BeerBoor in Portland: Kenny & Zuke’s

While this was my second trip to Portland, my first trip was exactly one afternoon and evening, during which we drank at Bailey’s, ate at Kenny & Zuke’s, and drank at Full Sail and, I’m told, other places. I really hadn’t seen much of the city at all, but I remembered eating well. So, one order of business was to eat at Kenny & Zuke’s again. I’d stuffed myself on some quality fried chicken that first visit, and, having missed the “famous” pastrami, vowed to right that wrong.

But first, an aside. One order of business in Portland was to check out Mill Ends Park, on SW Naito Parkway, next to Waterfront Park. For the uninitiated: yes, that is the entire park. All two feet in diameter of it.

Kenny & Zuke’s Delicatessen isn’t much from the outside, just a glass storefront like most in that area, a bit reserved, and with a few tables outside. What sets it apart is the near-continuous line of people waiting to be seated, though I found there’s a lull in the middle of the day. Coincidentally, that’s when Happy Hour started, so I headed across the street from my hotel for $3 beers and a cheap menu.

You can’t usually go wrong with Upright Brewing’s pilsner, a clean, crisp, quite hoppy lager from a local brewery. I also managed to choke down an excellent example of West coast IPA from Caloopia as well. I still miss Portland’s beer.

After I ordered, and starting drinking, my first beer, I suppose I looked a little bored, so the cook gave me a small dish of the gazpacho they’d just whipped up. Far chunkier than I’ve had in the past, but with all the spicy tomato-based tang I enjoy in the dish. The sour cream was unnecessary, personally, but I suppose it would have cut the heat if that bothered me.

Pretty much everyone in the place while I was there ordered a pastrami sandwich, or the pastrami burger. I was amused listening to the commentary behind the counter, mostly along the lines of “Let me guess, another burger” whenever orders came in. One of the guys, upon seeing my camera, said to me, “There must be four hundred pictures of me slicing pastrami on the Web.”

Four hundred and one, sir.

Pastrami burger, delivered. As you can see, that’s a rather large, housemade (I’m pretty sure) bun. I realize the photo isn’t quite all it could be, but for scale purposes, I wanted to include the rest of the toppings and the plate. So: lots of fat in this burger, evidenced by the flames shooting skyward with regularity as the patty charred on the grill. As you can see on the oversized bun, it didn’t all disappear in smoke and aroma. The pile of just-cut pastrami topped the burger its last couple of minutes on the grill, and swiss cheese completed the deal.

The crisp lettuce and tomato, and better-than-average pickle chips, worked very well, and the bun, as you might guess, kept my hands rather dry as I tucked into this mound of food.

This better conveys the sense of the bun-to-meat ratio. However, that was a lot of burger — it was just far more bun — and nearly as much pastrami to boot, which meant every bite was loaded with high-quality pastrami flavor.

Lest I forget, I ordered a plate of fries on the side, and these are pretty standard-issue, except that they arrived a perfect golden color and near-perfect doneness from the deep fryer. French fries can make or break a meal, and these did not break anything.

Obligatory interior shot, to expose the medium-rare goodness. I believe the patties are seasoned with salt and pepper only — there’s a container of the stuff next to the grill, liberally applied as each burger is slapped on the flames — and with the charred outside plus this juicy, seasoned meat, this was a winner. The pastrami contributes plenty of flavor as well, and honestly, I think more places should start to offer pastrami as an alternative to bacon. Let’s make this a trend!

Fries are meant to be dipped in stuff, and K&Z provides a dish of ranch dressing with chives for that purpose. It added a little dairy to my life, and it was fun enough to contrast hot potato with cool ranch.

It’s easy enough to eat for weeks in Portland without having to hit up a tourist-friendly deli in the process, but I do love my comfort food, and I do love my burgers. At $10 total, the pastrami burger and a big plate of fries counts as just that, plus it was quick (at that time of day), the beer was flowing, and the company pleasant. I call that a good meal. I recommend Kenny & Zuke’s for those reasons.

Kenny and Zuke's Delicatessen on Urbanspoon


  1. says

    Looks fantastic, but I’m a pastrami purist insomuch I wouldn’t want it on top of a burger. And you had dairy in your life – there’s cheese on that burger ๐Ÿ˜›

    You’re making it a certainty that Portland gets added to my list of places to visit. Considering my visit to Seattle last year essentially finished the entire list, this is a surprising development. There’s not even baseball in Portland!

    • says

      Fine, a little superfluous dairy. And you’d be wrong — you want the pastrami on your burger. Have it separately, too, but you want it on the burger.

      Portland is a pain to get to from NYC, but it’s well worth the trip. It’s more worth it if you drink beer, but I think you’ll do fine. And hotels are easily Pricelined!

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