It's December now. Bells are jingling. There's no denying the impending holidays.
Whether you celebrate Christmas a little, a lot or not at all, this is a busy season. Streets are congested, stores are crowded, and mailboxes are crammed full.
For those of you who find shopping a chore and a bore rather than a pleasure, I've got a tip. Make it easy on yourself this year and buy your adult friends and family restaurant gift certificates.
After holiday overspending they'll appreciate a gift certificate's practicality, plus it's fun to introduce people to a restaurant they otherwise might not try.
The carnivores on your list will enjoy a gift certificate to Podnah's Pit Barbecue (1469 N.E. Prescott St., 503-281-3700). Rodney Muirhead opened Podnah's last month.
Muirhead formerly operated LOW BBQ one night a week at Apizza Scholls. In 2004, he sold the business and name to Ken's Place (1852 S.E. Hawthorne Blvd., 503-236-9520) where it currently exists Tuesday nights.
Now Muirhead is busy smoking six days a week in his own restaurant. He turns out terrific meats on a hand-built smoker, using 100 percent oak wood.
For many people barbecue is synonymous with ribs, so I'll start with those. Across the nation, there are many varieties. Muirhead is from Texas, so that's the style he serves at Podnah's.
Texas-style ribs are not the fall-off-the-bone, smothered-with-sauce kind. Dry rubbed and smoked, the pork ribs are tender and deeply flavorful without any sauce, though Podnah's serves a little cup of tangy sauce on the side for those who like it. Texas-style ribs are not my preference, but those that like them will enjoy Muirhead's.
I loved the beef brisket (which can be ordered in a sandwich or as an entree). It's deliciously smoky and not at all tough, which brisket so often is. Podnah's pulled pork (sandwich or entree) also is remarkably good.
I pretty much stopped getting pulled pork at restaurants a couple of years ago because it disappointed me; it was usually stringy, dry and flavorless. But I ordered it at Podnah's and was rewarded for my daring. The generous pile of meat is tossed with a tasty vinegar sauce, which moistens it just right and brings out the flavor of the pork.
The trick to tender and flavorful meat, according to Muirhead, is the time taken to smoke it. He smokes ribs five to six hours, beef brisket 10 to 14 hours, and pork shoulder 12 to 14 hours.
Other meats on the menu include homemade sausages and hot links, and smoked turkey breast.
For starters Podnah's offers a simple iceberg wedge with piquant, homemade blue cheese dressing. Texas red chili also is available.
Sides include potato salad, coleslaw, pinto beans, collard greens, cornbread and tortillas and salsa. They range from very good to mediocre. The cornbread, made with extra- coarse cornmeal, is terrific and doesn't need butter. The coleslaw is appealing, tangy rather than sweet. Satisfying pinto beans are served in a bowl of meaty broth.
Podnah's bland potato salad needs work, though. It's missing something (relish? onions? mustard?) to give it a little pizazz.
Most disappointing are the collard greens. First of all, when I ordered them they weren't heated all the way through. Yuck. But even worse, they were dull. It should be easy for Muirhead to improve the flavor by tossing two or three pork shoulder bones into the pot while the collards are cooking.
The space is plain, small and boxy, and the service is very friendly and accommodating. Once the weather warms (which seems like years from now), the patio will open.
Soon Muirhead plans on adding nightly specials like pork chops, beef and lamb ribs, and prime rib on weekends.
Podnah's serves beer, wine and soda but (strangely) not coffee.
Podnah's is open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. weeknights and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturdays. It's closed Mondays.
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Filbert's (1937 N.W. 23rd Ave., 503-222-2130) is celebrating its first anniversary with a champagne tasting and benefit from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 2. Admission is $25, and half of that money benefits the homeless charity Sisters of the Road cafe.
Bill Sutherland, Filbert's chef and owner, already regularly donates the restaurant's $10 corkage fee to Sisters of the Road Cafe.
On Saturday at Filbert's you can sip champagnes and sparkling wines from all over the world while nibbling hors d'oeuvres, all in the name of a good cause.
Visit www.filbertscafe.com for information.