Earlier this month I completed another fact-finding mission: figuring out if I really truly love Portland, Oregon. Amanda and I first visited Portland in 2005 after a glowing recommendation from my brother. Since then I’ve been longing to go back: to explore the endless shelves at Powell’s books and sample what some claim to be the best pizza in America.
1. The Weather
When I saw that the forecast was for rain all weekend, I knew this would be the first trial of my love. Plus, we weren’t renting a car, so we walked around in the chilly (40-50deg) rain all weekend. This did not dampen my spirits one bit. I really enjoy overcast weather because it cuts down on sunburn and keeps things cool. Plus there are so many wonderful green trees and lawn there.
2. Voodoo Doughnut
We learned about Voodoo Doughnut on the Food Network and of course had to visit their downtown location. The first time we went there (Friday morning) the line was out the door and we would have waited for 30mins just to get our doughnuts. So we went to Stumptown Coffee Roasters (also great!) instead and vowed to return.
The second day was much less busy and gave us a chance to peruse their funky menu and order up some sugary concoctions for the days ahead. We started with a Triple Chocolate Penetration (yes, it’s topped with Coco Puffs) and something that was topped with Cap’n Crunch cereal. What’s amazing is how well the cereal worked by adding just enough crunch to an otherwise soft and delicious doughnut. The sugar balance was also just right.
For breakfast the next day we grabbed a blue-raspberry-cotton-candy flavored one and their namesake Voodoo Doll doughnut, which is filled with raspberry jelly that looks like blood when you bite into it. Yum!
3. Friendly Service
One consistent thing we noticed is that service there was universally friendly: from the baristas to the bartenders to the servers. People were willing to take time to explain things to you and always had a smile. It certainly made our trip even more enjoyable.
4. Deschutes Brewpub
We always try to hit as many breweries and brewpubs as possible, and this trip was no exception. My favorite of the bunch was Deschutes Brewpub because the food, beer, ad location were all excellent. We actually ended up going there twice.
The interior space has a modern warehouse feel to it and the restrooms have gigantic urinals. Amanda was on a venison kick so she had elk stew one day and the elk burger the next.
I had the Reuben sandwich and the Blue Bacon burger. They offer generous beer samplers and even have a special/seasonal beer menu that you can choose from. I’m really glad we didn’t have to drive anywhere afterwards.
5. Artisan Distilleries
One of the surprises of the trip was running into a couple places who made their own spirits. Our first night there we went to McMenamin’s Ringler’s Annex which is tucked in the basement in a triangle-shaped block. Upon finishing our panini-centric meal and imbibing a couple of their house beers, we spotted their Alambic “13” Brandy and realized we had to get that. It was served warm by precariously positioning a brandy snifter over a glass of warm water, which releases the intoxicating aromas.
Our second encounter with artisan distillation happened at the Rogue Public House, where after having enjoyed a couple of their fine ales we decided to move on to the hard stuff: hazelnut spiced rum, spruce gin, pink gin, and probably some others I’m not remembering. I’m not a big gin fan, but the Rogue incarnations were amazing. I wouldn’t hesitate to say that trying artisan spirits there and at McMenamins was a revelation.
6. Cupcake Jones
After drinking at Rogue we had the munchies, and my phone told me there were cupcakes nearby. We found ourselves at Cupcake Jones where we could point-point at the ones we wanted to devour. Those first couple were gone so fast we didn’t even have time to take pictures (nor can I remember the flavors), so we went back the next day just so that I could bring you this fine shot of their chocolate chip cookie dough cupcake.
7. Powell’s Books
What else is there to say, other than Powell’s is a full city block and 4+ stories high (depending on how you count, since the stories don’t cover the full block)? One neat thing is that, at Powell’s, they intermix used and new books so that you aren’t limited to what is still in print. They even have a rare book room. I spent a lot of time in their humor and art sections, and also scoped out some good cycling books.
8. Hawthorne Blvd Food & Beer Extravaganza
One of our side trips was to do a pub crawl down Hawthorne Blvd, with the final dinner destination being a pizza place we didn’t make it to last time: Apizza Scholls. We started at the Lucky Labrador Brew Pub, where we enjoyed a couple of their beers, a pulled pork sandwich, and some unshelled peanuts. The pub has a very open feel but was a little more grungy than Deschutes. The food was unadventurous and so-so but the beer was tasty.
Our next stop was Roots Brewing Company, just one block away. The food menu there looked tasty but we stayed away, preserving our appetite. They had a great selection of beers to offer in their reasonably priced sampler, including the unique heather ale and the tasty Festivus. You knew it was a working brewery because the whole placed smelled like boiling and fermenting beer. This was a great stop and certainly a place to get some food next visit.
We then hopped back on the bus and made our way further down Hawthorne. At our next stop we visited a couple shops including a mystery bookstore (Murder By The Book), Powell’s Home & Garden (yes, they’re so big they have specialized satellite bookstores), and a neat Italian market.
Our last destination of the evening was Apizza Scholls, which is well known for making a high-quality pizza with fresh ingredients. It had also been featured on TV and we tried to go here last time we were in Portland but it had been closed for Memorial Day weekend. This time we showed up at 4:30 to wait in a ~20-person line for their 5pm opening. Service was slow at first as they struggled to deal with the glut of people right at opening. Their beer list included a local (homebrew?) IPA that Amanda got, and I stuck with a non-alcoholic birch beer.
We ordered their sausage pizza, figuring that a homemade sausage would beat out pepperoni. It was an excellent pie, but to be honest I was expecting it to be more transcendent than it was. I’m a big fan of Blind Lady Ale House here in San Diego, and I’d say they offer just as good of pizza with more unique ingredients (love the poblano chorizo one) and a better beer selection.
9. Portland Saturday Market
In spite of 30-degree temperatures with driving wind and rain, there was an amazing array of vendors at the Portland Saturday Market. What sets this apart from other street markets is the quality of crafts and selection of booths. There is a great selection of food items, cute haberdashery, and some great art involving utensils. The only thing we bought was a catnip-filled body pillow for the cats – about as much fun as you can have for $6.
10. They Don’t Have Earthquakes
Well, I guess there hasn’t been one yet. The 7.2 San Diego earthquake happened while we were still up in Portland and we returned home to a mess of tumbled CDs and some terrified cats. Actually it was interesting and fortunate that the only things that fell were my CDs – the glasses stayed put in the cabinets.