PORTLAND, OR – You can call the slow-roasted, hand-cut, hand-crafted, turkey or beef—lovingly raised in family-owned stockyards—slathered with homemade béchamel cheese sauce and piled into a chewy ciabatta roll along with a giant wad of hand-cut fries, a sublime gourmet experience. (Yes, the fries go inside.) Or, you can call it what it is: a Big-A** Sandwich. Big-A** Sandwiches is just one of the six-hundred food carts which are redefining Portland, Oregon’s already idiosyncratic, artisanal food scene.

Big A** makes breakfast, vegetarian, French Dip and Caesar versions, as well as The Pork Hammer—roasted ham, thick-cut bacon, sausage, cole slaw and fries. Then there’s the Gutbomb. It’s a basic Big-A** with double the meat, double the cheese and the girth of a fishbowl. Consumption is best left to those who have the highly-mobile jaws of a python and are accustomed to eating large prey. “Stop staring. Just eat it,” urged thirteen-year-old Big A** enthusiast, Zach Mooney.

The Gutbomb meets its match in the Original Cheesus from the Grilled Cheese Grill. It’s two grilled cheese sandwiches—a Colby Jack and Grilled Onion and an American with Pickles—with a one-third pound burger with lettuce, tomato, ketchup and mustard nestled between. Not to be outdone, the BrunchBox cart’s Redonkadonk offers egg, ham, spam, bacon and American cheese on a beef patty between two Texas toast grilled cheese sandwiches.

“It’s these over-the-top gastronomic explosions that gets the carts noticed,” say Brett Burmeister of foodcartsportland.com. But quality food gets them kudos. Many carts source from nearby bakeries and farmers as well as from local, family-owned businesses like Carlton Farms and Draper Valley that specialize in humanely- and sustainably-raised livestock. Cart owners craft seriously imaginative, high-quality, innovative food for about $6.00 per meal.

“Cart,” is a misnomer, as the eateries are usually an Airstream or hunting trailer turned into gourmet kitchen. In a down economy when there’s not a whole of lending going on, you can start a cart based business for between $10,000 to $30,000, and run it with little overhead and no staff. Portland simplified the application process and keeps licensing and rental fees low. The number of carts has doubled since 2007.

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