When Erica Montgomery first opened her soul food cart, Erica’s PDX, she didn’t make wings. She specialized in her family recipes, things like her grandmother’s salmon croquette and smothered chicken — the dishes she grew up eating in Atlanta. “I moved here, and it was a way to be with my family members through the food,” she says.
But as she developed a reputation for her SE 82nd cart, customers started to ask for wings; she threw them on the menu as a special. They were a hit, and she decided to add them to the menu: everything from Atlanta-style lemon-pepper (“extra wet,” in her words) and Buffalo bacon ranch to peach sriracha and maple barbecue. She now serves nine different varieties of wings out of her cart, crispy but heavily sauced, nestled next to a pile of fries with sides of ranch or blue cheese.
Montgomery knows her wings: One of her first restaurant jobs, back in Atlanta, was at a tavern, which churned out a farm’s worth of wings over the course of a night. “We slanged so many wings, and I went, ‘Why wasn’t I doing that yet?’” she says. “I wanted to expose Portland to good wings.”
In just over a year open, Erica’s has become a soul food destination on SE 82nd, with a menu of well-known standards and Montgomery’s own inventions. The cart’s “soul bowls” come filled with things like cornbread, black eyed peas, and greens. The shrimp and grits get a dose of roasted tomato and gouda. And Montgomery can be spotted in the cart boiling peanuts or saucing wings, now in a brand-new cart crowdfunded by the community.
Montgomery’s first food service job was at a pizzeria — “a Domino’s-style place” — but she knew quickly that cooking was for her. “I fell in love with the back of house atmosphere right away,” she says. She started teaching herself how to cook, working through her family’s roster of recipes as she jumped around professionally. She moved to Portland in 2017, where she continued to work in restaurants; however, after losing her job, the man at her neighborhood convenience store offered her the cart outside his space. He had never tasted her food; he just liked and trusted her. “He had a feeling, and he was right,” she says.
The cart wasn’t necessarily well-suited to what she wanted to do. It was smaller than she’d like, and she struggled with the fryer breaking down on large orders. So, after months of making do, she decided to pursue a larger cart for herself, launching a GoFundMe to pay off a custom cart for Erica’s. She had just moved in to her new cart when the snowstorm hit, but Erica’s reopened to feed her community Tuesday night, as many of her neighbors were still without power. “If I could have a brick and mortar, I definitely would do one, but I would probably want to keep my cart where it is,” Montgomery says. “I don’t want to take myself or my food out of my community.”
Erica’s is located at 803 SE 82nd Avenue.