Welcome to Dining Confidential, a monthly column in which local chefs talk about their favorite places in Portland, highlighting their own restaurant’s ethos, sharing fun personal takes, and fostering a community spirit. Know of a chef you’d like to see featured? Let us know via our tip line.
Cheese & Crack Snack Shop is a classic Portland success story: an indie food cart with a playful approach to charcuterie that grew into an expanded brick-and-mortar spot, became a social media sensation, and has since attracted consistent long lines and high-profile customers such as Paul Thomas Anderson and Maya Rudolph. As a queer-owned business, the shop has a special energy during Pride Month, with a cardboard cutout of Reba McEntire in the window beckoning guests to stop for soft-serve cones topped with sparkly rainbow sprinkles and the shop’s iconic chocolate cowboy hat.
We hung out with co-owner William Steurnagel on the shop’s sunny patio to chat about his favorite spots in Portland, including a vintage-glam steakhouse, mall snacks, and passionate endorsements of some farmers market gems. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
So, these interviews are a pretty casual thing. Unless you wanna talk about your trauma surrounding cheese…
William Steurnagel: I’ve been thinking about this. Thinking about my places. I’ll tell you my two favorite spots: Voodoo Doughnut and Pok Pok. (laughs) No, not really. But I did think about the things that I love in this food community, that I think about when I get mad at the city I live in, that make me go, “I can’t leave this.” My [real] favorite place is Ha VL, which I don’t even have to get into. There’s so much writing on it already.
If I wanna be fancy, I go to Luce and have the octopus salad, a glass of wine, and the best service in town. Also fancy, Sayler’s Old Country Kitchen past Mall 205. It’s that meal deal thing I love, where you get the full steakhouse experience. You get a relish tray with this little sour cream dip, carrots, olives, and I always order extra baby corns. They bring you a hot thing of bread with garlic butter to dip it in. You end with ice cream, and you better go with that spumoni.
Malka is also one of my favorites, they’re old friends. We started our food carts next to each other at the same time. There were some really sad days, slow, rainy, depressed, and we would trade food. The owner Jesse Aron makes all the food, it’s just whatever sounds delicious to her that day.
And notably, the names of all the dishes are incredible. You’ll eat a plate of food and it will be called, like, “Ziggy Stardust On A Big Ol’ Boat.”
Yes! I mean, I absolutely adore everything they do there. As a restaurant owner, I’ve got to go to places that are on my route. I go to the PSU Saturday Farmers Market, pick up berries and rhubarb for a sundae, things to pickle, and then get the Buenos Dias Breakfast from Verde Cocina. Big ol’ pile of vegetables, eggs, big thick chunks of bacon, and fresh-made salsa. That’s the best fuel.
And at that farmers market is the unsung hero of Portland, Mio Asaka of Mio’s Delectables. She’s making the most incredible pastries. Every tart has, like, eight different components. Everything is seasonal and gorgeously, meticulously wrapped.
If I have to run out to 82nd for errands, I’m stopping by Bui Natural Tofu to pick up some stuff. They make all their own tofu and their ready-to-go section has rolled rice noodles, little tofu pockets with fried pork, salad rolls, lemongrass tofu. Delicious.
Other than stuff on my route, I’m not a person of daily routine. But I’ve got my seasonal routines. Around the holidays, I go to Joe Brown’s Carmel Corn in Lloyd Center and get Chicago-style popcorn, half caramel and half cheese, in my same tin I’ve gotten refilled for years. It’s always warm in there, and they’re wearing shorts making popcorn in December.
Also – Lloyd Center and yearly traditions? Taste Tickler. Every summer, I go on my birthday. Everyone: send me gift cards. I get a chicken teriyaki sub. It’s comfort to me. That’s my jam. I see the owner at Cash & Carry all the time.
You’re getting ready to open your new restaurant, Mister Goose, along Highway 30. When people write about driving to the coast, it’s not a stretch where dining is often discussed.
It’s going to be in St. Helens. People going out to Astoria need something along that stretch. My grandparents owned a bar in Kansas City in the ‘70s and they made steamed sandwiches, and that’s what we’re gonna do. It’s a hoagie roll with a specialty spread, meat, cheese, pickles, pepperoncini, that’s flash steamed. The bun gets all soft. It’s not something people do in this part of the country, so we’re excited.