Thomas Pisha-Duffly, the co-owner and chef of the buzzy Indonesian restaurant Gado Gado, and the restaurant’s sous chef, Ian Schoening, both call their grandmother “Oma.”
Their backgrounds, however, are distinct: Pisha-Duffly grew up as a quarter-Chinese kid in New England, eating “McDonalds right next to Indonesian and Malaysian curries,” in his words. Schoening, a German-Irish kid from Florida, knows his way around a currywurst, but spent much of his adult life cooking Thai food at places like San Francisco’s Hawker Fare. As they built the menu at the new Division restaurant Oma’s Takeaway — which opened Saturday, August 29, the Oregonian first reported — they pulled from their shared experience as diners and cooks. The resulting menu redefines Americana, reflecting the country’s array of cultures and how they interact with each other: five-spice tater tots with curry ketchup, Ambrosia salad with matcha whipped cream, char siu with ginger scallion noodles straight out of one of the country’s 41,000 Chinese restaurants.
Earlier this year, Gado Gado — the Indonesian restaurant at the height of its buzz — had to close its dining room to accommodate new COVID-19 restrictions. Not much of the restaurant’s menu traveled particularly well, so the team decided to try out a takeout pop-up called Oma’s Takeaway, referencing Pisha-Duffly’s grandmother, Kiong Tien Vandenberg, who lived much of her life in Indonesia. The team, including Schoening, developed a menu incorporating some culinary inspiration from Tien Vanderberg, as well as off-the-cuff dishes like Flamin’ Hot chicharrones. By the end of its run, however, the menu had drifted, with seasonal salads and vegetable-heavy ramen.
Once restaurants could reopen, Gado Gado transitioned back to its original schtick, and people began to bemoan the loss of Oma’s Takeaway. The team snagged the former Whiskey Soda Lounge space on Division, and has transformed it into the permanent Oma’s Takeaway.
The restaurant’s central dish is a nasi lemak, Tien Vandenberg’s clove-scented garlic rice with a fried egg, sambal ikan bilis (a spicy condiment that gets its funk from anchovies), crispy peanuts, and candied anchovy. Customers can sort of build their meals around that dish, adding on ayam goreng (Indonesian fried chicken marinated in red curry), salads like Gado Gado’s gorgeous melon and cucumber salad, and asam pedas (an Indonesian sour seafood stew). Schoening, Oma’s chef de cuisine, will handle the day-to-day running of the restaurant’s kitchen, and helped collaborate with a number of dishes. The restaurant’s cabbage salad, however, is all his, with raw cabbage, pickled mustard greens, dried shrimp, and crispy chickpeas.
Mariah Pisha-Duffly, Gado Gado’s co-owner, is the mastermind behind the bar menu, which includes boozy slushies and cucumber-cilantro limeade. The team adopted Whiskey Soda Lounge’s soda gun, which Mariah Pisha-Duffly has hooked up with a number of house-made sodas — coconut-lime and tamarind-pineapple, specifically. Those sodas end up becoming the foundation for a number of cocktails, a gentle nod to the building’s origins.
In the last few months, the building has transformed into a COVID-era outdoor restaurant: Safely spaced tables come with “landing zones” more than 6 feet away, where servers can drop food and leave the area before customers retrieve their meals. Personal bus tubs are also nearby, so people can clear their plates if they feel so inclined. Plus, those who want to skip dining in altogether can just walk up and order takeout from a window.
The family takes COVID-19 precautions very seriously: Tien Vandenberg died of the disease earlier this year. “She represents the last of the cultural touchstones of my heritage. She was this anchor for me, to my culture, that’s gone,” he says of his grandmother. “Having her gone is hard, but also, the Irish part of me understands that death is a part of life; it’s to be celebrated and not mourned. I think she’d be really proud of what we’re doing here.”
Oma’s Takeaway is open from 5 to 10 p.m. (taking final orders at 9:30 p.m.), Thursdays through Sundays, at 3131 SE Division Street.