Sausage Kings of... Portland 

Olympic Provisions Expands Its Charcuterie Empire

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THE CHAIRS INSIDE Olympic Provisions' new Westside outpost are terribly uncomfortable; the back—just a bar, really—cuts right across my spine and does nothing for my already poor posture. That's about the harshest criticism I can level.

When Carlyle shut down and rumors started circulating that OP would be expanding their little charcuterie empire across the river, just down the street from my office, I felt a little giddy. The prospect of quick access to their deli counter—saucisson sec and pork rillettes and chorizo Andalucia—had our neighborhood's lunchtime anticipation up at pre-Sandwichworks levels.

The quality of the charcuterie was never really in question (I assumed that the salamis I'd come to love, the cheeses that paired so nicely with them, and the accompaniments I tend to hoard on my side of the board wouldn't vary too much). The kitchen, however, was more of a wild card. Chef Erin Williams, while not a total stranger to me (she was previously sous chef at Clyde Common), wasn't someone I was terribly familiar with. I was curious to see how meals of the non-picnic variety would stack up.

Lunch, I was pleasantly surprised to see, was totally reasonable. Sandwiches range from $6 to $9, and while they might not leave me stuffed and in need of a nap, I've certainly never left hungry, and occasionally haven't been able to clean my plate. The most decadent option has to be the house-made porchetta ($9), which comes on Lovejoy Bakers ciabatta, loaded up with balsamic-marinated onions. It's slathered with aioli... maybe a little too much—as delicious as it may be, I wouldn't order this sandwich on a first date or at a business meeting in which you needed to impress someone with your good manners. The porchetta itself is fatty and delicious, and is served with a little bit of the skin still on.

Not all the options are so heavy. There's an excellent vegetarian sandwich full of braised greens, onions, onion jam, Gruyère, and romesco ($8), and if you're curious to sample their house-cured bacon, you can't go wrong with a BLT ($8). Those with more of a sweet tooth could opt for a Nocciolata sandwich with house preserves and banana ($6).

The one "sandwich" I've been a bit under-whelmed with was the frankfurter. Maybe it was a case of mismanaged expectations—the Eastside location limited supply to Friday afternoons, so much like the Tickle Me Elmo mom got me last Christmas, the experience of enjoying said product was overshadowed by the anticipation of receiving something in such scarcity (please excuse my outdated cultural reference). It pretty much tasted like a hot dog, which isn't in itself a bad thing, but at $7 and outside the walls of a baseball game, I kind of wanted something more.

The rotisserie chicken, on the other hand, is everything I look for in a skewered bird. The bright-red rotisserie oven sits in front of a white subway-tile wall, and immediately draws your eye to its slowly rotating chicken. If it seems like some kind of subliminal-marketing tactic, don't resist it. The chicken is moist and smothered in salty juices. It's served with a pile of "schmaltz potatoes," which are roasted in the drippings. At lunch, a quarter of a bird only runs $8, and a half goes for $15 (the former satiates my needs just fine). At dinner it's served with a bread salad and bacon ($17 for a half/$22 for a whole).

At a recent dinner, unable to resist the charcuterie any longer, I started with the Alsace board ($12), which included the region's namesake sausage, a hunk of Muenster cheese, pretzel chips, pickled raisins (delicious, though the experience of eating them brought me back to the Gushers fruit snacks we used to steal from my friend's pantry), toasted cumin (really nice with the cheese), a dollop of grain mustard, and a small shot of a sweet Alsatian white wine. You can also mix and match a variety of sausages, pâtés, and cheeses for a starter, and it's tough to go wrong with any of them.

If you like your meat a little less cured, Chef Williams cooks an excellent rib-eye (she seemed to understand that when I order "medium rare," I prefer it light on the "medium"). It's served over two broad, thick slices of tomato with dense blue cheese and anchovies. On the vegetarian side, we had an enormous bowl of polenta that was filled with whole roasted cherry tomatoes, squash, cipollini onions, and herbs. It's topped with a sunny-side egg and grated grana padano. The consistency is almost bisque-like, and the polenta itself is incredibly rich. Great dish to share.

I'm hoping the Westside location follows their big-brother-from-back-East's lead and starts offering a happy hour—they have a great wine list, and the cocktail selection looks pretty damn formidable. If they do, Olympic Provisions might become my go-to after-work spot, even if I do have to bring my own seat cushion.

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