by: JIM CLARK, Already enjoying a solid lunch business, Acorn Deli in the Pearl keeps meals real with sandwiches, salads, soups and lots of pie

Sometimes nothing hits the spot quite like a sandwich. Part of the reason, I think, is sentimental. Sandwiches remind most of us of our mothers. Growing up, my mom made us kids great sandwiches with canned deviled ham or spread with a combination of chopped black olives, grated cheddar cheese and mayonnaise.

When they were for school, she'd wrap them neatly in waxed paper.

My dad's always taken sandwiches pretty seriously; he's from the East Coast, where grinders are made properly with oil and vinegar, never mayonnaise.

But being a bit of a sandwich snob didn't stop him from creating a family favorite of fried Spam with melted cheese, sliced dill pickle, mayonnaise and mustard.

I love sandwiches. A peanut butter and jelly is always the first thing to lure me from a diet. Try making a couple for your kids without eating one yourself.

Recently I checked out Acorn Deli (539 N.W. 13th Ave., 503-227-2690) and had a terrific ham and cheese sandwich there. Acorn is co-owned by Robin Rosenberg and Jeffrey Heisler, who also own and operate the hipster hangout Half and Half (923 S.W. Oak St., 503-222-4495) near Powell's City of Books.

Believe it or not, Acorn is even smaller than its big sister but because it's located in the lobby of the large Gadsby Building, it doesn't seem cramped. The ceiling is high, and there's room to spread out at tables in the lobby and onto the old wooden loading dock out front.

The oddest thing about Acorn is that it's in the Pearl.

Most people associate the neighborhood with fine and expensive dining, not funky sandwich joints. But apparently folks were looking for a cheaper option in Portland's trendiest hood.

According to Rosenberg, weekday business is good: 'It's very eclectic. We get PNCA students, a lot of Half and Half customers who work nearby, Wieden and Kennedy employees, other workers. The one niche we haven't reached yet is the Saturday Pearl shopper.'

In addition to interesting sandwiches like the Sir-Mix-a-Lot of shaved fennel, roasted peppers, artichoke hearts and red onion, Acorn offers daily salads and soups.

But it's the pies that will lure you back. I had a slice of marionberry that reminded me of my grandma's, and that's saying a lot.

Rosenberg has the magic touch of a great pie baker, and baking pies is her favorite part of the business. There's no room to bake at either Half and Half or Acorn, so she's rented a commercial kitchen on the east side where she can bake to her heart's, and our, content.

'My cream pies are pretty unique,' she says. 'Most cream pies you'll find are either made with Jell-O pudding or with too many over-the-top ingredients. My cream pies are simple.' A bite of one of Rosenberg's banana cream, coconut cream or chocolate cream pies and you'll be back for more.

Acorn also has the essential ingredient of a great cafe - excellent coffee. Joel Domreis roasts Courier Coffee in small batches and delivers the beans himself by bicycle to Acorn and a few fancy restaurants five times a week.

Eventually Rosenberg and Heisler would like to open a third place, a bigger space, on the east side 'where we could spread out a little and expand our menu, nothing really fancy, but a full-service deli where people can hang out or pick up dinner on their way home from work.'

In the meantime, Rosenberg said something that guarantees I'll be back to Acorn soon: 'It's rhubarb season.'

Acorn is open 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.

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If you prefer more traditional sandwiches, stop by Phil's Uptown Meat Market (17 N.W. 23rd Place, 503-224-9541).

Most people know Phil's as an excellent, old-fashioned butcher shop. But in addition to seafood, meat and a nice selection of frankfurters, Phil's tasty turkey, roast beef and ham sandwiches are made to order.

You won't find crazy ingredients here, but the excellent quality of the cold cuts makes the sandwiches superior to similar options around town.

Phil's is open 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturday. The shop starts making sandwiches at 10 a.m.

• • •

As long as I'm speaking sandwich, I must mention the amazing panini I had the other day for lunch at Park Kitchen (422 N.W. Eighth Ave., 503-223-7275).

The deliciously greasy but still crunchy sandwich was oozing loads of melted fontina mixed with sautéed wild Oregon mushrooms and spinach. Fattening? Very. But definitely worth it.

Park Kitchen is open for lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday, and for dinner 5 p.m. to close Monday through Saturday.

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