My partner Holly and I visited Portland for about a week, from March 30 to April 6, and we had a truly wonderful time. We ate very well, thanks in large part to the advice from this board.
Unlike our usual travel mode, we made a concerted effort this time to restrain ourselves from making a chow-tour out of our trip. We had neighborhoods to explore, and friends to visit, so we tried to put the neighborhoods and friends first, and find what good things we could along the way. Hence my neighborhood-centric inquiry of 16 March ([BROKEN LINK REMOVED]).
Concomitantly we were on the lookout for local and naturally raised meat and produce, which we had no problem finding, as Portland seems better versed in this most crucial foodway than any other place I can think of. (See my query about local goods, [BROKEN LINK REMOVED])
We arrived Wednesday, March 30 and were whisked into town on the MAX. After dumping our gear at the hostel and procuring our (first set of) bikes, we cycled to 39th and Hawthorne to find some supper. Our first meal in Portland was at the BRIDGEPORT ALE HOUSE. The atmosphere was pleasant and pubby. The food, self-described "upscale pub fare," was tasty and hearty. We had bowls of a solid stout-based onion soup in the French style; a delectable house salad with tasty mixed greens in a well-rounded vinaigrette; and the corn and poblano cakes, which were eggy and delicious. We were pleased and surprised that the alehouse served only friendly-farmed meats. In general, we found that Portland restaurants and food purveyors favored naturally-raised or organic, local meats and produce, and also that servers and workers were extremely knowledgeable about the sources of the food they provided.
Breakfast on Thursday was at the CUP & SAUCER. I've been here before on Portland visits, and I knew the name rang a bell, but I didn't match restaurant to Chowhound post until I saw the "Maple syrup available for an additional $1" and remembered the scathing review given to C&S recently (I believe the phrase was "Can I also get a good waffle for a dollar extra?"). Fortunately we just wanted tea and scones. I do like their scones a lot, although they more resemble sweet biscuits than the scones I am used to; we went through two baskets, along with some yogurt and OJ. Tea was of the hot-water-in-a-steel-pot variety. I appreciated how they offered an "upgrade" to free-range organic eggs for a quarter each. We also got a very good rice krispy treat to go.
After a ride through South Tabor, down the 205 path, and along Johnson Creek, we found ourselves in Sellwood, where we had a recommendation for PIZZICATO PIZZA. We had worked up a powerful hunger and a couple of their slices and a salad were just the thing. Pizzicato does not use friendly-farmed meats, but they were happy to answer my questions, and it was no matter, since they have so many delectable vegetarian options. Their veggie slice was loaded with all sorts of good things on a garlic/oil base (a preference of mine). Pizza crust had a nice crispness along with a pleasing slight thickness. The greek salad was very good, with a sweet/sharp dressing and good feta. Their salad list was quite appetizing--the Pear Arugula salad was particularly tempting.
After lunch we went across the street to TULLY'S and got a couple of their vanilla-bean-soft-serv cones (the sign said "Softened to perfection"!). Jill-o, it's no ice cream parlor, but for soft serv it was pretty darn good. The other flavor was Espresso, and of course they offered a Twist, and if I wasn't practically allergic to coffee nowadays I would have tried it.
After 20 miles in the saddle, we had come to the unfortunate conclusion that our rented bikes were total pieces of junk, so that afternoon we returned them to City Bikes and got our money back. I have a soft spot for workers' cooperatives, but maybe someday I will get over it and we will get good bikes the first time.
Supper on Thursday was at a friend's house.
Friday began with strong tea and toast at the hostel. We had procured a fine pair of teas from HAWTHORNE COFFEE MERCHANTS: Earl Grey and a green Jasmine.
