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Oftentimes, I’ll choose something from a menu that the food truck or food stand isn’t really known for. What’s the point of reviewing something that’s already been reviewed by at least ten other critics before you, especially when they’ve all had the same thing to say? Bubba Bernie’s at Portland’s Cartopia has seated itself as a Cajun/Creole local legend, but it’s certainly not known for its Philly Cheese Steaks. We visited Cartopia last week to see for ourselves what the “a do” is about this southeast Portland food pod and why it’s garnered so much attention from local street food fanatics. Having been on the lot since 2009, Bubba Bernie’s is the newest member of the pod’s posse.

A former engineer and real estate broker, owner Steve Bernard brings a soulful, authentic Cajun/Creole influence to an already diverse selection of street foods, serving catfish & shrimp po’ boys, jambalaya, gumbo, crabcakes, clam strips, étouffée, as well as deli-style sandwiches, polish sausages, kosher hot dogs, egg creams… and Philly Cheese Steaks.

When I read about a dozen stories online about Bubba Bernie’s, there was no doubt I’d find that Bubba knows Louisiana cooking. Everything I read focused on his Creole dishes, but I found nothing about the Philly Cheese Steak. Should it be surprising that not many people have much to say about Bubba Bernie’s Philly Cheese Steak?

After all, Philly is about 1300 miles north east of the Bayou, and there is pretty much no correlation between a Cajun/Creole Po Boy and a Cheese Steak.

Cheese Steak is a touchy subject, especially if you’re in Philly. It’s surprising to see such a passion over a sandwich that really has no authenticity – nothing specific, except maybe the bread. Traditionally, Philly Cheese Steaks are made with Amoroso rolls, and if there is one thing that everyone in Philly agrees on, it’s that if a Cheese Steak sandwich isn’t made with Amoroso rolls, it’s not a Philly Cheese Steak.

There is no particular cut of beef used for a Cheese Steak, and you’ll find them with chopped, sliced, and even ground meat. Chefs and critics can’t even agree on which cheese makes a traditional, authentic Cheese Steak, but they’re all equally passionate about their own opinions.

Philly Cheese Steak Sandwich (right) from Bubba Bernie's and Margherita pizza from Pyro Pizza at the Cartopia food pod, Portland, OR

My palate is far to unsophisticated to recognize an Amoroso roll, but the roll used for my Philly Cheese Steak Sandwich at Bubba Bernie’s had a nice, firm golden crust with a fluffy, soft center.  It was lightly toasted so the center remained soft.

The sandwich was made with thinly sliced beef, onions and green peppers grilled and provolone cheese melted on top. Traditional? Yes, to many. Others may completely disagree, insisting the meat should have been chopped, or that a truly traditional Cheese Steak isn’t served with onions and green peppers. Or, they’d argue about the cheese.

 

 

As far as Philly Cheese Steaks go, I have had better. My favorite is served with chopped beef, chopped onions, and the Wiz or a cheese sauce, but I’ve eaten more than my fair share of sliced beef/provolone variations.

In my opinion, if it’s not completely covered in a cheese sauce, the meat should be seasoned. Beef is far too bland to rely solely on the muted flavor of grilled onion and green peppers with provolone draped over it. I would have expected a little more excitement from the beef here. After all, this is Bubba Bernie’s, a Creole master. Surprise me with a Creole marinated beef strip, or something.

Bottom line, aside from the meat being a bit tough, I couldn’t say it was a bad sandwich by any stretch. It was good. It satisfied my appetite, but I can’t say that it met my expectations, coming from this particular cart.

This is a very large sandwich, but size doesn’t make up for creativity when it’s priced at $9. If Bubba Bernie’s served a Creole-influenced Philly Cheese Steak, rather than attempt to recreate a “traditional” version, I think I’d find just as many reviews about the Cheese Steak as there are about Po Boys.

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Service: 3.5
Menu Selection: 4.0
Quality: 3.5
Creativity: 3.5
Price: 4
Overall Impression: 3.7 Plates!
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About the Author

Chris Ford is the founder of Stitches 'n Dishes and editor in chief with a passion for food, photography and travel. Chris is a Media Correspondent for the Food Network TV show, Eat St, a syndicated blogger, seasoned event organizer and promoter, a food critic, a marketing consultant and Social Media Marketing expert. Chris is also a fashion and entertainment photographer. When he's not dining on the sidewalk, he's snapping photos on the catwalk.