Restaurant of the Week - Casa de Tamales
Farmers market staple moves permanent spot.
By Audrey van Buskirk, nov.23.2007. Portland Tribune
People in Portland love the farmers markets almost as much as they like complaining about the weather.
Even last Saturday – easily one of the soggiest days of the year, if not ever – the downtown market was mobbed. Regulars know that there’s more to the event than stocking up on kohlrabi and pears. The markets are a great place to eat.
The grub from one beloved farmers market booth now will be available all year long, since the Canby Asparagus Farm has made a permanent home for hocking its popular and tasty tamales.
Casa de Tamales opened a few weeks ago in downtown Milwaukie – previously notable for the always-spooky Dark Horse Comics window displays.
Tamales and asparagus don’t make an obvious match the way peanut butter and chocolate do, but the farm’s commitment to using fresh, local ingredients is of utmost importance – and they’ve clearly got asparagus up to their eyebrows.
These tamales are lighter and fluffier than most, too crumbly for eating one-handed, but that’s better for letting the play of flavor develop between the cornmeal case and various stuffings.
The delicate asparagus isn’t quite a strong enough foil on its own; the spicier combos of pork or chicken with the stalks are more interesting. You also can try meat on its own or the unusual nacatamal, a squarish Nicaraguan tamale stuffed with rice, chicken, raisins and more.
All in all, the Canby Asparagus Farm folks make more than three dozen varieties of tamales, everything from spinach-mushroom to prawn to pumpkin, so ask about what’s in at the moment.
You can eat in the restaurant or take your tamales to go (the deli case also stocks a changing selection of prepared farm-fresh vegetables such as well-seasoned grilled zucchini or asparagus or terrific sautéed spinach with onions).
The new restaurant’s décor is amusingly weird. A wall of closely hung art ranges from a signed Robert Pack poster to landscape paintings. But the service is friendly and available, while it remains certain that this is still a work in progress.
Restaurants without entryways suffer in cold weather – they’d be wise to relocate their waiting area to the right of the door so it would be customers still in coats who would get the frigid blast.
If you’re eating in, the menu isn’t just tamales – though ordering the perfectly acceptable tacos or an open-faced burrito feels a bit like ordering spaghetti at a steakhouse.
While you’re waiting, skip the deep-fried asparagus, zucchini and onions; they’re hard as lead and the prepackaged ranch dressing is a travesty.
But the thick housemade chips are excellent, extra crunchy and corny.
Betcha can’t guess what the green “salsa” is made from.
– Audrey Van Buskirk
10605 S.E. Main St., Milwaukie, 503-651-3499, $6-$9, open 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.
The Canby Asparagus Farm is hosting its second annual Tamale Festival Nov. 30-Dec. 2 2007 at Clackamas County Fairgrounds (694 N.E. Fourth Ave., Canby, 503-651-3499). Hours are 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday; free. Try 40 tamale varieties from cinnamon to crab, learn how to make your own tamales, shop for local crafts and gift items, and taste local wines.