After renting a pair of Breezers from the kind and helpful folks at Veloce Cyclery, we headed to lunch, a rare destination stop: BURGERVILLE! We each had a Tillamook cheeseburger, and we shared an order of fries and a strawberry ice cream shake. It's been about three years since either of us has eaten fast food--not since reading "Fast Food Nation." Burgerville is certainly the slowest fast food I've ever tasted. The burger was really good: well-prepared, clean-tasting, and just greasy enough to go with the decor. (I dare say it's the first fast food burger I've ever chewed and tasted carefully!) If I lived in Portland I would make a point of stopping by for all the seasonal specials. From my notes, with apologies: "Two cheeseburgers, fries, fresh strawberry shake: $9.96. Seeing a board of Seasonal Specials in a fast food restaurant: Priceless."
We logged about 26 miles in the saddle on Friday, our heaviest cycling day, which may explain why we ate (almost) four meals. After a lengthy pedal up and around St Johns, we found ourselves on Alberta and, on a recommendation from a cashier at the co-op, went to the TIN SHED for a snack. It's a cute little all-in-one cafe with a homey atmosphere. (I loved the hanging guitar labelled "Spontaneous Music.") We sat down just at the beginning of happy hour, and the place proceeded to fill up with gringo Alberta denizens. We each had green tea and shared two happy hour snacks, the spicy Tilapia tacos and the artichoke dip with crostini. Both were tasty, but lacking nuance. It seemed like a young kitchen.
Later that evening we met friends for supper at the RUSSELL ST BBQ. Once again we were pleasantly surprised by the restaurant's exclusive use of naturally raised meat. I am no expert on barbecue, but we enjoyed our pulled pork immensely. We got it with sauce on the side and the server gave us squeeze bottles of all the different sauces to try. I loved the "Virginia killer" sauce--a successful blending of chipotle and habanero chiles in vinegar. The heat was just right. I also liked their mustardy sauce. We had greens and cole slaw on the side. The greens were just tender enough, still retaining a good chewy texture. And I couldn't resist an order of hush puppies, which I loved as always. For dessert we got banana pudding with vanilla wafers, which was exquisite. The banana flavor was clear and not overwhelmingly sweet, in perfectly textured custard. I had a Boss IPA from Laurelwood Brewery which was tart and tasty, a fine IPA. I don't know how Russell St compares to the rest of Portland's barbecue choices, but we loved it and would happily return. The servers and the owners were all really nice and fun too.
Saturday morning we made a destination visit to PARK KITCHEN for brunch. I had the duck confit "Reuben" sandwich and latkes on the side. Holly had the corn pudding with bacon and cheddar, topped with chive/onion marmalade, and a chicory/lentil salad with blood-orange vinaigrette. We liked the brunch menu's style, which reminded us of the previous evening's barbecue: Pick an entree, then pick a side. It was a wonderful meal. Park Kitchen is one of those restaurants where the food is so finely crafted, and of such high quality, that it's hard to pick out the details of why it's so good, because it is so satisfying just to eat it. Flavors were clean and distinct, yet in harmony with one another. For example, the smooth melding of salty duck and sour sauerkraut in the sandwich, or the many-faceted flavor of the blood-orange dressing. The latkes were the only restaurant latkes I've ever had that were as good as my/my mom's homemade. The corn pudding had a nice firmness outside and lovely custardy tender insides. We also had earl grey tea and two glasses of ridiculously good orange juice. Our server was having a tough morning--I think they were shorthanded--but it didn't affect his treatment of us. He was courteous and attentive, and clearly passionate about his work, readily and knowledgeably answering our questions and engaging in conversation about the food. Park Kitchen was a splurge well spent.
Our plan was to go to the Portland Farmers' Market, but we got sidetracked at Powell's. I love Powell's. Love, love, love it. It was strange to realize how well I knew the place; once I got oriented in the Orange room, I could find my way around by memory. We enjoyed the individual press-pots of tea at the store's WORLD CUP CAFE as well.
It was amazing to see all the changes in the neighborhood. I am sure this is happening all over the city, but the blocks around Powell's are the only ones I know well enough to notice. It was heartbreaking and awesome (the old kind of awesome) all at the same time. You all have an amazing city.
