Tammie McHappenstance III
Soul Shack

521 SW 9th

Like most every twenty-something person I know here, I am not originally from Portland. Not too long ago I followed the example set by numerous other former Southern Californians and moved north. And for that, I'm very sorry. One of the first local customs that threw me for a loop, other than having to dial 503 for local calls, was the army of food carts downtown. Not quite restaurants, not quite the portable "roach coaches," the mere existence of these carts was enough to keep me away. Chalk it up to that damn Southern Californian pretension, but where I'm from, restaurants have doors, not wheels. Also, what are the odds of a vegetarian being able to find anything edible in a place like that? Okay, here is the part of the article where I take back everything and pledge my undying love to Soul Shack.

Situated across from a hip shoe store and vintage clothing shop that everyone seems to know of but me, the Soul Shack is basically just that: a shack; a small yellow metal cart overloaded with friendly charisma and a wildly creative menu. The main fare here is Southern Food, aka the least Vegetarian food of them all. But instead of the artery-clogging Pork Ribs, Beef Ribs, Sausage Ribs, Bacon Ribs and all that other crap I can never eat at other Southern joints, the Soul Shack caters to the sexy vegetarian and the even sexier vegan. Standard fare items such as cornbread are far from normal at the Shack. Instead of the compressed yellow chunks of grain found elsewhere, their cornbread is remarkably light, fluffy, and moist enough to avoid the dreaded glob of Country Crock butter spread. Other sides, or "fixins" as I like to call them, include a generous selection of vegetables and some United Nations Southern selections such as hummus.

The problem with doing a restaurant review is that in theory you are supposed to sample the entire menu; that way you get a fair and accurate view of what the establishment has to offer. This was my sole intention when eating at the Soul Shack; I'd wait my turn in line, peruse the menu, decide on something new and exciting, but once the moment of truth would come, I'd panic and order the goddamn meatloaf. There is no other way to explain this last second audible; their meatloaf is fucking spectacular. The thing is, back in my meat-eating days, I hated meatloaf. It was this dreaded heartburn inducing meal that my grandma would drop on our plates, with a dull thud, during celebrations of Easter, the birth of Baby Jesus, or any other holiday I cared nothing about. Thankfully the Soul Shack's meatloaf is not the stomach brick my grandmother's was, plus it doesn't trudge up those dreaded memories of my family's numerous dysfunctions. The meatloaf is, of course, fake, so expect a heavy box of hearty vegetables coated nicely with (fake) gravy and add a couple (real) vegetable sides. I recommend the collard greens, which are a nice balance of the finer, yet often neglected, vegetables. Mom would be proud.