Refueling stops on western Congress Street

Indy shops for coworkers
By BRIAN DUFF  |  November 3, 2010

DELICIOUS BOWL Yordprom’s Thai noodle salad.

In Ouvriers et Capital Mario Tronti explains how corporations are able to turn worker demands to the boss's advantage: "There are no decisive battles in the war of the classes, defeats are victories and victories are defeats." So when workers engaged in creative labor chafed against the constraints of corporate culture, the corporations accommodated them as they saw fit: setting workers "free" as in freelance — jumping from project to project, uncertain of their next paycheck, without health insurance or other benefits. The new building going up at Bramhall Square in Portland is an effort to transcend some aspects of the resulting isolation: a "creative coworking community" called Peloton Labs. Members will be able to assemble to work in proximity — in offices, cubicles, nooks, lounges, and meeting rooms — without the organizing hand of a corporate overlord.

The real networking and flirting will go on at lunch: members of the lab will probably spend less time chatting than your typical office worker, since self-discipline cuts deepest. Where should they eat? Their neighborhood on west Congress Street offers a few recently opened options that reflect different takes on our complex relationship with corporate culture.

Right next door is Mr. Sandwich and Mrs. Muffin. The name invokes mid-century Americana, but the space reflects a bohemian entrepreneurialism — it's very laid back, but everywhere there are things for sale. Racks of handmade jewelry line the shelves and the walls are crowded with photos and paintings — all with little price tags. Small fabric-draped chairs gather around tables that are a bit longer than average, so two or three coworkers could really spread out.

The young proprietress hand-crafts sandwiches in a big kitchen that has a DIY feel — she presses some on the same George Foreman grill you would use at home. But you are not at home, which is the point of coworking, and if you were you would not have time to whip up a fresh and spicy avocado spread to put on your grilled turkey sandwich, like Mrs. S does. That sandwich, served on a light, seedy wheat bread, is a bit of a mush but a satisfying one. Grated carrot adds texture and sweetness to complement the avocado spread's heat. A grilled Cuban sub is a chewier affair. Squares of seared pork loin are tucked inside a crusty roll along with diced pickles and the sort of ham they used to call "chipped." The pickles' sharpness and the pork's slight sweetness are pulled together by a good mustard. The house muffins in many varieties are great: an attractive golden blonde, sweet, light and soft, with juicy chunks of fresh fruit.

Down the block at Yordprom Coffee, the entrepreneurialism is less opt-out bohemian than opt-in immigrant. Mr. Yordprom oversees a business focused on organic Thai coffee, grown and sold free-trade by farmers from the village of Doi Chaang. The resulting coffee, dripped to order, is light, mild, and pleasant, a change from the dark and smoky most cafés serve these days. Coworkers will eventually discover Yordprom's small lunch menu, the highlight of which is a terrific Thai noodle salad served in a big bowl. The dark wheat noodles were soft but toothsome. Sesame clings to the noodles, strips of chicken breast, and lettuce. Nori adds some rich flavor, and a light citrus dressing holds it together. A ham sandwich, served on a huge flaky croissant, is big but light as air.

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