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Sammich’s best advertisement is its consistently-full patio. All the smoke and joie de vivre spilling out of the 695 square-foot restaurant, into its East Burnside parking lot, was part of the reason chef Alexa Numkena-Anderson, a cook with years of experience in fine dining, ditched that scene.
“The restaurant’s the size of my apartment, but we make really awesome food,” she says. “And I don’t just plate it, send it out, and never hear anything about it again. I like being able to move around, give people’s dogs treats, have people ask me questions about the smoker. It’s really fun.”
Eater sat down with Numkena-Anderson and owner Melissa “Mel” McMillan to talk through their favorite spots to eat beyond Sammich’s bustling patio. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Eater: Mel, I read you coach boy’s baseball.
Mel McMillan: I’ve coached probably 400 boys, and I’ll tell you that 389 of them, put in the wrong situation, will do the right thing. That means they’re not gonna let people get bullied, they’re gonna believe that a woman deserves everything a man does. They’re certainly gonna protect the gay population. That’s super important to me. Part of the assignment when Alexa and I got together was to always be mentoring somebody.
Alexa Numkena-Anderson: Somebody new to the industry. I was a little afraid of that. Now I enjoy it. [Mel’s] helped teach me how to communicate with them. “How do I manage a young man who hasn’t done this before?” Restaurants can be intense, so I try to be delicate.
MM: The Porkstrami (house-brined and smoked pork loin, cabbage-arugula slaw, provolone, and jalapenos) is Alexa’s creation. I’ve never given up a spot on the menu; she got it. I spent a long time cooking here, but Alexa’s better at it. That’s okay, everybody’s always gonna be better than you at something. I’m better at selling shit and paying the bills, so build a team and put everyone where they’re in their best spot.
After a day of work, do you wanna go home or do you wanna go out?
ANA: The other day, we went to República. It’s food for the soul. It reminds me of being at home, my stepmom, being a teenager again. The bread, the tortas, the cheese, the tortillas, all of it. There’s a lot of love in it, so it makes me feel taken care of – by family.
That’s the Ratatouille moment.
MM: My wife cooks at home. She’ll joke that I’m a chef but I don’t really cook, and I don’t. I’m really good at cooking the kids’ food.
You’re a dino nugget queen?
MM: Yeah! But she’s the New York Times recipe gal and every one turns out so good. PDX Sliders is definitely my kids’ favorite spot. I do the bacon cheeseburger with American cheese and caramelized onion. We go to Holler a lot because their drumstick is so fucking good and they have video games. We spent $20 to beat Ninja Turtles — our hands were so sweaty.
If you’re taking your wife out, and you’ve got someone to take care of the kids, that changes where you’re going, right?
MM: The other day we went to Milk Glass Mrkt and got the pop-tart, then we went to Tulip Shop Tavern and got the burger. Another day we went to Ripe Cooperative and had food, then went to Kachka and had more — I just spent my whole day at women-owned businesses and was so pumped.
Do either of you have a sweet tooth?
ANA: Have you guys had Berlu? Those pandan buns are so good, and the mango roll cake. Everything is dairy and gluten free. All the textures and flavors are so amazing.
MM: I’m a Ripe Cooperative slut. I’m obsessed. The peanut hot fudge frozen custard, my wife and I got into a fight about it. It was in the freezer, and it was late, and I ate the rest of it. She was like, “You didn’t tell me!?” We also fight about the birthday cake ice cream at Salt & Straw. So we’ll order three pints on Doordash.
Do you have any other delivery staples?
I love Hat Yai. A saucy piece of bread? It’s the best thing you can ever eat.
MM: The wetter the better.
ANA: We’ll just eat bread scraps and soak it in the beef juice here. The perfect snack.
Do you have any friends in the industry that you wanna shout out?
ANA: I really love Quaintrelle. My friend Jamie [Wilcox] is the chef de cuisine there — one of the most talented cooks in the city, really good at fermenting and sauces. She took me on an urban scavenger hunt and pulled green garlic, bay leaves, and microgreens from the ground. She’d be like, “Here, try this.”
MM: If you watch Sam Smith [of Sweedeedee]’s personal Instagram, he goes around to all these places where people do amazing things that don’t get written about. He and I have had this conversation so many times.
Mel, you’re from Chicago, so, you know, we gotta talk pizza.
MM: Do that.