We had a late lunch at CHA CHA CHA, which was so mediocre I am reluctant to dignify it with a mention. Supper was with friends (and included a tasty organic whole-grain batard from New Seasons).
Sunday started out with a monster breakfast at BREAD & INK. We shared one order of biscuits and gravy, which at B & I means a huge peppery biscuit submerged in gravy with bits of spicy italian sausage, and slipped under a broiler...with cheese on top? I think so. It was biscuits and gravy taken to new heights. Also had a side of canadian bacon and a side of not-so-good roasted potatoes. Our "earl grey" tea turned out to be weak green tea (!) causing me to yearn for tea for the rest of the morning. We completely forgot to check whether the meat was factory-farmed, I suppose because we were giddy with the prospect of our first heavy restaurant breakfast since I can't remember when. So I would like to formally apologize to the poor caged piggies, assuming the meat was in fact inhumanely-raised.
Lunch was a sandwich from the Pearl WHOLE FOODS. I scratched my tea itch with a visit to the World Cup. We then met a friend and visited fabulous Sauvie Island.
Supper was at our "local," the BRIDGEPORT ALE HOUSE. We were tired and ordered stupidly: a pizza and a pizza-like appetizer (artichoke dip and "garlic flat bread," also known as pizza crust). Both were OK, and accompanied by their very good salad and, alas, too much beer (meaning I had more than one imperial pint).
Monday was a big cycling day to catch up on some more exploration. After tea and toast at the hostel, we rode to the river and took the Springwater corridor path down to Sellwood, where we had a very good tuna-salad sandwich and a salad-bar salad from the NEW SEASONS market. After enjoying Sellwood's charms on foot for a while, we stopped into the UGLY MUG coffeehouse for some green jasmine tea. They use whole leaves and superheated water, but for infusion they use hand-filled little envelope-like tea bags. It works nicely.
Monday night we were tempted by the charms of Low BBQ, but as we had been eating more meat than usual, we (foolishly) decided to resist the temptation and instead went to CAFE CASTAGNA. There we had a three-course meal that was less than satisfying, and accompanied by a strangely flustered waitperson who seemed confused by our interest in the food. The spring greens soup with fried morels was a great idea, but the flavor of the soup (a gorgeous deep green puree) was very thin. It was tasty for a split-second and then the flavor simply disappeared from view. We followed this with a caesar salad, which was good but not great. Though we had said that we would be sharing all our courses, no effort was made on the restaurant's part to help us share the salad or soup. I know splitting a bowl of soup is probably a pain, but an extra plate for the salad would have been nice. After much debate on our entree, we chose the Pyrenees-style meatballs in white beans with green garlic. This was the most successful dish, though the flavors still seemed oddly unbalanced--there were a lot of interesting floral/savory notes in the meatballs, but they seemed scattered rather than nicely married. Dessert was a rhubarb-apple crisp with ice cream, which was yummy. After sipping a tasty homemade ginger soda throughout the meal, I cashed in my booze chips on a glass of pinot-noir-acquavitae to have along with dessert. This interesting drink was in their Grappa section of dessert drinks, even though it was more of an eau de vie and they had a separate section for brandies and eaux de vie. Whatever. It was good, though I kind of wanted...grappa. Sums up the evening well; nothing was bad, exactly, but it was all vaguely unsatisfying. Go ahead, berate us for skipping Low; we deserve it.
Tuesday was another cycling-heavy day. We began the day at STUMPTOWN on Belmont after failing to locate Tao of Tea. We had good black tea, and a scone and croissant from Pearl Bakery. Stumptown has a nice vibe, if a little super-hip. I loved how they actually play records for the in-house music. We were lucky enough to hear the first side of Abbey Road while we drank our tea and wrote a few postcards.
