Fly&Dine Contributor Paul Bacon returns with a delicious tour of Portland, OR. For more Fly&Dine PDX coverage, click here.
I have heard the stories of how Portland has become a foodie paradise. I have seen the Food Network and Travel Channel where they have toured Portland. My question was, “Is it really?” I now have a firm opinion.
My wife and I arrived at Pioneer Square, where they were having an electric car show [ed. note: Yep. that’s Portland for you.], and found the Portland Walking Tour reception area inside the Portland Information office. This company offers historic and other walking tours, as well as a food tour. We met our guide, Alexis, and the other six who would be joining us. Alexis described what the tour was about and gave hints of where we would be going.
Portland has become an interesting city. “Keep Portland Weird” does resonate as you walk the streets. There has been a lot of change and growth as the downtown area evolves. New buildings that have commercial use on the lower floors, office space in the middle, and residential on the upper are all springing up fast.
Our first stop was Cacao. There we were given a chocolate drink, not to be confused with hot chocolate or chocolate milk. I am not a fan of chocolate that is over 28% cacao, but this drink surprised me. It was rich, smooth, and had an amazing mouth feel. The taste was not to my liking, but my wife quickly offered to drink the rest of mine. The remainder of the group enjoyed the chocolaty concoction. As we were tasting, the gentleman working in the store was describing how Portland has the most artisan chocolate bar makers in the country. The vast majority are bean growers-to-chocolate bar maker, either directly or through a consortium. Cacao offers other types of chocolate drinks and an impressive selection of local artisan chocolate bars.
The next stop was the Flying Elephants Deli for soup. I am allergic to tomato, so I could not enjoy the tomato orange soup that everyone loved. Instead, I was given one of the most unusual soups I’ve ever tasted. It was Dilly Deli Pickle soup! It was rich and creamy with dill and pickle and layers of other flavors. My wife had a taste of mine and she was not sure, by the name, that she would like it. By the expression on her face, I knew it was a winner.
Portland is a coffee town with many one-off (non-chain) coffee shops. We arrived at Courier Coffee. Making the coffee is an important part of the experience. The Barista gave us detailed information on roasting, grinding, oils, chemistry (like CO2), and creating the drink. They roast their beans and use them within a short period of time. If you have seen the movie Barista, you would recognize this type of coffee shop and their dedication to perfection. Alexis made sure those who wanted regular, decaf, or tea were given their choice.
Bakeries. The world ‘round, everyone has their favorite bakery because it gives them what makes them happy: sugar. At Pearl Bakery we were taken behind the counter, hairnets included, to see their behind-the-scenes operation and “talk” to the dough starter. We tasted a baguette which was delicious. Next was a sourdough that was different from all the other sourdoughs I have had around the country. Why? The bacteria in the air changes the starter at each location. This is what makes it special. Along came a croissant. I have had them in France, Germany, Spain, Singapore, Maryland, California, etc. This one at the Pearl Bakery was the most amazing ever!! Flaky, airy, crunchy, soft, buttery, and I have no more words to describe it, only feeling. Never have I had such perfection in a croissant. If I lived near the bakery I would enjoy a croissant every day. Since I live on the other coast, this will always be a very pleasant memory of Portland.
Hot Lips Pizza was the next stop. To me, pizza is something I do not get to eat often and if I do it is usually bread and cheese (remember: I have a tomato allergy). Alexis arranged for me to have a squash sauce pizza on wheat crust with onion and basil. The squash sauce was sweet with a nutty flavor. The flavors melded into a delicious slice of pizza. Included was a house-made blueberry soda. It has no added sugars and was delicious as the day was getting warmer.
Portland has a parking lot at 10th and Alder Road where the outside is ringed with food trucks. Walking around the parking lot there was a variety of food from Vietnamese to grilled cheese. We stopped at Steak Your Claim and tasted a pastrami sandwich where the meat is smoked in the parking lot daily. The succulent and tender meat was yummy. There was also a stone mustard that complimented the flavor of the meat. I am not sure what spices they used on the outside of the meat, but the flavor exploded as my taste buds delighted in the sensation. I have become a big fan of food trucks. They have some very talented and aspiring cooks who one day we all hope will have a successful restaurant.
What would a food tour be without some beer? Ringlers, is a restaurant that is located in a building that once upon a time had a dancehall on the upper floor. There we sampled some of their beers. We had Hammerhead, a classic Northwest Pale Ale; Ruby, an ale that is lite, crisp, and fruity (raspberry puree colors each batch); Terminator Stout, this is for the true stout lover; and Battle Jacket IPA which has citrus and hoppy aromas and flavors. My favorite was when I combined the Hammerhead and the Battle Jacket IPA which gave a very happy balance. In addition, they served tater tots which had a Cajun flair and Portland ketchup.
Lardo! Any guess to their specialty? A restaurant that knows what I love. With a last name of Bacon, I am a fan of anything with pork. The restaurant started as a food truck and has grown into its present incarnation. We were given a bahn mi sandwich. The pork meatball was succulent and had a char that added to the complex flavors. The veggies were crisp that complimented the Sriracha mayonnaise. The cilantro gave it a nice fresh flair. I have had many of these sandwiches in the past and this was the best. All the flavors blended to make an outstanding sandwich.
As Americans we like to end our meals with something sweet as Alexis mentioned. The last stop was Ruby Jewel Scoops. Their open and closed sign was “Scooping” and “Not Scooping”. I was given an ice cream sandwich that had a sugar cookie with lemon lavender ice cream. All of the cream is locally sourced and goes from cow to customer enjoying the final product within 48 hours. We were also told that for some reason Oregon cows are very happy.
Overall, we were very pleased with the food tour. We had outstanding food, met the creators of most of the food and drink, and enjoyed those who joined the tour. Our fellow patrons ranged from New York and Alabama. We all enjoyed the cooler weather of Portland thinking of our friends and family in the blazing heat of the East on this mid-summer day! Alexis gave a wonderful tour and information on Portland. To make sure we could hear, she spent most of the time walking to and from each location backwards. In addition, Portland Walking Tours has given the following information:
“For any bookings in 2016 & 2017, as a reader of this blog, you are entitled to receive a 10% discount off the full price of any tour when you call Portland Walking Tours at 503-774-4522 and mention this blog post on BoardingArea.com.”
PS. If you need a book head to Powell’s Book Store. Being one square city block, it is easy to get lost!!