’ palets are ganache in coin-like cylinder painted with dazzling bursts of confectionary luster.
STEPHANIE ZONIS is a contributing editor and columnist for THE NIBBLE.
Coffee And Roses
One Week In Portland, Oregon
Stephanie Zonis nibbles through the City of Roses
Technically, I only had a few days to wander around Portland, as I was there for a cheese conference. Still, the conference tours enabled me to get to some places I wouldn’t have been able to see otherwise. The city of Portland is divided into four quarters according to directions, so you have the Southwest, Southeast, Northwest, and Northeast sections of the city (hence the SW, SE, NW, or NE indications with each address). Each section is subdivided according to something of a grid pattern, making it relatively simple even for a directional cretin like myself to get around. I stayed at the 5th Avenue Suites at 506 SW Washington, and I found the hotel comfortable and conveniently situated. The hotel restaurant, Red Star Tavern & Roast House, makes a dandy bowl of oatmeal in the mornings.
Portland is deservedly famous for her International Rose Test Garden, 400 SW Kingston in Washington Park, a must-see for rose lovers. With great views of the city and the mountains beyond, you can admire literally hundreds of varieties of roses here, from May until at least the end of September (June and July are peak season). It’s a dazzling show of color and floral scents. The Portland Art Museum, 1219 SW Park Avenue, is a lovely museum that doesn’t overwhelm you with countless exhibits, as do some of its bigger-city cousins. It’s on a much more manageable scale, especially if you have kids in tow. It has a beautiful collection of Northwest and Indigenous American art and artifacts, as well as some changing exhibits. There are speakers, special events, and more.
Well, so much for the cultural side of things. Let’s get down to the important business—the food.
Portland Farmers Market
At the top of my list is the Portland Farmers Market. You’ll find Farmers Markets here on Wednesdays and Thursdays between roughly May and October, but the Farmers Market is on Saturdays, from April to mid-December, at Portland State University in downtown’s so-called “park blocks,” between SW Harrison and Montgomery. (Do not confuse the Saturday Farmers Market with the Portland Saturday Market! They are two different entities; the good food is at the Farmers Market.) If you prefer to sleep late on weekends, too bad! Suck it up and get out of bed so that you’re there before 10 (the market opens at 8:30 am). True, the market runs till 2 in the afternoon, but the savvy shoppers get there early, before the bakery and produce stalls run out of all the good stuff. Every produce stand has berries and greens more gorgeous than the last. You’ll find seafood, home-brewed soda, breads, wines, yogurt, eggs, meat, cheeses, chocolate, and more. There are prepared foods to eat there or take home. What to try?
- Bakery & Spice has delicious fruit-filled “hand pies” to munch as you shop.
- Alma Chocolate has a little booth, as does Ruby Jewel Treats (more about both of them under Chocolate, below).
- Viande Meats & Sausage sells a duck and leek pate you won’t soon forget, and Dave’s Killer Bread proudly samples their wares.
- Try the marionberry sorbet from Staccato Gelato, or some of the beautiful cheeses from Ancient Heritage Dairy or Monteillet Fromagerie.
- Pick up some filberts from Freddy Guys Hazelnuts.
This market gets crowded early, but it’s family-friendly (there are periodic kids’ activities, bands and cooking classes) and a very sociable event, with everyone bringing their dogs (and the occasional cat in a tote bag). I can’t say enough good things about this Farmers Market. Click here for more information.
Squash blossoms from the Portland Farmers Market.
Conceivably, there dwell within the city limits individuals who don’t drink coffee, but after a few days in Portland it becomes increasingly difficult to imagine that. There appears to be some kind of unwritten rule that there can be no more than two city blocks between coffee houses. They are everywhere. There’s the usual overdose of Starbucks (you have to ask yourself just how many one city really needs), but you can also find innumerable examples of lesser-known (and some barely-known) names.
- Peet’s, has three stores in Portland proper, including one downtown at 508 SW Broadway. If you’ve never had Peet’s coffee, one NIBBLE editor won’t drink anything else—she’s been mail-ordering it from California to New York for years.
