I couldn’t let my quest to eat Portland get in the way of exercise or checking out a brand new city (to me), so my Friday in Portland began with a nimble stroll along the Willamette River. As proud as I was to be up early – being active – I was slightly ashamed that I was the only one walking. Everyone else in the park that morning either cycled or jogged right on past me, their sleeves pulled down over their hands, their cheeks flushed. As much as I wanted to blend in, to act like I was one of the many fit and firm Portlandians, the photog in me could barely take 10 steps without finding a scene to snap.
So my nimble walk soon evaporated into a leisurely stroll. Which was fine because I crossed off many a desired sighting along the way: the Naked Neon sign (lit during the day); food carts; public art; vintage shops; and Stumptown coffee (from where I ordered a mid-walk latte that I can only describe as coffee as it was meant to be taken).
Later, meeting up with my fellow PDX-eaters, we headed to North East Portland for breakfast. I was happy to get to ride along MLK Blvd. where I noticed plenty of African shops and markets. Cool, because I hadn’t known much about the city’s Black population. I learned that many of the US-born Blacks in Portland had begun moving to the suburbs, giving way to African immigrants moving into the community. But I digress. It’s the social scientist in me. We’re here to talk food.
As expected, a line awaited us outside our first stop, Pine State Biscuits. From our place in the queue, we had a clear view of the pastry kitchen, giving us a glimpse into biscuit-making and what a treat we’d have in store for us.
A picture of a chicken biscuit from Pine State, I must admit, was the critical factor that got me from ruminating on a Portland trip to buying my ticket. It’s a charming spot – an order & sit kind of place where, when busy, you have to stakeout and hover in order to get a seat by the time your food is up. I ordered the McIsley (fried chicken with pickles, mustard, and honey) along with a mimosa; my girls each went for the Reggie Deluxe (fried chicken, bacon, cheese, and gravy topped with an egg). The biscuit was the perfect combination of fluffy and dense, the fried coating of the chicken holding up well in between, even doused with honey and tangy mustard. Yoda would say: Quite the morning treat, it was.
I didn’t finish my biscuit – not for want of more space in my belly but because, on the way over, I noticed Salt & Straw – a contemporary soda fountain – just a few blocks down. They let you sample as many flavors as you like, but I was easily sold on my second tasting spoon, the Salted Caramel Cupcake – equal parts spongy, salty, creamy, and sweet. The girls opted for Spicy Monkey Banana Walnut and Sea Salt with Caramel. My scoop? I finished it faster than you can say Portlandia. And still, a few blocks down Alberta on our way back to our bus stop, I still couldn’t say no to another spot on my list – Barista – even though I’d just a few hours before finished my Stumptown latte. The Barista cup too offered an elevated coffee experience. But this was the Pacific Northwest. What else could be expected?
After letting our stomachs recover by doing a bit of downtown Portland shopping, we next set afoot (and a-bus) to Pok Pok in South East. Our Friday evening was an early one, so we were seated right away in the rustic venue, smelling of fresh seafood and Asian spices. My aim was to fall in love with Ike’s Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings, a dish I’d been hearing about for nearly a year and a PDX must-have. The wings were crisp, sweet, and briny – a wonderful flavor combination, complemented by my drink, a Tamarind Whiskey Sour (my favorite drink of the day).
Finally, we settled in on our final food destination for the day – Hopworks Urban Brewery. We couldn’t leave this Brew Pub capitol without trying out some local beers. However, I’m not really a beer fan. So out of the flight of 15 brews I tasted, I enjoyed… zero. Okay, maybe one. But I don’t think I would ever actually order an entire glass. Now, you can wine me anytime you’d like. Even cocktail me. But beer – no, although it was probably really good. By the crowd, Hopworks most certainly has a huge following. I did, however, enjoy my food tremendously. Their bread sticks with mustard sauce were divine – chewy, warm, and puffy, the sauce rich and pungent; and the black bean corn cakes were a delightful new taste, zesty and zippy.
And the day would not be complete without a stop at Powell’s (aka Mecca). This stop might have been better than any of the restaurants.
So Day Two of Eating (and shopping) Portland was a success, which is wonderful since we traveled two hours by plane to please our bellies. More Eating PDX tomorrow!
The Ace Hotel at 1026 SW Stark Street and other locations (including one in LA!)
Pine State Biscuits
2204 NE Alberta
Salt & Straw
2035 NE Alberta
3226 SE Division
Hopworks Urban Brewery
2944 SE Powell