With the new Nom Cafe, which opened in April on Forest Avenue in the former Yobo space, add a new cuisine to Portland’s vast mix: Bulgarian cuisine.
The breadth of Portland’s dining scene never fails to amaze me.
The breakfast/lunch cafe is a partnership between Som Mantasut, who grew up in Thailand, and Genko Stanilov, who grew up in Bulgaria.
“She’s the reason why we serve Bulgarian,” Stanilov said of his girlfriend Mantasut, speaking to a customer picking up a take-out order at the counter on a recent quiet Monday afternoon. “She said, ‘You have to cook Bulgarian. You have to do Bulgarian cuisine. I thought: ‘Bulgarian? It’s just grandma’s food. Turns out she’s right. People like that.
Count me among the likers. I enjoyed a hearty lunch of kyufte (mild Bulgarian sausages) and fried eggs ($15) and its beautifully fresh green salad (although I might have preferred to go full Bulgarian and with a side of shopska, which the menu describes as a “refreshing Bulgarian salad of heirloom tomatoes, scallions, cucumbers, feta and parsley”).
Pat’s Meat Market supplies the beef and pork for the sausages, which are flavored with cumin and red pepper flakes and formed into very thin rounds around the circumference of the bottom of a pint Mason jar. The eggs were perfectly cooked, releasing a spurt of yolk into which I slipped slices of the excellent Rosemont Market bread that accompanied the plate.
The service was warm and attentive, and everyone felt like friends. I arrived on my bike, a little sweaty, a little out of breath. Mantasut rushed to get me a glass of water, then a second. After I also downed the second glass, she put a pitcher of water on the table with a smile. When I had a hard time choosing between eggs and sausage, and the parzhen ($9), fried eggplant slices with lutenitza – a sweet vegetable dip made with reduced red peppers and tomatoes – the waiter told me brought a sample of the latter, gratis . After a few minutes, she came back to ask me how I liked it. Why didn’t I remember to mention that I was also having a hard time deciding between the eggs I ended up getting and the panagura eggs, a dish of poached eggs with mutton feta, oil infused with paprika and dill ($14) ?
Stanilov also came to ask me if I had any questions, and when I did – about the wall decorations – he was eager to introduce his homeland. The hanging cloth, he said, showed the colors of traditional clothing from the area where he grew up. He showed me some of the clothes on his computer screen, and he knowingly joked about the Portland food scene, encouraging me to try the borek at Coffee Me Up (I have; strongly recommended).
Perhaps my favorite part of my lunch at Nom Cafe came long after lunch. I had cycled home with a box of mekitsi to go ($10), packed to make the trip in my backpack, which they did with no problem. The menu describes mekitsi as “crumpets served with Maine honey.” At 5 p.m., feeling peckish, I quickly dispatched two of the three. Each round of fried dough contains a generous amount of very creamy sheep’s feta cheese. The saltiness of the cheese played beautifully against the sweetness of the honey.
Nom Cafe also offers several American-style brunch options, such as granola ($12), waffles ($13) with optional fried chicken, avocado toast ($13), and breakfast sandwiches. -lunch ($9). All sound tasty. But for now, until I’ve exhausted the possibilities, my motto when visiting Nom Cafe is “I must eat Bulgarian”.
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