William Steuernagel, founder and co-owner of Portland’s Cheese & Crack, has opened a new restaurant spotlighting an unexpected regional dish in an even more unexpected location. Mister Goose, located in St. Helens off Highway 30, is inspired by a ‘70s-era bar run by Steuernagel’s grandparents in downtown Kansas City, and it’s a temple to his grandma Betty’s signature dish: the Midwestern steamed sandwich.
Many Pacific Northwesterners may have never heard of such a thing, or even considered the culinary scene of the town that’s best known as a pit stop on the way to Astoria and a magnet for Twilight and Halloweentown fans. But the area is Steuernagel’s home, and one day inspiration struck. “There was this little place close to the highway, and close to my house, and I said to the owner ‘Hey, if you’re ever interested in selling, let me know,’ and he did,” says Steurnagel. In taking over the unassuming spot, Mister Goose isn’t trying to be destination dining, instead attempting to become an instant classic — a place that already feels like it’s been there forever, doing one thing and doing it right.
That one thing is the steamed sandwich. Deli meats and Havarti cheese on Franz hoagie rolls are flash-steamed, basted with clarified butter, topped with a house seasoning, then served alongside house-made San Marzano tomato soup. There are two vegetarian options: plain cheese or shiitake mushroom. There’s no gluten-free bread. Miller High Life on draft is the one and only beer option, and cocktails are playfully and intentionally kitschy, like the “Dirty Betty,” made with cherry limeade and Tito’s Vodka. And “you won’t find lettuce, tomato, or onion anywhere in sight,” says Steuernagel.
The focus here is not on variety, but on a singular, unique experience: the moment the sandwich comes out of the steamer, all hot meat, melty cheese, and soft bun. And while the centerpiece dish is comforting, Steuernagel doesn’t want it to be a gut bomb — the meats are sliced thin, and sides like a pickled pepper and olive plate and a sweet cucumber salad are there to help bring acidity and balance.
“For business reasons, with the cost of food and the size of the kitchen, we can’t have a huge menu,” says Steuernagel. “We have to make sure everything is fresh and simple and people know what they’re supposed to get. It’s not for everybody, but if you like what we have, come. Not every place needs to be a Cheesecake Factory.”
Unlike many restaurants, where a limited menu can sometimes be received with an air of exclusivity or snobbery, Steuernagel equates his small menu to that of a fast-moving dive bar. This is also reflected in the decor, complete with green vinyl barstools, plastic menus, old-school TV reruns always playing, and a jingly bell on the front door. “Dive bar is not an insult; it’s what I want,” Steuernagel says. “People from Portland, construction workers, little old ladies here to play video lottery: Come off the river or a long drive, have a beer and a sandwich. It’ll be fast, you won’t wait for food.”
Mister Goose is located at 58499 Columbia River Highway in St. Helens and is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.