Picture this scene: I'm sitting in a long, narrow dining room with windows at one end, a kitchen at the other, and tables lined up tidily in between. Two cute boys sit at an adjacent table, and there's a pile of pork spareribs on the table in front of me.
I look at the boys.
I look at the ribs.
Fast forward 20 minutes. The ribs are gone, so are the boys, and my dining partner tells me that I have barbeque sauce on my forehead. At this rate I'm going to die alone, but... damn, those ribs were good.
The spareribs at Northeast Portland's Podnah's Pit are dry rubbed and smoked five or six hours, according to the menu—owner Rodney Muirhead gears up the smoker at 5 am every morning to have meat out for dinner. The early wake-up call pays off: The resulting lightly sauced meat barely clings to the bone, and it's worth gnawing off every last bit. There are two types of sauce on the table—one the vinegar-based sauce that is used to flavor the pulled pork, the other tomato-based—but the ribs are flavorful and moist enough that they don't need much extra.
Other items include a brisket sandwich, which did actually require some saucing; it was drier than expected, despite a fair amount of fat, and the flavor was a bit timid. A pulled pork plate, though, was a resounding success: Tangy and tender, the meat is smoked 12 to 14 hours before a baptismal toss in Carolina vinegar sauce.
The sandwiches come with a side dish (potato salad, slaw, pinto beans, etc.), and the meat plates come with two, but next time I go back to Podnah's—and I will be back—I probably won't waste valuable stomach space on the sides. The cornbread was on the dry side (my friend took one bite and said, "I don't have enough spit to deal with this right now"); the collard greens were salty and meaty, the potato salad lighter and crisper than average—but really, nothing outshines the meat dishes. On both visits I ended up too full to try the pecan pie, a serious failure of both strategy and intestinal fortitude on my part. Listen to the menu description: "Made with Steen's Cane Syrup, leaf lard, and butter crust." Mmhmm...
Do not allow snobbery to deter you from ordering the iceberg wedge, served exactly like it sounds—a big ol' wedge of lettuce, drizzled in house-made dressing, Thousand Island, or a stunning blue cheese. Yes, we all know that iceberg is the Wonder Bread of the lettuce world—get over it. In fact, I'm pretty sure Wonder Bread is available at Podnah's for sopping up the sauce ("white bread" is available on request, anyway), so let's just check the snooty-pants baggage at the door, shall we?
On second thought, beer snobs'll be fine here; on my last visit, taps were flowing with Lompoc's C-Note, Laurelwood Gold, and Konig Ludwig Weiss. The soda options, too, are fantastic: Look for ginger beer, grape, lime, and cream sodas, and funkier, less common flavors like Big Red or Moxie Elixir. Plus, like many of the best restaurants in Portland right now, Podnah's uses top-quality ingredients (Carlton Farms pork and Strawberry Mountain beef) to apply "Portland rules" to a regional cuisine, allowing diners to indulge their inner BBQ fiend without sacrificing sustainability.
Podnah's is open for lunch and dinner, with a limited menu available during the day.