HOW WILL FUTURE GOURMANDS of Portland view our current era's sandwich glut? Will they see it as a product of lean times, necessitated by a faltering economy and increased thrift? Will they see it as a golden era, when Portland was the best place to get stuff between sliced bread? Or will they see it as a brief, amusing trend? Who can say? I only know they'll be jealous. We are lucky enough to be witnesses to the rise of the sandwich—and oh how delicious it is.
Portland has a sandwich shop for every taste: Bunk offers straight from the hip, grubbin' hand meals, Meat Cheese Bread presents ingenious and innovative future favorites, and Kenny and Zuke's wheels out beautiful classic American meat monstrosities. Then there's Evoe on SE Hawthorne, completing the pantheon with sandwiches that exhibit rustic crusty élan of the most mannered sort.
Evoe is a dangerous place to lunch. On a bright day at the end of winter, the small space is full of light, the stools surrounding the butcher-block counter are irresistible, and the air is full of the dank musk of meat and aged cheese. Once you've eased your way through a glass of wine and a muffuletta sandwich—with its crackling crust and deeply savory interior of mortadella, ham, provolone, and olive salad—you may glance up from your book, check the time, and find you're an hour late returning to work.
It's easy to linger at Evoe. Chef Kevin Gibson approaches his selection of sandwiches, salads, and snacks with deliberate measured ease, and the unhurried atmosphere allows the world to be reduced to watching a slow trickle of passersby on the sidewalk outside.
Evoe's menu begs to be savored. Why rush the Gallego, a sandwich composed of anchovy and a timidly spicy accompaniment of chopped fennel and red peppers on Grand Central ciabatta? The Speck sandwich—a combination of smoked prosciutto, asiago, arugula, and mustard on house-made focaccia—also deserves time to experience the mustard and arugula complementing the subtle smoke of the prosciutto.
These are simple sandwiches, and in their simplicity tend toward balance. Let's face it; the French know a good thing when they taste it, as reflected in the Parisienne, a classic crusty baguette beauty with ham, mustard, and brie. Simplicity is also present in the selection of salads. In one instance, endive, hazelnuts, skinny sticks of ripe pear, and chunks of blue cheese are tossed to create a light salad that's bright and nutty.
The star of Evoe's menu is the charcuterie plate, a visual delight of diversely textured cured meats, pickled veggies, and pâtés that are perfect on the palate. The rabbit rillettes are smoother than others, but still quite good. The selection of pâté is delightful, as is a white ribbon of lardo that melts slowly on the tongue. However, the standouts of the cured meats are the thin slices of salami from Seattle's much-loved Salumi.
The staff is friendly and adept at suggesting wine pairings, but can be a bit too laidback—if you're in a hurry, this is not your lunch spot. Evoe's made for folks with time to spare. And only time will tell, but I suspect those future Portland gourmands are likely to regard Evoe as one of Portland's sandwich shop grand jewels.