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Chef Jason Hornor
The secret of Skyway’s ‘molten noodledom’ posted on 06/30/2017

How Jason Hornor ever got out of Hooker’s Hamburgers must be one of those stories from which legends are made.

The Skyway Bar & Grill chef, having migrated to Oregon from Texas in 2000, grew up cooking, and Hooker’s was just one stop along the way.

“I was a latch key kid,” Hornor told The Mountain Times in an email. “I learned to experiment with food at an early age. We would always whip up some kind of creation after school. And cooking meat is in my blood.”

Seems Hornor’s grandfather had a “slew of barbecue joints” in Texas until the day he died. What followed was Hornor’s working in all kinds of restaurants – a pizza place, a Mexican place, an IHOP – including cavorting as manager of Hooker’s Hamburgers.

“I knew this was what I was going to do after I quit cooking for a while to have a VW restoration business,” he said. “That didn’t work out so perfect. I really missed cooking. I could not afford to cook expensive food for me and my friends so I accepted my fate and dove back in.”

That dive was the Mountain community’s gain. Hornor has plied his trade at The Skyway for what is now his 10th anniversary year. And despite his love of cooking meat, he is arguably most famous for his mac and cheese.

“Mac and cheese is a classic roadhouse/BBQ/southern side dish,” he said. “And every time I’ve ordered it at a BBQ place it looked so good until they spoon it up – all mushy noodles and grease.”

But Hornor’s Skyway mac and cheese is unique. “My secrets are: cool the noodles al dente, don’t over, or under, thicken the sauce, fill the bowl with noodles and space enough for the sauce, don’t put too much bread crumb, and cook it until it is perfectly bubbly and brown.”

Sounds easy.

But there’s more to it than that.

To wit, recently Hornor’s mac and cheese was recognized by Portland Monthly magazine and received the following laudatory comments from its culinary writer:

“Let’s be honest,” he wrote. “Restaurant mac rarely lives up to the dish lodged in our memory banks. It’s too soggy, too bland, and lacks that processed-salt shock hardwired into our brains since grade school. That is, unless you’re hunkered over a dish of molten noodledom at Skyway Bar and Grill … This is the mac you’ve been looking for. Chef Jason Hornor’s deceptively humble casserole tastes more fundamentally mac-y than other macs, plump pasta shellacked in sticky sauce, deeply cheesy and laced with chili fire, crowned with toasty shards and a corona of frizzles. It’s awesome.”

There will be a pause in the story to allow your trip to The Skyway.

OK, we’re back.

Hornor didn’t stop with mac and cheese. Next came barbecue.

“That was Tom’s (owner Tom Baker) idea,” Hornor said. “He asked how I felt about it, and if we could make a smoker out of the junk on the property, and that was it. I told him my grandfather was a barbecue genius and that set the ball in motion. I think barbecue is the perfect thing to have roadside on the way to the Mountain.”

Then came the grits. (This writer’s personal favorite)

“Grits are inspired by the classic cheese grits from the south,” he said. “Everybody has had polenta cakes grilled or seared but I wanted that crunch. So we experimented for a while with the method. At first they just exploded, but we finally figured it out.”

Hornor cited his staff as the real secret of his and The Skyway’s success.

“It really is a team effort around here,” he said. “From my beautiful wife to Joe King my kitchen manager, to every one of our staff members – everyone has got a hand in making us a success.”

So what’s next? Be on the lookout for wood fire cooking, Hornor added.

But after all of this, we still have to wonder what it must have been like at Hooker’s Hamburger joint.

By Larry Berteau/MT

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