- My information is that the serious coffee folks are Stumptown Coffee Roasters, with several locations in Portland, including one at 128 SW Third Avenue. I call this place “the anti-Starbucks”; certainly, it has a very different vibe, and the coffee itself seems at the opposite end of the spectrum. Midweek, as I was walking toward Stumptown to get some beans to take home, a fire truck pulled up in front of the place. Six or eight firefighters in full uniforms leaped off the truck, leaving one fellow in the driver’s seat.
When you’re in Portland, you must try coffee cupping at Stumptown Coffee Roasters. You’ll learn how to analyze the flavors and aromas of different coffees—and discover what you really like and why. Call ahead for information. The downtown store is at 128 SW Third Avenue, 1.503.295.6144.
Was there a fire? No; they were just getting coffee. They trooped into Stumptown and emerged happily several minutes later, each carrying a cup. If that isn’t a recommendation for a coffee house, I’m sure I don’t know what is.
Pastries are a natural accompaniment to coffee, and Portland doesn’t lack for bakeries. Most coffee houses carry at least a few baked goods, but the bakeries themselves have a wider selection—and some of them sell good coffee, too.
- Pearl Bakery, 102 NW Ninth Avenue, does a decent cinnamon bun and an outstanding raspberry brownie. Their Irish soda bread, sold in wedges, has an interesting flavor but is too dry.
- Farther afield from the downtown core, but well worth the walk, is Ken’s Artisan Bakery, 338 NW 21st Avenue. When your last name is Forkish I suppose you have to end up in a food-related career, and Ken Forkish has made himself a good name in a discriminating city. Ken’s is large for a bakery, with some 25 to 30 seats and a couple of outside tables. There is an extensive menu here; I tried a “morning bun” (flavored with orange), a chocolate croissant, and a cannele, a French, eggy, cinnamon pastry. All three were very good, but the cannele was the standout. The breads are well-reputed. Monday night is Pizza Night at Ken’s. Don’t expect to buy by the slice; they sell only whole pies, which are described as “a little bigger than a dinner plate, thin crusted and not heavy with toppings,” though you can get a pizza to go. The crusts are indeed thin and crackling-crisp, and toppings are minimalist. I’d have preferred a bit more cheese on my Margherita (tomato sauce, cheese, and fresh basil) pizza, but I’m a cheese freak. There are several other choices in pizzas weekly, such as Anchovy, Fennel Sausage & Roasted Onions, and Zucchini. This is a pleasant place to sit over your pizza and salad and a glass of wine.
|The Author’s Favorite Cannele
||Raspberry Mousse Cake
From sweet to savory at Ken’s Artisan Bakery
- To my dismay, I was unable to get to Pix Patisserie this trip. There are two locations, at 3402 SE Division Street location has closed, but I was unable to verify that. In any case, the 3901 N Williams Pix remains open. I’ve had Cheryl Wakerhauser’s pastries on an earlier trip, and they are jewels of color and flavor.
Photo at right: Pix Patisserie’s “Jane Avril.”
- From downtown, take the pedestrian footpath over the Morrison Bridge, and you’ll find Bakery Bar, 1028 SE Water Avenue. It’s a laid-back, homey spot in a somewhat industrial area of Portland, but there’s nothing industrial about the food here. There’s a limited lunch menu, but you understand the real purpose of a bakery, so you’re here for the pastry. Try the key lime curd tartlet with blueberries, or the individual marionberry pie; either will delight you. The chocolate cupcake with coconut icing was also good, but I found the cupcake slightly too sweet, though it had a good chocolate flavor and a moist interior.
Speaking of chocolate, Portland will not let you down when it comes to this ultra-important food group. There are a number of local chocolatiers who turn out some promising products.
- Let’s start with a not-necessarily-chocolate but I-don’t-know-how-else-to-categorize-it and-I-don’t-want-you-to-miss-it entry: Ruby Jewel Treats. Ruby Jewel turns out handmade ice cream sandwiches, but not the type you remember from childhood. These are large, tasty cookies, sandwiched with excellent ice cream, some with chocolate and some without. They’re available in a number of Portland locations, including Whole Foods Market, 1210 NW Couch Street, and the Farmers’ Market.
