Tom Amick, the owner of the new Southeast Portland food cart Moore Food & Company, winces when he hears the phrase “Philly cheesesteak.” “Let’s just call them cheesesteaks,” he says, leaning in like it’s a secret. “The minute you see ‘Philly-style cheesesteak’ [on a menu], it’s not a fucking cheesesteak.”
Amick’s food cart, hidden down an alleyway off SE Division, may be one of the best new spots to find unfussy East Coast staples in Portland: The Pennsylvania expat sells Taylor’s pork roll on Kaiser rolls, crispy egg rolls filled with beef and cheese, and real-deal cheesesteaks, with super-thin shaved curls of steak coated in a thin layer of molten cheese served on an Amoroso’s roll.
But Amick isn’t just the guy making the cheesesteaks and the egg rolls: The entire outdoor space, with its hanging lanterns, chess set, mismatched chairs, and hanging strawberry plants, was built by Amick and his family. And now, with its 2002-Portland aesthetic and you’re-already-a-regular service, Moore Alley — home to both Moore Food & Company and the sibling coffee cart, Moore Coffee — may become one of the most laid-back outdoor dining spots in a city full of them.
Amick wasn’t planning on getting back into the food service world. He and his wife, Susan Amick, had essentially left the industry after decades working in food service, moving from their home in Bucks County, Pennsylvania to Oregon to be near the kids. Susan’s daughter and Tom’s stepdaughter, Casey, was engaged to a coffee vet, Billy Moore, and they planned to get married in the lot behind their SE Division apartment. They bought furniture and string lights for the event and built out a deck, but when the COVID-19 pandemic postponed the wedding, they had plenty of seating and decor available for a tiny food cart pod in the lot. Moore, a Crema alum, had always wanted to open a coffee cart, and with all three family members nudging Tom, he decided to get back in the game, opening a food cart to park next to his future son-in-law’s coffee cart.
Now, the full back patio has become an all-day hangout: Starting at 6 a.m., Moore pulls espresso from a Marzocco machine set up in a renovated van, using Terrain Coffee Project beans and serving Crema pastries. At noon, the Amicks open the food cart for lunch service, frying egg rolls filled with Monte Cristo or Reuben filling, or tossing pesto Caesar salads, a nod to the restaurant where Susan worked for years. After Moore shuts down his cart at 2 p.m., he’ll stroll the few feet over to the food cart, where he’ll fill growlers with Oregon beers, chatting with the family’s roster of regulars who sit at the bar surrounding the cart.
It’s hard to nail down what makes Moore Alley feel so special: It has some of the so-called “Old Portland” charm of a place like Pied Cow or Rimsky-Korsakoffee House, while also feeling new to the city. There are more elaborate or intricate patios in Portland, but the spontaneous nature of Moore Alley’s gives it a sense of authenticity. And the whole space has the feel of a family restaurant: If Tom is working the griddle in the cart, Susan is tending bar. She was a huge part of the reason Tom agreed to get back in the food service game — she missed the industry and loved the idea of starting a family business. “I missed being around people. I wanted a little cafe, small and comfy, where people would want to sit and chitchat and see their friends. It doesn’t feel like work,” she says. “I want it to feel like a family here; I want it to be our living room.”
Moore Alley is located at 3576B SE Division Street.