Well, I’ve finally managed to come to the end of my sojourn through the wilds of Portland’s culinary scene, and this final post is a fitting finale to the adventure. Fitting in the sense that I manage to go out in a blaze of glory instead of just fading away a la Kurt Cobain minus the whole dubious suicide and artistic angst. Instead, I grapple with another spicy food challenge at local eatery Salvador Molly’s. It’s a bit outside of the city center, and you have to take a bus out to the hill country to get there. However, it’s a unique dining experience that you can’t get anywhere else in Portland.
Now, I’ve survived my fair share of uber-spicy food that would make any normal human’s taste buds melt immediately. The medium of fiery madness has ranged from soup, chicken wings, and even a deep fried pork cutlet, but Salvador Molly’s Great Balls of Fire challenge managed to switch it up once more pushing me to my culinary, physical, and mental limit. The exterior of the restaurant gives off a hippie/Caribbean vibe with its tropical plants and vibrant color schemes, and the interior is even more fascinating. Buddhist prayer flags were streaming overhead while the walls were adorned with African folk art murals along with Mexican artisanal crafts. Upon sitting down and scanning the menu, I could see that they had food from all corners of the globe including the Caribbean, Ethiopia, Thailand, Vietnam, Hawaii to name a few. I was initially drawn to the Jamaican Roti wraps, but I decided to go for Pele’s Volcano sandwich ($9.50) since it had some interesting ingredients. Along with this, I asked to get the Great Balls of Fire challenge (7 balls, $7.95). The waitress was hesitant, and asked me if I wanted to just try one to make sure I knew I was getting into. The only thing I knew was that they were made out of habenero peppers, and I could eat those no problem. So once I agreed to it, she wrote it down on her paper pad like a death sentence for a doomed prisoner. While I was waiting, I saw that on the wall next to my table there was a couple of pictures on the wall chronicling the brave souls who pitted their wits against the flame-infused orbs and survived.
In my mind, I could see my picture going up there as well by the end of my meal. That’s half the battle with food challenges, envisioning yourself triumphing over the massive obstacle placed in front of you. Eventually both came out, and the sandwich looked more intimidating than the food challenge. I knew I was in real trouble when they made me sign the waver saying that I couldn’t sue them if needed a colostomy compliments of their tortuous habanero appetizer. They also pointed out the warning sign next to my table that was in other parts of the restaurant as well. Not too scary at all, but I had a plan. I wouldn’t be rushing headfirst into the gates of hell without a trusty thick coating to my stomach which was what the Pele sandwich was for. It different than what I was expecting because it was more like a toaster oven pizza than a traditional sandwich. As for its name, Pele is the goddess of volcanoes in Hawaiian culture, and I was expecting real fireworks to be happening on my palate. Instead, it was more like a poorly made sparkler in the middle of a rainstorm. Lots of fizzle and no sizzle. A majority of the mediocrity derived from the toasted but cold and soggy, compliments of the toppings, bread. The pork was average, but the only redeeming factor was the tamarindo bbq sauce that was tangy and sweet with a slightly herbal aftertaste compliments of the tamarind infusion in the sauce. I was more partial to the hurricane garlic fries that took my taste buds by storm with their crispy exteriors and garlicky interiors.
My eyes then turned to my rotund morsels that threatened my existence as onlookers at another table bade me good luck before I dug in. They even took out their camera phones to take a few snapshots before I possibly spontaneously combusted mid-meal. They then got their food but always kept one eye on me as I began the challenge. I gnawed on the first one as I put my figurative toe in the lava pool to make sure it was just right. Inside the first fritter, it seemed to be filled with pieces of habanero and cheesy batter, and the spice was coming in hot and heavy waves over my tongue. It was manageable though as I quickly popped balls 2-6 into my mouth with gusto. The other diners’ jaws fell on their tables as they couldn’t believe that I devoured the fireballs just as quickly as they came to my table. However, I was starting to feel a rumbling in my tummy as my mouth was more or less numb, sweat covered my face, and my heart was racing. The final morsel slid down my gullet while leaving deep, spicy, smarting claw marks on my palate. I mopped up the sweet mango salsa as I gallantly destroyed the Great Balls of Fire Challenge. The waitress was impressed as she took my picture for the “Great Wall of Flame”, and I got to write a memorable quote on it for everyone to see when they walk into the restaurant. Once the fanfare ended, I sat there digesting the weapon-grade fritters that were smoldering in my stomach. I asked for a cup of milk to quell the firebomb that was spreading throughout my gastro-intestinal tract. I left that restaurant to walk through a monsoon, but I was more troubled with the sensation that felt like someone was disemboweling me. I could see why they made me sign the waiver because they could have been in real legal trouble with people with less fortitude than I. I struggled with the pain these little hellions brought for the rest of the afternoon/evening, so I warn everyone that the Great Balls of Fire Challenge will burn you if you don’t have the stomach for it.