- Turning to absolutely chocolate goodies now, Sahagún, 10 NW 16th Avenue, is always a good bet. It’s an unusual but charming and tiny shop, offering a modest range of chocolates and a few drinks. Try the “Morning Pill,” rather like a bittersweet truffle in disk form and guaranteed to hit the spot at any time of day, or the lovely salted caramel, in a tall, dark chocolate “cup” topped with hazelnut. Truffles are sold in flavors such as Jasmine and Orange Mint, and Sahagún are famous for their chocolate “barks” in some uncommon varieties. Although the website mentions that the company sells at the Farmers’ Market, they are not currently “in residence.” Perhaps they’ll return when the weather is more conducive to displaying chocolate (it hit 104°F during my visit).
- Try, also, Alma Chocolate, 140 NE 28th Avenue. Alma molds dark chocolate into the shapes of religious icons and covers them with edible gold—a beautiful effect. Don’t pass over the pistachio toffee here! Many, but by no means all, of Alma’s products have some heat along with the chocolate. Alma also sells at the Portland Farmers Markets.
- If you’re looking to make a presentation in chocolate, and a religious icon isn’t quite the thing, try DePaula Confections, 6140 SW 41st Avenue (by appointment only!!), in a stunning white paper box that, I’ve discovered, the chocolatier makes himself. John DePaula must be a man of great creativity. His chocolates include one with a dark chocolate-pomegranate molasses ganache filling (white, at left). I’ve had this, and it’s very good, but my favorite was his raspberry fleur-de-lis, with its lovely dark chocolate-raspberry interior. I’m sorry I didn’t get to try the milk chocolate hazelnut gianduja piece, though. If you can’t get to his place (again, I emphasize that you must make an appointment before you go), you can sometimes find DePaula Confections at the aforementioned Whole Foods Market.
- Finally, if you like your “candy with a conscience”, as the motto says, there are Wingnut Confections. This company makes vegan confections and transports them to vendors via bicycle. I didn’t care for their truffles, but the chocolate-coated candied Oregon hazelnuts are fabulous. Available in several retail locations, including Whole Foods; some products also sold at Sahagún. Conveniently, Wingnut has online ordering.
Did you know that Portland has good street food? I had been unaware of this. But if you’re out and about on a weekday after 11 a.m. or so, head over to 5th Avenue between Stark and Oak Streets. There are small booths of Mexican, Thai, Indian, soup-and-salad, barbecue, and other foods, all in one convenient row (there’s often at least one musician, too). Very popular with the suit-and-tie crowd, these semi-permanent “restaurants” are open only for lunch.
- My favorite was the burrito cart on Washington Street at O’Bryant Square, a small park. Technically one of the “Fuego” chain, I saw no name on the cart (I know the name only from a business card I was given), but the young woman running the cart told me there were ten or so scattered about the city. Fuego provides lots of options for burritos, beginning with the tortilla itself (white flour or whole wheat). You have choices in meat (or go meatless, as I did; the beans and rice are very sustaining) and salsa, too. And pile on the extras, or omit them altogether—guacamole, cheese, organic spinach, and more. The tortilla is the diameter of a dinner plate, and a “small” burrito was more than I could finish. And you can get a “buy 10, get one free” card here. I know there are other areas with more lunchtime carts, but I’m not certain of their locations.
Of course, Portland has far too many restaurants from which to choose, in addition to her street food vendors.
- I had dinner at Veritable Quandary, 1220 SW First Avenue, which was a combination of hits and misses. This is a pretty place, with a flower-laden outdoor dining area, and a thoughtful waitstaff. I started with the Oregon Dungeness Crab Cake, which was, frankly, odd. There was a bready layer atop, though plenty of crab was to be found underneath that. The crab cake included too many capers and too much spicing, which overwhelmed the delicate sweetness of what should have been the main flavor here, the seafood itself. It was prettily presented, as is everything here, but nonetheless disappointing. The Seared Duck Breast with Fresh Local Cherries came closer to hitting the mark, but still didn’t succeed entirely. The crispy baby leeks, cherries, and sauce that accompanied the duck were all first-rate, but a couple of the duck slices were too rare even for me (that’s really saying something), and the creamy quinoa under the duck was oversalted. The bittersweet truffle with Kahlua I selected for dessert was near-perfect, however.
