX by the end of this month. You know your restaurant’s doing well when Aziz Ansari mentions you in an interview with HypeBeast right alongside Mission Chinese, the trendy Chinese joint Pete Wells just reviewed for The New York Times.
With a menu packed chock-full of solid go-to options, plus a whole array of rotating items that keep the menu fresh, it was tough to choose just which sandwich to spotlight. While the Pork Belly Cubano and Oregon Albacore Tuna Melt were close runner-ups, just one bite of this week’s sandwich and the choice was clear: it has to be the Pulled Pork.
The magic of Bunk sandwiches is in their simple, fresh approach to sandwich-making. And yet the Pulled Pork sandwich is a testament to the complexities that can exist between two slices of poppyseed sourdough bun. The sandwich, which contains just pulled pork, apple cabbage slaw, pickles, and mustard, perfectly straddles the make-or-break dualities that far too many a well-intentioned pulled pork sandwich falls prey to. The pork, soft without feeling soggy or gummy, contrasts perfectly with the crunch of the slaw and the pickles. And while the meat has a tangy kick of its own, its subtlety leaves room for the Dijon to pack a mustardy punch of its own and bring unity of flavor to the whole thing.
Served on a metal tray with a handful of kettle chips and a couple of sliced dills, even the sandwich’s presentation reflects the simple elegance of the place. Maybe that’s just the best part about Bunk: Like so many of its Portland counterparts, it is a testimony to the fact that low-key joints and high-brow food are not mutually exclusive. In fact, at Bunk they coexist in supreme harmony.
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