Thanks to demographic shifts driven by rising housing prices, it's no longer odd to head to the suburbs for the best pho or tacos. In these cities, as Stanford’s Bruce Cain explains, wealthy whites are “pushing disadvantaged populations out of old neighborhoods and into far-flung exurbs.” In previously diverse towns, this “concentrated affluence shift” has profound racial and ethnic (and culinary) implications.
But here in Portland — still cultural capital to the whitest state, with an assist from our xenophobe Governor — the most privileged/driven white people are mostly pushing chiller/less privileged white people farther afield. So our suburbs don’t get genuine ethnic food. Instead they get a faux-ethnic-bohemian mélange. So it is you can drive up to Yarmouth’s Woodhull Public House for both pho and tacos, along with a surf theme, in a wood-shingled business complex just off Route 1.
You gotta be pretty chill to mash up Asian, Latin, surf culture, and bumper-pool in an office building. Woodhull is not authentic, and they are not worried about it. After a few hours there, packed in among the pleasant and healthy suburbanites, you aren’t worried about it either.
The staff is young, upbeat, and casual. But they do not slack, and in fact the plates arrived too quickly, with no spacing between first and second course. What was rapid was also mostly sapid. The tender, candied cauliflower in one taco was doused with a spicy red oil and lots of roasted garlic. The lamb “test” taco (they try a new one each week) combined tahini and cucumber with the rich meat — odd but quite good. Corn fritters were crisp-edged and dense, and lacked natural corn sweetness. They were best when dipped in the juice from the pickle plate. The pickled vegetables themselves were tart and snappy.
On the Asian side things were more traditional, thus more likely to suffer from the comparison of simulacrum to original. But in the case of the red curry vegetables with noodles, the dish held up pretty well. The thick broth was rich and sweet with a nice heat. The flat noodles were super-tender and plentiful, and some bits of fried noodle adding to the texture. Crisp vegetables mingle with big tender pieces of pale mushroom. The pad thai, generously sprinkled with peanuts, was a bit dry (but just a touch), with plenty of tofu, garlic and umami.
There are two big rooms at Woodhull (separated by a proper turquoise accent wall) and the place really fills up with happy suburbanites — teens (in summer clothes on the spring’s first warm day) with their folks, a ladies’ night out, four-tops filled with married couples meeting up with friends, the bar all twentysomethings.
It’s only when walking out into the parking lot filled with SUVs (one chalked — “Go Ashley #4!”) that you might think this is not okay. These are the people they saved the mortgage deduction for. These are the people that hoard the American dream. They are hoarding it for Ashley. She is soaking in the encouragement, seizing the opportunities, ordering the baja bowl. Ashley is fueling up. Ashley will “go!” and keep going. She cannot be stopped.
Ashley’s privilege is hardly the fault of Woodhull’s laid back staff. Michael Lind worries “city elites and their supporting staff of disproportionately foreign-born, low-wage service workers” are going to tear the liberal coalition apart. In lily-white Yarmouth, the liberal elite (the “Brahmin Left” Thomas Piketty calls them) and the service workers still seem to be getting along.
It’s a real old-school liberal fantasy up there. And why not fantasize? The old-school liberal Bernie-or-busters are getting much of what they wanted these days, with a white guy president raising tariffs and killing trade deals like NAFTA and the TPP. Who needs close ties to Mexico or Asia when we can get it all in Yarmouth? When you can drive to the suburbs for the tacos and the pho — for the faux — and have such a nice time?
Woodhull Public House | 30 Forest Falls Drive, Yarmouth | Mon-Thu 4-9 pm; Fri-Sat 4-10 pm | entrees around $10 | 207-847-0584