A steamy chicken sandwhich with a sesame seed bun sits in a basket with fries.
Photo by Tor Parsons

Elephants on Corbett provides fun atmosphere, promising food

An easy way to judge the objective coolness of an animal is to consider how well that animal would work as a restaurant name. If you were to name a restaurant Squirrels, for instance, you would probably need to justify the name by serving a mostly nut-based menu, at the very least. Lions? Lions are cool, but someone would have to assuage the customers’ fears of being on the menu themselves. When I was growing up in Eugene, Oregon, my family would regularly go to a restaurant called Turtles, a name we all agreed we would immediately change if we won the lottery and bought the restaurant.

Elephants, though? Gigantic yet adorable, playful yet incredibly smart; it is impossible to dislike elephants. In fact, when I learned that there is a restaurant near Lewis & Clark called Elephants on Corbett, the name alone convinced me to try it.

Elephants on Corbett is one of several Elephants Delicatessen restaurants in Portland, a local chain consisting of four full-service delis like the Corbett location and four smaller locations dubbed Flying Elephants. The Corbett location, situated near Zupan’s Market and easily accessible on the Pioneer Express, is the closest to LC. 

Elephants is more of a market than a restaurant, a sort of specialty grocery store that also serves hot meals. You can get pizza from one counter, or hot sandwiches and hamburgers from another. There are also counters for to-go meals like cold sandwiches, oven-ready pasta and lasagna dishes, a sizable rack of wine bottles, a selection of exotic cheeses and made-in-house sauces to take home as well as a round shelf stocked with every soft drink you can imagine (and some that you cannot). There is even a table selling custom Elephants merchandise, including Elephants Hydro Flasks and plush elephants, as well as plush donkeys — this is an election year, after all. 

After perusing the sodas for longer than I care to admit, I chose a can of Dr. Brown’s Cream Soda. At the sandwich counter, I ordered the fried chicken sandwich, having been craving a chicken sandwich untainted by Chick-fil-A’s homophobia for weeks. The man behind the counter scrawled “chicken sandwich” on a Post-it Note, and I took my order and my soda can to the cashier. Hearing that I was reviewing Elephants for The Pioneer Log, she enthusiastically told me that while Elephants on Corbett only opened seven years ago, the flagship Elephants location way up on Northwest 22nd Avenue has been a Portland staple since 1979. 

David Bowie’s “Modern Love” played as I made my way to the socially distanced seating area upstairs, walking past a series of murals which added elephants to scenes from Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s famous Paris café posters. By the time the song was over, my chicken sandwich arrived at my table.

If Elephants is perfect in every other way, it is the food itself that is not quite up to the high standard set by the atmosphere. My chicken sandwich was off-puttingly sweet, with the saltiness of the chicken clashing with the pillowy, almost cake-like bun it was served on. Then again, maybe I am just not a chicken sandwich connoisseur. If I go again, I will order the Reuben sandwich, since I do consider myself a Reuben connoisseur. And I certainly will go again — Elephants’ menu is so wide-ranging, I could never dismiss the place on the merits of a single chicken sandwich. The array of soft drinks is a thing of beauty, and the casual atmosphere and decent prices are just right for LC students. Besides, how can you go wrong with elephants?

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