There's a new food truck in town, helmed by two New York-trained professional chefs with a penchant for global smash-ups. And if it wasn't in the under-the-radar Belle Food Cart mini pod on SE Belmont, you'd probably have eaten there several times by now.
Neue Southern, open since October, has snuck up on Portland, but it likely won't remain hidden for long. The duo behind the truck, Lauren Zanardelli and Graham Foster, first launched the cart in Greenville, S.C., a year and a half ago. Their brand of Southern food with global flavors gained a loyal following, but they weren't satisfied. "We felt restless," says Zanardelli. "We felt like we kept hitting the ceiling. We wanted to be in a big food city where we would be inspired by other people." So they sold the cart last summer, headed west, and bought a new one here, where they're cooking up a short menu that hints of Portland's growing number of "inauthentic" joints like Smallwares and The American Local. There are big, soft, pillowy steamed buns stuffed with Vietnamese pork patties and pickled vegetables; braised beef with grits; Thai khao soi; fried brussels sprouts drizzled with cider gastrique and topped with popped sorghum; and deep-fried apple pies.
"Our travels dictate the menu," says Foster. "But we'll always have something Southern."
Zanardelli and Foster met as students in Johnson and Wales cooking school. They were both at the beginning of their journeys to a second, more fulfilling career as chefs. Once they graduated in 2012, they headed for the big time — New York. Stints at Public, Saxon & Parole and an Austrian restaurant called Wallsé offered rigorous training grounds, but life in New York isn't easy, or cheap. So they packed up and moved south to Foster's hometown of Greenville South Carolina. You know the rest. As for the future, they say brick-and-mortar is the ultimate goal, says Zanardelli. "This is just a stepping stone."
Neue Southern PDX: SE Belmont and 26th Avenue (next to the new Portland Knife House); Tuesdays-Fridays noon-8 p.m.; Saturdays noon-5 p.m.