In the last few years, Portland sandwich shops blossomed. We went from a town with hardly any decent options to an embarrassment of riches.
The secret ingredient that is setting these shops apart is the staff; they actually have a chef and workers who are passionate about making the best damn sandwich they can. This leads to innovations that rise beyond the norm. In the case of Meat Cheese Bread Restaurant, we are talking about thoughtful combinations of ingredients like Granny Smith apples, honey butter, and brie, or raising the bar of the standard sloppy Joe by using a pork belly Bolognese on a house-made roll.
One can’t help but make the comparison between Meat Cheese Bread (MCB) and Bunk Sandwiches. For many there seem to be clear differences between the two, but I don’t feel that way. I like Bunk a lot, and I like MCB just as much. Maybe people like the dive feel imparted by Bunk; for me, it tugs at something primal – memories of standing in line with my father at little sandwich dives in Los Angeles. MCB feels more open and bright, and when I leave my clothes don’t smell of grill smoke. Bunk tends to use more “foodie type” ingredients, but MCB tends to use standard ingredients in more interesting ways. Either way, I think there is room for both of these shops.
On to Meat Cheese Bread: starting with breakfast choices, some are fairly pedestrian; a PB&J, even made very well on grilled sourdough as it is here, is still a PB&J. More interesting is the breakfast burrito, full of smoky green chilies, cheddar cheese, scrambled eggs and hash-browns. It all comes together in a perfect amalgam that has generated a passionate following. For me, the breakfast standout is the Ham and Cheese, which is made from an over-easy egg and lightly dressed greens, gently cradled between two slices of golden brown bread pudding. The pudding itself is moist and savory, a lovely melody of bread, ham, and bits of cheese. This is a terrific breakfast, rich and satisfying, full of diverse textures and flavors; one of the best breakfast sandwiches in Portland.
Lunch offerings are also creative. I’ve always liked the flank steak salad at Park Kitchen, and here they have reincarnated it like a sandwich; thinly sliced tender flank steak, pickled red onions, blue cheese mayo, greens, and piquant vinaigrette. The meat is moist and piled high with nuggets of blue cheese peeking out from between the layers. For those who crave the salad that inspired this sandwich but is on the wrong side of the river, it’s also available as a straight salad, the flavors perfectly balanced with a buttermilk-chive dressing.
I was excited to see a sloppy Joe on the menu; this is a lunch item that has great sentimental value to me (my mom makes the best I’ve ever had). Here it takes the form of a piping hot pork Bolognese on a house-made roll. I thought the filling was quite good, and though I prefer a more traditional version, that’s just a personal preference. The roll was perfect, no complaints.
One of the best lunches I’ve had in the last year is their take on a B.L.T. What to do when tomatoes are out of season? You replace them with beets, of course, and end up with a B.L.B. I love this sandwich. Grilled Grand Central sourdough bread holds thick slices of smoky Nueskies bacon. The foundation is a layer of thinly sliced golden beets. Little peppery dribbles of bacon fat run across the beets and down into the bread, giving everything a rich meaty taste, the differing consistencies of ingredients providing lots of interesting textures. A light aioli adds a final layer of flavor. All of the different layers provide a perfect foil to each other. It is a wonderful interpretation, and once I had this for lunch, I had a hard time trying anything else.
One cool afternoon, I enjoyed a juicy hot roasted mushroom sandwich. The house-made roll soaks up the earthiness from the mushrooms with goat cheese, sherried onions, and frisee all chiming in to make a perfect winter lunch. No huge surprises, but satisfying; it delivers exactly as advertised.
Sides are few; a serviceable potato salad, chips, and a frequently excellent house-made soup.
A small selection of beer and wine is available, including a Double Mountain Brewery on tap. They also have a nice group of sodas.
Meat Cheese Bread is another great option for east-side diners, one that I will certainly continue to visit. If they can make all the offerings match the creativity of their best choices, they will have a hit on their hands. I highly recommend them.
- Address: 1406 SE Stark St, Portland OR. 97214
- Phone: 503-234-1700
- Hours: Mon-Sat 7 am-7 pm
- Website: MeatCheeseBread.com
Dude. Glad you wrote up Meat Cheese Bread. It’s not on my way to anywhere, but I definitely will go out of my way to have a solid sandwich here. I kind of wish I lived closer by as I’d probably eat here several times a week. I too am a fan of the breakfast ham and cheese. I personally think that using bread pudding as bread is totally genius. I have become quite a fan of bread pudding, so when restaurateurs make a good one and use it well, I’m in heaven…
I liked the breakfast burrito at MCB, but they are no way as friendly, happy, lovely and wonderful as the folks at Bunk. The Bunk egg sandwich rocks my world. I will try MCB again, as it’s in my hood, but the hipster vibe was not friendly at all.
Food Dude says
I’ve never gotten the slightest hint of a hipster vibe from either place.
My parents drive by Bunk everyday. When I told them all about it and that they would surely love it, they replied they thought it was a soupline for the homeless as the facade and building appeared so shabby, not to mention the type of clientele that was in a line that snaked out the door and down the block!
I think John at MCB reminds me a lot of Tommy at Bunk. Both are just really nice, unassuming guys — at least they always have been to me. Nick at Bunk comes across that way as well, though I haven’t talked to him much at all. There are a lot of chefs with egoes that are always trying to prove (to themselves and to you) that they’re worth your attention, but these aren’t them.
Maybe they’re both hipsters, in the way that nearly everyone under 40 who lives in N, NE, or SE Portland is, but authentically so, rather than the poseur hipsters who want to conform by being different, living out in the suburbs coming into town to buy studded belts and oversized sunglasses at the Red Light. I would think Tommy and John would cringe at being called hipsters, just like much of my staff, who may have a different style in their clothes, hair, and music than our over-40 clientelle does, but who don’t think themselves any better than the people they serve and who truly care about the food that makes it onto someone’s plate.
