While revolving doors and businesses customarily make me sad, carrying about them that unmistakable scent of dashed dreams, when it comes to turnover at the Portland Public Market, I focus entirely on the positive. Every time I trudge up those stairs and discover something new tucked into that inviting space, I’m thrilled.
This week I tried out a relative newcomer, Maiz, the Colombian street food stand occupying the former home of a coffee shop. It’s been there about six months, long enough for the counter person to give me a recommendation for the most popular dish: the vegetarian arepa ($8.50). It’s a little more expensive than the single meat version ($7.50), probably because good avocado is not an easy or cheap ingredient to source reliably. With sparkling water and a tip for the cashier/arepa maker, my bill came to $12.73.
When she called me over to the counter a few minutes later, she was holding the arepa up, to keep the overflowing avocado in place via gravity. The tray she pushed toward me had a Wet-Nap in it, and I could see why, once I returned to my table and began to scale its heights. The avocado tumbled forth, landing in the plastic tray. I resorted to a fork, digging out mouthfuls of black beans gooey with melted cheese, although ingredients continued to slip out the sides.
There is no tidy way to eat this dish. As I tried to hold both the arepa and myself together, I thought about the episode of the Amazon series “I Love Dick” where the character played by Katherine Hahn over-orders from a taco truck in Marfa and stuffs them into her mouth in much the same graceless way Jabba the Hutt consumes a Klatooine paddy frog in “Return of the Jedi.”
What I am saying is I’m glad none of you witnessed my consumption of this arepa. This delicious arepa, with its crispy (gluten free!) exterior and its messy interior. It comes with an optional sauce that varies from day to day. I chose chimichurri. Something made the arepa the tiniest bit greasy, and I think the chimichurri might have been the source. But it wasn’t enough to stop me from enjoying every single last bite.
There’s something about the Portland Public Market that feels like high school (probably the long shared tables) and also, in its slightly rickety qualities, appealingly vintage, like the Portland I remember from 30 years ago. But in its wonderful array of ethnic foods, like the ones served at Maiz, the Public Market also is very much of today’s Portland: curious, inclusive, aiming high with every dish. There’s an atmospheric warmth there that’s difficult to top. We’re so lucky to have it. Businesses there may come and go, but the heart of the place doesn’t change, thankfully.
WHERE: 2nd floor, Public Market House, 28 Monument Way, Portland 400-2881, maizportland.com
WHEN: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday
PARKING: On street
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes