After two solid months of work, monotony and dieting, I was more than eager to scurry through the Atlanta airport two weeks ago en route to the recently deemed “Hippest food capital” in America: Portland, Oregon. My sanity somehow remained intact after a torturously long flight, listening to a five-hour musical composed of toddlers wailing and the soul-eating melody of Candy Crush Saga being played two seats behind me. But alas, I finally landed in the dreary city of poetry and facial hair with hell-bent intentions of tasting brews, mauling food carts, and perusing swanky second-hand shops with a “bag-free for our world” policy.
Having traveled through Europe all summer, I’ve learned to cram in every must-see attraction immediately upon arriving in new cities, as to free up my schedule for days of spontaneous lounging, eating, cocktailing and more eating. As many of you are aware of my not-so-subtle love affair with sugar, beer and pork belly, I’m sure you could imagine what my itinerary looked like for my six days out west. But aside from briefly setting free the gluttonous behemoth that is my traveling alter ego, I also planned to see my long lost cousin who succumbed to the plaid city over a decade ago. In an effort to stay true to my intentions of seeing more than the bottom of a pint glass and origami dumpling carton, I did manage to join my family in a minivan for a day cruise into the country. (Just long enough to prove that I don’t hop around the globe with a plastic bib around my neck using a fork as a weapon.)
The landscape just outside of Portland is like a postcard of America. There’s something about the Northwest that makes you feel a bit like Ansel Adams holding a camera; at any moment waiting for a bald eagle to soar overhead with a deer in its talons shrieking out ” ‘Merica.” The tall pines, bare rock faces and a river full of kitesurfing fools. It just felt very red, white and blue.
So after I did the obligatory sight-seeing (which was lovely), I decided to spend several hours strolling along sidewalks, which were covered in pastel chalk doodles and overrun with hipster street parties.
I’m not sure why hammocks were strung to street signs, or why there were table tennis marathons being played in vacant parking spots, but I loved everything about it. What I loved even more were the crowds of mustached men sporting driving caps and pocket squares, riding Renaissance bicycles as if posing for ads of genuine gentility. I thought for a moment I had bumped shoulders with the bastard son of Sam Elliott and Cary Grant.
But on the tails side of that quarter, I’ve never felt so unhip in my life.
As with all kicky little cities of the world, Portland couldn’t be a renowned land of bizarre people, places and happenings without being composed of endless juxtapositions and irony. For example, every menu I saw cased beside the doors of a busy restaurant advertised endless choices for fad-following-gluten-phobes and Celiacs. How ironic for the city which serves as home to the most microbreweries in the world? Perhaps Portlandians use all their wheat and grains for brewing bubbly, hopped perfection and only have remnants of almond meal and coconut flour left for their bakeries.
Hey, fine by me. I’d rather drink my gluten that eat a baguette.
And that’s exactly what I did.
Few things please me more than smelling the sour, almost foul scent of fermenting yeast in copper tanks. And that precise aroma fills the dewy air of Portland breweries and gastropubs around every corner. You may remember my sermon on the glorious “flight” of beer I had in Prague about two months ago, so I was more than pleased to see the pubs out west offering various options in three ounce brew tastings.
But as much as I would love to write romanticized analogies about the distant mountains, watching me sip mini-cups of frothy goodness, this has all been a preface for the real attraction of Portland. Food.
Let’s start with breakfast.
The Tin Shed is literally just that: a tin roofed, small building with an attached garden seating area, with the cozy ambiance of your great aunt Evelyn’s back patio decorated in tasteless linens and hanging, thirsty ferns (and I mean that in a good way).
Chicken apple sausage with scrambled eggs, molten Brie and granny smith apples. Ordinarily, I would say this meal was delightfully crafted and nothing more than tasty. But I must first admit; chicken apple sausage happens to be another cased meat masterpiece I’ve tried numerous times to perfect with my meat grinder, cheese grater and an over-ambitious attitude. So I know first hand, this is not an easy breakfast to prepare, and it need not be compared to an ordinary plate of poached eggs with a side of seared SPAM. The chicken was flavorful, speckled with green flecks of fresh rosemary and coarse black pepper; while the green apples were sweet and perfectly included in the omelet. And frankly, you can melt brie on a shit flavored Pop-Tart and I’ll call it half decent. The restaurant had a self-serve coffee station, obviously designed for shifty-eyed, hand-trembling coffee addicts like myself. I was free to choose my own mug from a shelf of porcelain vessels shaped as elephants, covered in hearts or hand painted kittens. And my server was never harmed by the Cylcops death-stares I dish out when I have to wait seven minutes for another cup of joe. Self-serve coffee… Genius.
Later, I tried to prep my belly for a marathon food cart binge, but I couldn’t seem to convince my appetite that it was necessary for me to consume treats from eleven different trucks.
Despite my best efforts, my pants begged me to choose one cart, and order a small meal.
Potstickers. Half fried dumplings filled with herbs and ground mystery meat, rippled along the creases to serve as a shovel for the salty soy marinade.
My only complaint about Portland’s food truck paradise was the lack of seating. I searched for an open park bench, but I felt my bottom lip quivering in anticipation as shuffled around in panicked circles. I finally decided to stand at a newspaper dispenser at the corner of a quite busy traffic light, where I proceeded to dribble brown sauce down my face and scoff out pants of “Ah, Ah! Hot!” I was embarrassed later, but at the time, you couldn’t have moved me from my beloved crescents of meat.
In case you don’t bust the seams of you highwaisted jorts at the land of food carts, you can always find a plethora starving hipsters and tourists alike in line at Voo Doo Doughnuts.
Famous for their odd coupling of flavors and culinary puns, this quirky doughnut shop is a spot worth stopping by to admire if not indulge.
The display case is a whirling devil of temptation and confusion. With no labels or explanation, you’re left to salivate in awe of the rings of fried dough with no clue what you’re really drooling over. I found myself gawking like a twelve-year-old at a fishbowl, tapping incessantly on the glass, panting out clouds of steam from my gaping mouth, grunting and stammering as the pretty ones passed quickly before my eyes.
Overwhelmed with decisions and confusion, I went with the namesake: The Voo Doo Doughnut. You know, the one glazed in remorse and filled with raspberry regret. Also, it had a pretzel through its heart. I had to eat it. I had to.
And it true Waldo fashion, I’ll leave you with ice cream.
I’m practically an ice cream connoisseur after my adventures overseas, but I have never seen a shop of sweet treats so uniquely appealing. The flavors range from Sea Salt and Caramel to Mint and Sea Urchin. With endless free samples, I couldn’t help but taste the rare creations and still order a full scoop.
I landed on Sweet Corn, Waffle and Caramel. The little nuggets of corn tasted almost like Jelly Belly Buttered Popcorn beans. I was comatose shortly after.
Portland may be an odd mecca of pearl snaps and cutoff denim, but if you’re looking for a new set of love handles and happy world of free spirited artists, go ahead and venture west. It’s a lot more than just a hula hoop party.