I don’t know John or Tommy well, just from a few conversations with each at places they’ve worked. But it was immediately apparent to me that they’re hard-working, down-to-earth restaurant folk who have chosen a life where income takes a back seat to the joy of putting your heart into something that you hope people will appreciate. You look at the places they’ve chosen to work and the people they’ve surrounded themselves with and their integrity just shines.
PDX Yogi, I’ve met your parents and they’re nice people. But like many older people, they need to look beyond the “facade”. You, too, Marshall.
Marshall Manning says
Nick, I was trying to be funny. And two of the things I mentioned (outdoor voice & personal space) are “beyond the facade”, as they are actions that have an affect on other people.
Oscar Wilde said, “It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances. The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.”
Besides, I was only trying to be funny. Ya gotta get on your soapbox, E-msg? Prescribe how my parents “need” to change to be better people? Please. They’ve done far more to make the world a better place than you or I could hope to do. Leave them alone.
Both my parents and I love Bunk.
But I must admit that the curb appeal might filter out certain people.
I’ve been to MCB a few times and found them to be perfectly nice. The guy at the counter seems a little reserved, but I didn’t get a “hipster” vibe from him at all.
Marshall Manning says
I’ve eaten at each place once, and both sandwiches were excellent. I got no hipster vibe from MCB at all, but I can totally understand the comment about the people in line at Bunk, at least from that one visit. You would think that everyone in Portland wore beanies, talked in their “outdoor voice” all of the time (including employees), didn’t shave or shower, and had no clue about personal space.
I think we should all try to stay on topic. Nobody needs another definition of hipsters or another failed attempt at describing the quintessential Portlander.
Food Dude says
Mmmm, mmm, good. (Cue the McDonald’s jingle.) My only issue with Bunk and MCB is that it sucks deciding which one to go to. Greasy, smoky deliciousness or bright and fresh tastiness? Sorry to be a such a goob, but both of these places make me swoon.
Food Dude says
I don’t want this thread to turn into a definition of hipsters or a debate between the merits of Bunk vs MCB. Let’s keep the comments to Meat Cheese Bread please.
While you make a valid & necessary request FD, I tried to post my Bunk comment on the Bunk thread only to find it locked.
Food Dude says
I like ponies!
Flask Mama says
hee, hee, hee.
I like the ponies @ MCB a lot, really savory and rich, although the ponies @ bunk are probably more authentic.
I like ponies after a couple of Aviations! Mmm, drinking and riding…..
Thanks for the review. I’ve loved everything I’ve had at MCB, and wanted to add that another menu highlight is the small selection of pastries and chocolates from Xocolatl de David. I’ve had two brownies from MCB, and both were amazing. One was almost fudge-like in its texture, absolutely laden with butter, and topped with crunchy sea salt. The second one wasn’t quite as transcendent, but, imbued with lavender and salt, it was definitely a cut above the sweets you’d expect to find at a sandwich shop.
Great review! I am very fortunate to live right around the corner from them, and have had nothing but great experiences there. I usually have difficulty deciding on what to get, but the staff is always able to give me great recommendations. I have yet to try their breakfast sandwiches or burrito, but one of the servers I have on staff swears by them! I look forward to seeing how MCB uses all of the wonderful spring and summer produce that should be flooding the area soon. Keep up the good work!
Hey! Solution: Go to MCB on Monday when Bunk’s closed, then alternate … and cook at home Sunday or go out for brunch or dim sum Sunday. Voila!
I’ve eaten at both. Both are very good. I prefer MCB because of Bunk’s already mentioned smelling like fried food when I leave. I work right between both spots. (Lucky me) Yesterday I had MCB’s roasted mushroom sandwich which was really good. Last week I had the Blue Cheese salad (can’t remember the real name) which was simple but delicious. (Green leaf, chunks of blue cheese, thick chunks of bacon, small diced granny smith apples and blue cheese dressing)
I’ve tried the pork belly rueben and the roast beef sand at Bunk.
I ate at both of these places last week — the pork belly Reuben at Bunk — divine. The beef salad at MCB — divine. I think they’re similar in that they’re sandwich shops, but they each have their own aesthetics and flavors. Definitely plenty of room for both! Yum!
My wife loves BLTs and also beets, so I was all excited to surprise her with that sandwich, but it just didn’t do it for her for some reason.
Meat Cheese Bread is great!
Have you tried the Smokey Chicken?
No? Why not? It is one of the most delicious things I’ve ever tasted. They smoke the chicken right there, as well. The ingredients are uniformly delicious. Bravo!
I have been to Meat Cheese Bread a few times for the veggie mushroom sandwich – this place is great! The staff is very nice, though reserved at first, the ambiance is low key and food rocks!
Will go again, and again!
Just had the special @ MCB, flank steak, cheese, and green chile salsa. YUM! The bread was light and crispy. The meat&cheese, melted in my mouth. Perfect.
On the flip side, I’ve been to Bunk twice. Both times the sandwiches were very disappointing.
Stu Schaller says
IMO, both places are good, but nothing special
Okay, So I do have to eat my words…I have been back for the breakfast burrito a few more times, and they are friendly and nice and the burrito is delicious…eating my words..Yum!
Finally made it to MCB for a takeout breadpudding sandwich. Dissapointed to find it packaged in a box which made it impossible to get out and eat as a sandwich. Tasty but super messy. And they didn’t include any napkins in the bag.
Wrap the sandwiches and toast and include napkins or note that they aren’t included on to go orders please!