- I had a lunch at Bijou Café, 132 SW Third Avenue (next to Stumptown Coffee Roasters), 1.503.222.3187, but I wasn’t impressed with either my cornmeal pancakes or the rather standoffish service. I did wonder about the lack of a lunchtime crowd there when I went in (it was ten to noon), but I’d stopped wondering by the time I left. Bijou does offer more traditional lunchtime fare, as well as breakfast items.
- Good Dog/Bad Dog, 708 SW Alder Street, 1.503.222.3410 (also two locations in the Portland Airport), is a sausage emporium. These are tiny, funky, little “joints” offering over a dozen kinds of sausage, including one for non-carnivores. Hot sausages or mild (your choice) come with several toppings, if you wish. I had an excellent British Banger, but I was not happy with the mediocre bun.
- And I ate at bluehour, 250 NW 13th Avenue. I’ll be honest; this was not my choice. I was assigned here for a dinner associated with my cheese conference. This is a place with a youngish, chic clientele. On the plus side, they served us an exceptional meal (if you see pan roasted magret duck breast with sage cheddar and bing cherry dumplings, sweet onion confit, and zinfandel jus on the menu, go for it), and they have a well-managed cheese cart; there is definitely knowledge about food here. But what’s the point in good food when you have to shout across your table to be heard? I recognize that many a restaurant will be crowded on a Friday evening, and bluehour was no exception, but the music level was unconscionably loud and got louder still around 10 p.m. What a shame.
Well, wait a minute, Stephanie, you’re saying, I thought you went for a cheese conference. Didn’t you get to any cheese places in Portland? Of course I did!
- First off, there’s Foster & Dobbs, 2518 NE 15th Avenue. Started up by a couple of former theatre folks, there’s a nice selection of cheeses here, in addition to wines and cheese accoutrements. They’re always sampling something, and I like the fact that they try to educate a bit as well as sell cheese.
- Another to search out is Curds & Whey, 8036 SE 13th Avenue, a tiny but terrific cheese store/café with a limited menu and selection but a lot of thought behind everything served and sold. David Schiffelbein and Colin Irwin have taken great pains to nurture this “baby” of theirs, and it shows. Try the honey goat cheese from Belgium if it’s available.
Photo at right: Curds & Whey
- The cheese store I most wanted to get to but couldn’t was Steve’s Cheese, a 300 square foot emporium inside Square Deal Wine Company, 2321 NW Thurman, 1.503.222.6014. Proprietor Steve Jones is extremely knowledgeable and friendly, and goes out of his way to be helpful. As of this writing, the website is under development; but hopefully will be up soon at StevesCheese.biz.
Specialty Food Stores
There are other specialty food retailers in the city, too.
- The New Seasons Markets are 5 stores in Portland itself and 2 in the suburbs. They’re upmarket grocery stores with some emphasis on natural and organic foods. They’re fun to walk around.
- Then there’s Elephant’s Delicatessen, with two branches called “Flying Elephants” (the main location is at 115 NW 22nd). The main store is a cross between a deli and a specialty food store that packs ‘em in big-time at lunch hour. There’s lots of prepared food, a bakery, a grill and wine bar, and more (the two Flying Elephants branches are more of a “grab and go” deal). There’s lots of energy at Elephants, as the staff are always flying about helping customers or discoursing knowledgeably about some food product. I like it here.
- Finally, there’s Bob’s Red Mill, 5000 SE International Way, Milwaukie, Oregon (yes, that’s how they spell Milwaukie). If you’re into whole grains—and most of us should be—you’ve got to get here. They serve breakfast as well as lunch, but you can also find whole grains, some of which you didn’t know existed (kamut? teff?), in every form imaginable. There are pancake mixes and grain flours, whole grains in small bags or 25 pound sacks, and gluten-free products galore. Beans, bulk goods, honey, molasses, and books—lots of books—on every subject from “vet approved” homemade cat food to special diets for humans. Quinoa, spelt, buckwheat—it’s all here. I was unable to try any prepared food but thought what I saw looked nice.
I don’t drink beer, so I can’t comment on the many acclaimed microbrews and microbreweries to be found in the region. I encourage you to research them elsewhere. But if you’ve been wanting to get in touch with your “inner foodie” as well as your “inner cerevisaphile,” Portland affords you some marvelous opportunities for doing so.
Know of other great specialty food in Portland? Click here to tell us about them.
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