The Delta Cafe, Portland

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I like to think that I am well-versed in world cuisines. I am, after all, a British-born Chinese girl who spent most of her childhood holidaying in France and Spain, as well as skiing around most of Europe, which gives me a pretty good head start. We did not, however, holiday very much in America, and I think that’s where much of my fascination with the country comes from. In fact, no cuisine holds as much mystery for me as that of the deep American south.

The year I lived in Portland I was on a personal mission to discover as much of “Amurika” as I could. I was determined to go to a diner for a slice of pie and a coffee, to visit an Applebee’s, to eat as many chalupas at Taco Bell as I could, and, among all of these terrible trashy things, I wanted some Southern food: proper, down home, your-momma-gon’-make-you-cornbread Southern food. That’s where The Delta Cafe came in.

My first ever Delta visit is lost in a haze of Tuesday Cheap Drinks Night, deep-fried okra and oodles of ‘catsup’, as the Americans like to call it. I might have flirted with the bartender with the cringe-inducing line, “I’m from London y’know, which means I’m about 10 times sexier than most of the people in here. Just saying…”; my friend might have done the splits in the middle of the bar; we also might have started singing ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ and doing multiple fist pumps (was I kneeling on the floor with my eyes closed?); but what was definite was that the okra was delicious. So delicious, in fact, that it warranted a second visit. And a third. And a fourth.

The red beans were always a solid favourite: delicious red beans, onions and parsley, all served on top of fluffy white rice with a bit of bite. Sometimes I would head down for dinner and eat only this while my friends chowed down on juicy, spicy blackened catfish, a giant bowl of mac-n-cheese, or your-momma-couldn’t-make-a-better meatloaf, drowning in gravy and served with mountains of creamy mashed potatoes, so thick it felt like swallowing a mouthful of cotton. All of this, of course, accompanied by the obligatory jar (yes, an actual jar) of sweet tea. Perhaps this is where my obsession with sweet tea started.

Every visit finished with a slow waddle back to the Reed College campus where I was living, feeling rather sleepy, a little tipsy and definitely carrying a food baby – no, a Southern food baby. Yes, this to me was comfort food to the extreme. It might have been the Pacific Northwest but all of my visits to The Delta transported me right into the centre of the deep South…Or at least I imagined so, never having been. It was good enough for me.

With fantastic service, extremely reasonably priced food and a real homemade charm, The Delta Cafe is always at the top of my list on my return visits to Portland. This trip I managed to make it down for dinner and drinks on my first day back, then again a few days later. The bartender even remembered me, but that’s probably due to the fact that there aren’t too many British Chinese girls wandering around town, and each time was filled with good food, reminiscing and making new memories. Surely what the best meals are all about? It’s definitely on my agenda.

The Delta Cafe, 4607 SE Woodstock Blvd., Portland OR, 97206, USA. Website.

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