Hey Sailor!

The tale of Bobbie's Boat Sauce

Robin Rosenberg’s Connecticut childhood was full of food. Her mom cooked often, whipping up eastern seaboard classics from scratch in the family’s kitchen. But when Robin went vegetarian at age 14, she had to learn to cook for herself. Her first job was in the kitchen at the Mystic Seaport Museum, which was founded in 1929 to “gather and preserve the rapidly disappearing artifacts of America’s seafaring past.” Like all good mariners, they called the kitchen–despite being firmly planted ashore– “the galley,” and young Robin was hooked. College summers were spent working in restaurants, catering friends’ art openings, and making literal tons of flan for a local Mexican restaurant.

Robin made her way to Oregon in 1994, landing a job in the kitchen at Grand Central Baking’s first Portland cafe on SE Hawthorne Blvd. Shortly thereafter she launched their sandwich program, arguably laying the groundwork for Portland’s future “artisanal sandwich culture.” Having firmly established her culinary bonafides, she bounced around various local restaurants before launching her own place, the at-the-time groundbreaking Crowsenberg’s Half & Half. Having left her vegetarianism back in Connecticut, Robin’s menu at the Half & Half featured an assortment of homemade pies, a rotating slate of over 300(!) sandwiches, and (perhaps most iconically) deviled eggs. It was an only-in-Portland homage to the diners and lunch counters of the northeast shot through with a heavy dose of PNW Gen X quirk, on a downtown block populated by record stores, ‘zine shops, vintage clothing places, and a temple to vintage sci-fi toys. Like we said, only in Portland.

What began as a classic “fridge clear-out” meal quickly became the stuff of obsession, and by the end of the sailing adventure the idea for Bobbie’s Boat Sauce was wholly formed.

After a decade of running the cafe while simultaneously working full time as a copywriter at Wieden + Kennedy, Rosenberg decided to close the Half & Half in 2010. She remained an avid home cook, but didn’t seriously consider returning to food professionally until she found herself aboard an ocean-going vessel deep in the Northwest Passage. A friend had undertaken a two month solo sailing trip and invited Robin to join for a few weeks; somewhere in the remote waters between Vancouver Island and Alaska, inspiration took hold in the form of a half can of tomato paste, a squeeze of lime juice, a few drops of fish sauce and some maple syrup. What began as a classic “fridge clear-out” meal quickly became the stuff of obsession, and by the time Robin deboarded the idea for Bobbie’s Boat Sauce was wholly formed.

After a few recipe tweaks, Bobbie’s Boat Sauce hit the shelves to immediate acclaim. Bill Oakley–former Simpsons writer, famed food enthusiast, and founder of the Steamed Hams Society–christened Boat Sauce the “Domestic Condiment of the Year“ during his 2020 Steamie Awards. This year Robin’s sauce is a finalist at the Good Food Awards, perhaps the country’s most illustrious honor for emerging food brands. The accolades are no surprise to us, as we’ve found the umami-rich, tomatoey, just-spicy-enough flavor profile of Boat Sauce to enliven anything it touches. We slather it on sandwiches and scrambled eggs, dot it liberally atop pizzas, and even use it to add oomph to sauces and stews. We’re not big sailors, but if we ever found ourselves marooned on a deserted island with only one condiment, we’d be lucky to have Bobbie’s.

Photos via @bobbiesboatsauce

Recipes from Bobbie

Bobbie's Beans, Greens, Grains, and Broth

Fortify brothy beans with greens, grains, and splash of umami-rich Bobbie’s Boat Sauce.

Check it out

Bobbie's Peach Salsa

Fresh peaches and zingy Boat Sauce combine for an easy summer salsa recipe.

Make this recipe

Bobbie’s Michelada

An extra blast of umami from Bobbie’s Boat Sauce makes this michelada the perfect antidote to hot days.

Try these Micheladas