Heating a building with a pizza oven; solar-powered trash compactors; electric car-charging stations; and endless green spaces make Portland one of the most innovative and “greenest” cities in the world. It is also a food lover’s dream come true: the bounty of produce makes it a magnet for chefs who determine their menus only moments before dinner, following a day of foraging for their ingredients. Portland is also an oasis of beverages from beer, wine and spirits to coffee and tea.
Oregon is a region of fresh hops, so it’s no surprise that there are more brewpubs in Portland than in any other city on the planet; add to that two “happy hours” per day, and the largest brewers festival in North America, and it’s obvious why Portland is referred to as “Beervana.” Rogue Ales has 38 beers on tap, but it’s the creamy Shakespeare Oatmeal Stout—with its earthy, chocolaty notes—that has me reciting sonnets. The leading producer of premium-grade sake in North America is Oregon’s Sakéone, distinguished by the koji they bring in from Japan that is paired with the clarity of the local water. Our sake sensei leads us through flights of chilled craft sakes, some flavour-infused with coconut and lemongrass, and instructs how to taste and with which snacks to pair.
Between the Coastal and Cascade mountain ranges, heavy rains nourish rich soils and enable beautifully acidic, soft and elegant wines like Pinot noir, for which Oregon is renown. Rex Hill Vineyards’ 2007 Dundee Hills Pinot noir is rich and aromatic, like a baked cherry pie with roses and woodsy spices. Sokol Blosser, a pioneer in the organic movement, blends their popular Evolution wines in red and white. Nine grapes are harmoniously blended for a smooth, tropical fruit-forward white wine with versatility.
Portland is second only to Seattle in its number of coffee houses. Qualitydriven roasters have fuelled high expectations here. At a tutored cupping and tasting at Stumptown Coffee Roasters, we practice “palate calisthenics,” sniffing and sipping from a diverse range of varietals. Within the Portland coffee culture there is an emphasis on education and relationships: locals know their baristas, baristas know their roasters, and roasters know their farmers. Entering the Steven Smith Teamaker Teashop, we smell mint, and immediately recognize this is the workshop of a tea master. “If I want to take some bamboo leaves and fresh ginger, I grate it into a kettle of filtered water, cook and add a couple more ingredients,” says Smith, “I can do that.” Smith, founder of the renowned Tazo teas, focuses on blending fresh ingredients and a sense of humour. Our tasting of flights is like a soothing geography lesson through the world of tea. Portland is steeped in teahouses that offer mellow hideaways like the Tao of Tea within the downtown Chinese Garden’s Tower of Cosmic Reflections. We could be forgiven for thinking we had crossed through a portal into China. Tea selections, along with snacks like tea eggs marbled in soy sauce, star anise and pine-smoked tea, change with the seasons.
Welcome to Portland—the beverage mecca of the United States.
The “Food Pods” scene is huge. I navigate through whole city blocks lined with Thai, Bosnian, Japanese, Cuban, German and Scottish food trucks manned by both aspiring and retiring chefs. Waiting in line for close to an hour for a doughnut in “the crotch” of the city, is worth the wait to say, “I got VD in Portland.” Voodoo Doughnuts has become a renowned institution. The Maple Bacon Bar is covered in maple frosting and strips of bacon. The Memphis Mafia doughnut is chock-full of banana chunks, cinnamon, chocolate frosting, peanut butter, peanuts and chocolate chips. The prize, however, is the Voodoo Doll Doughnut©. Filled with raspberry jelly, this chocolate-frosted figure comes with a pretzel staked in its heart.
The Old St. Francis School, a 1936 Catholic schoolhouse turned pub, brewery, bakery, movie theatre, soaking pool and hotel, is my abode for the evening. Awaking in the middle of the night in a classroom feels like a nightmare, but my queen-sized bed in front of the chalkboard is actually very comfortable, and I fall right back to sleep in class…like so many times before. “Keep Portland Weird,” blares a large downtown sign. The city whose name was determined by a coin toss between two partners has succeeded in doing so in a very good way.
“I believe that if ever I had to practice cannibalism, I might manage if there were enough tarragon around.”
—Portland Chef, James Beard