My brother (visiting from Los Angeles) and I lucked out with a dry day in November after a rainy evening the night before. This worked out great for us to visit Pine State Biscuit in SE for breakfast, then back downtown for visually inspecting and enjoying the sensory aroma all the food carts on Alder Street just as they were opening up for lunch rush, and then shopping at Columbia Sportswear’s Flagship store. With his new forest green coat, he looked like a Portlander rather then an LAXer as we headed to our food tour.
As an extra tip to you readers and secret stalkers, as he browsed the store I ran over to Pioneer Courthouse Square visitor’s center to grab some brochures and maps for my “visitor’s basket” of the guest room and also coupon for 10% off at Columbia. If you are coming to stay at a hotel, go online to the Travel Portland site to get the Portland Perks Coupon Book. In general, whenever I travel I like to go to the town’s visitor website just to see if they have any promotions, and even at a mall or department store you could score a visitor’s discount pass- or as a considerate host, get those for your visiting guest.
I would only recommend Pine State Biscuit as a weekday breakfast because its physical locations is so small. Even on a Friday mid-morning we were holding our breath hoping a table would open up before our food came up. Luckily it worked out, but I don’t like how it takes away from the relaxing experience that starting your day should be on a day off in that you’re anxious about getting a table and you’re crunched for space even when you do get someplace to put your plate down. There are some really great brunches during the weekend, but since my brother’s visit to Portland was on a Thursday afternoon to Saturday early morning flight out I was more limited on choice. In retrospect I suppose I could have picked out a breakfast at a food cart. Then again, this was before he had a coat. Next time bro!
The highlight of our Friday was that I signed us up for a tour with Forktown Tours. I had been on their food cart tours earlier this year in conjunction with Eat Mobile. I thought it would be fun to give them a try again and both celebrate eating (he is after all my brother) and get the story and feel of a local neighborhood, and it would be an opportunity for him to play with his camera. This particular neighborhood tour covered the Alphabet District, which combines Slabtown with Nob Hill (aka the NW 23rd streets area), so you get to walk through a combination of an up and coming area and a trendy boutiques area.
When we met with Jessica, our guide, she passed out a little list and map of what we would be doing- 7 stops! – setting up the anticipation for the tour as we waited for the rest of our group (we ended up being a group of 4 guests, 1 guide). What stops are on the tour and what samples are served vary so what I describe below may differ from other iterations of this tour experience.
We started out at Besaw’s– I’ve passed by several times but never been in. I was pleased that this tour not only made me walk through the door, but it covered the history of the location and that part of town (Slabtown). We learned lots of little trivia, but my favorite was here, with the little historical story that the bar used to have a trough below the bar because it was for men only and hey, it saves a trip to the bathroom… There’s even a picture of it in the back by the current bathrooms (heh). Background stories and history like this is why I like taking a tour, instead of just leading a progressive meal myself.
For our tasting sample we got to start with some bubbly with their homemade pear reduction mimosa, giving us a very festive start. We also were given a small bread size plate sample of their mixed green salad using greens from their literally local source of their very own garden just a few yards away, including fresh horseradish. I had heard of Besaw’s because of their brunch, but this visit highlighted their great offerings outside of breakfast foods- and I think that’s what I would go back for, a meal other then brunch, and definitely make sure to food that utilizes ingredients literally harvested steps away.
Our next stop was Kenny and Zuke’s Sandwichworks, where we sampled reuben sliders with their own hardwood smoked pastrami along with a taster of an india pale ale from a Portland brewery. I don’t recall which local brewery it was- I only took a baby sip because I drank mine and my brother’s mimosa at Besaw’s- but I loved the idea since Portland is such an IPA city to showcase that to a visitor.
We also talked about how Kenny and Zuke’s started at the Farmers Market- and several other businesses that started out as just a small stand at Farmers market and built a following and investment money from that into brick and mortar locations. Yay small businesses and the way that the Farmer’s Market helps incubates them, and a perfect example of how Portland is both a growing city but also so supportive of small and local.
Our next stop was only across the street for St. Honoré Boulangerie to sniff the aromas of wonderful French baked goods and share a bag of Chouquettes, which are little puffy pastry balls made with a pâte à choux and sprinkled with rock sugar. These little bites were a nice light break after the smoky meaty pastrami, and too easy to have a second… or a third…
I was excited that Wildwood was part of our tour. I love this restaurant not only for it’s always changing menu, but that it’s great for visitors because it has a parking lot. They helped found Northwest style cuisine, and are still producting high quality local sustainable food in a very elegant environment. These were my favorite samples of the stops in the tour.
We started with celery root soup- just you know, with butter and topped with black truffle oil. YUM. Wildwood has an amazing bar and craft cocktails using seasonal ingredients and local distilleries, so we also got to try a spicy martini using crème de pêche and New Deal Hot Monkey chili vodka. Then, we tempered the spiciness by sharing one of their daily pizzas, which highlighted autumn leeks and chantarelle mushrooms. Yes, all these samples! This was amazingly generous. I couldn’t believe we still had 3 more stops to go, since we are only 4 stops in! And, I need to make sure I get to Wildwood more often.
Next we were introduced to Sterling Coffee Roasters, which is technically a food cart but when you stand before them they look like they are in a luxe photo. I think they are my inspiration this year for how I want to look this winter in sweaters. We tried samples of their coffee, hot chocolate, and hot chai, all of which had a complex depth that you wouldn’t get from an average coffee chain. It’s next to the Trader Joe’s but I had never noticed it- but I will definitely remember it now. They spoke to us for quite a while about their small business and their knowledge and passion about their beverages, representing well how Portland is such a foodie city and how we are fortunate enough to have these kind of passionate food purveyor specialists even in this smaller city.
We walked along some neighborhood streets to stop and admire two historical houses- one in the Crafstman and the other in the Prairie style. Then, the next stop was my brother’s favorite, PBJ’s Grilled. This is another food cart, this one specializing in fancyified peanut butter and jelly sandwiches using homemade ingredients and unusual combinations. We got to meet both partners and hear about how they got started and think of their sandwich specials while also trying two of their spicier sandwiches (which was good as it was getting cooler now as it was evening and the last part of the 3 hour tour).
First was the Spicy Thai (grilled Challah bread with orange marmalade, sriracha, fresh basil, curry, and PBJ’s peanut butter), followed up the Hot Hood (Challah bread, black cherry jam, jalapeno, apple wood smoked bacon, PBJ’s peanut butter). I wish there was a way I could take jars of their homemade jams and jellies and peanut butter home.
We wrapped up with the itty bitty bites of desserts of Two Tarts Bakery of a cookie with chocolate, and macaroons.
The tour was really fun and delicious. The tour took about 3 hours and less then 2 miles of leisurely walking on sidewalks, along with plenty of sitdown times (and bathroom availability) at all but 2 stops. Don’t eat much before because this tour is very filling with samples, and you want to have room to enjoy all the flavors you’ll be tasting. Just as with the other tours I’ve had with Forktown, this felt just like a friend of a friend was personally taking me around her local area, telling me trivia and recommendations as we walked and chatted casually, and not much like a touristy tour at all. I hope I have an excuse to take a guest on the North Portland tour sometime!
All of these photos are courtesy of my brother and his Canon EOS 60D camera, available in his Picasa album 2011 Portland Visit. This post is pretty photo-intensive (rclick and click Show Photo if you see a little X instead if it didn’t load properly) but all the photos exist. And there are some I didn’t include so you can visit the album for more, or to see them larger.