On this week's Takeout Club we suss out brand new centrally located Central Kitchen which appears to be six restaurants, but has the complex quality control of a single point of sale system. Then we wistfully return to the delicious downtown Ghandi Indian Restaurant of our long-gone downtown lunch days. All of it is delicious!
One of the central tenets of takeout is convenience, and Portland's brand new player in the local takeout game, Central Kitchen, is making a strong showing—with added variety, and a dollop of presentation. Whether you want tacos, wings, a milkshake, a poke bowl, or a sushi roll, you can get all of that in one order from Central Kitchen, and it will come at the temperature Restaurant God intended, and thoughtfully packaged for the road.
Essentially Central Kitchen is a long-in-the-works rebrand of Grand Central Restaurant & Bowling Lounge. The new look is a marriage between a food hall and a ghost kitchen. The Central Kitchen website has a food hall appearance—with six, differently branded restaurants to order from, but all the meals are made in the same kitchen thanks to an advanced point of sale system that communicates the orders to the kitchen based on predetermined measurements of how long they take to make. I can attest that my poke tower was cold and my chicken sliders were hot and neither of them fell apart on my walk home (actually I ate the sliders on the walk home).
On a tour of the revamped space—now open for dine-in as well as to go—restaurateur and CEO John Plew explained that he and his longtime business partner Executive Chef Keith Castro planned to create a business focused on takeout and delivery since long before COVID, but the March 2020 shut down pushed their plans into high gear. Plew also owns the chain of Thirsty Lion pubs, which is one of Central Kitchen's six restaurants, and when he reopened the Arizona location at the end of May he noticed an incredible demand for takeout and delivery.
In a city like Portland, Central Kitchen's attempt at creating authentic-seeming brands to go with their multiple offerings may confuse customers. Plew explained that the menus were as much for organization as they were for creating the impression of a food court experience. If they didn't try to create ghost restaurants for their conceptual food hall "it would just be a big list," he said.
Central Kitchen has a lot of offer, not the least of which is their rock solid approach of COVID monitoring which includes temperature checks before each employee can clock-in. The current restaurants in the hall are Thirsty Lion Gastropub, Killer Wings, Southern Jewel, Soy Joy Kitchen, Tortilla Sunrise, and BYOBurger, but Plew says they're hoping to open a coffee shop in the entryway of their 816 SE 8th space (Note: This is not the old door to Grand Central Bowl. Don't be a fool like me!) in the upcoming months.
GhandiI Indian Restaurant
I'm such a fan of Gandhi, on SW 2nd, that I've been stalking it at lunch hours for several months, eagerly waiting its return. If not for the diminished downtown office crowds, there didn't seem to be a good reason for it to be closed because Ghandi's to-go lunch set-up consists of 10+ dishes (generally at least half are vegan or vegetarian) behind a very sturdy plexiglass barrier, which you can choose to have ladled generously onto rice and top off with a piece of naan. It's extremely distanced and one of the quickest, satisfying to-go situations downtown. I'm a Chicken Makhani repeat customer—but do not sleep on those stewed tomatoes. I received them once because I under-enunciated the word "potato" and I've never looked back.