We were exploring Irvington and Hollywood that day, so we thought we'd try the recommended Moon and Sixpence, but it was closed for lunch. Fortunately after a bit of wandering we came upon the LAURELWOOD BREWPUB, which had been recommended by a friend. We tried their fish and chips, which were stunningly good. We split an order and both wished we'd gotten our own, because we were famished and they were so delicious. The fish was fresh, firm halibut. It was very crisp and just oily enough. The chips were the lightly battered kind, which I favor, though Holly likes the double-fried English-style chips better. I had a half-pint of their porter, which was pleasantly dry and refreshing.
Later that afternoon we found ourselves on 28th NE, where we spent some time at STACCATO GELATO, enjoying some gelato and mint tea. The gelato was good, but the cream-based flavors were a little gummy for my taste. I did like the flavor, if not the texture, of the white chocolate with chocolate chips. The blood orange sorbet was a standout.
We wandered the street, tempted by both Tabla and Taqueria Nueve, but it was early yet and we had to work up a little more of an appetite. We decided to go to Apizza Scholls later for supper. Upon arrival, we found that it was closed on Tuesday, making our foolishness regarding this address two for two. So we found ourselves once again at the BRIDGEPORT ALE HOUSE, where they were getting to know us pretty well. At this point we were really hungry again, so we broke with tradition and each got our own dish (though we shared them both): their house hamburger, with potato/bacon/gorgonzola soup, and the night's special, a spinach/sausage lasagna which came with a caesar. Everything was solidly good in the way that good pub food can be. The burger was cooked to the correct temp and, well, just a good burger. The lasagna was peppery and cheesy and satisfying. The potato soup was a successful blend which we'll try to duplicate at home. I also had a half-pint of their cask-conditioned IPA, and about a gallon of water. Our server was magnificent; I was really thirsty, and after he refilled my tiny waterglass several times, he replaced it with a full pint of water. At the end of the meal he admitted that it had been a real challenge to keep my water glass full. It was sweet.
Wednesday was mostly consumed with packing up, checking out, and getting to the airport. We had tea and toast in the hostel, and on our way to the bus we stopped at PASTAWORKS for a couple sandwiches; just their pre-made ones, but they were awfully good. Holly had the Parisian ham and brie, and I had the roast beef. The beef in my sandwich was notably tender and tasty. And then we flapped our wings and flew home.
Some ice cream parlor substitutes/candidates we noted, with Jill-O in mind:
--Pix advertised ice cream, but we didn't try it.
--I saw a place called Spanky's Ice Cream Parlor that looked like it was either new or just about ready to open. Can't remember where--sorry!
--The above-mentioned Tully's soft serv, which sure scratched my itch.
--Somehow we resisted the mystical charms of Rimsky Korsakoffee (as if we'd be able to locate it!), though I truly enjoyed the thread that my query generated.
--In general I noticed a lot of signs on restaurants/cafes that said "Ice cream!" which made me wonder if everyone was scrambling to provide Chowhounds with a much-needed ice cream parlor. Maybe it's in the air.
Some not-about-food items:
Bicycling our way around Portland was easily the most enjoyable and beautiful urban cycling we have ever experienced. I especially enjoyed the Springwater corridor, both along Johnson Creek and along the Willamette and Oaks Bottom, and cycling over the Hawthorne Bridge. I have a special place in my heart for the Interstate/Greeley bike lane, for making a gritty industrial area comfortably accessible to bicycles. I love gritty industrial areas, but they're not usually very good for cycling. This one is.
It should be noted that along with its thriving theater scene, beautiful gothic bridge, and famous meth labs, St Johns was the only neighborhood in Portland where a motorist actually yelled at us to "get out of the way, already." Motorists in the rest of the city were generally kind and patient, with a strange habit of following posted speed limits. Even the cyclists were polite. All told, we enjoyed a week of great food, excellent cycling, and friendly people. It was a real pleasure to visit, and we look forward to returning.
Photos of our trip, and a lengthy musing on the various ways one is served tea while dining out, will be posted soon on our blog, link below.
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