After Boise’s urban eye candy of parks, museums and public art, “Two Guys in a Minivan” followed Highway 84 west, and their stomachs, to take in Portland – bite by bite. Here’s the next installment of reporter Adam Mankoski’s roadtrip adventure.
If we had been in Redding, in August, I could never have convinced my partner, Troy, to walk anywhere. Let alone walk in an unfamiliar neighborhood, to a loosely recommended restaurant, an unknown distance away.
But it was 70 degrees when we arrived in Portland after a long, hot drive from Boise, and he got caught up in my enthusiasm for exploring a corner of the city on foot, something we never do at home. And doing something we never do at home is what a vacation’s all about, right?
So, we set off from our Multnomah Village neighborhood vacation rental, with a loose set of directions to find Salvador Molly’s, an eclectic international restaurant, “just a mile or so away,” according to our hosts, with the promise of a great Brazilian band.
After mile two, a few steep inclines, and no site of Molly’s, our conversation had ceased and we were now too late for the band we could have enjoyed, had we taken a taxi – Troy’s original suggestion.
Then, as if the vacation gods had heard my silent pleas, Salvador Molly’s appeared, engaging all of our senses – the scent of exotic spices, the sounds of Latin harmonies (now recorded, not live) and the sight of a patio packed with couples and families – at, believe it or not, 10:00 on a Wednesday night.
Our taste buds got their own reward. Troy’s Djibouti Injera platter arrived with slow-cooked lamb, Ethiopian spices, vegetables and sides of curry red lentil dahl, peanut-ginger roasted sweet potato and garlic spinach. The Argentine chimichurri sauce on my perfectly-cooked, fire-grilled blade steak oozed into the pile of dirty mashed potatoes, black beans and juicy charred tomato.
Salvador Molly’s launched our edible expedition, from corner to corner in Portland, where almost any culinary desire can be fulfilled. So, the next morning, we set our sights on a little slice of Sweden, brought to us by Peter Bro, owner of Broder, a little slice of a restaurant in Portland’s hip southeast.
True to its Swedish roots, Broder is slick, stylish and masterfully pared-down. The food is the focus. Troy and I, and a refreshing mix of dressed-up, dressed down and fresh-out-of-bed neighborhood dwellers, started our morning with locally roasted Stumptown coffee. A “breakfast bord” laden with cured meat, smoked trout, cheese, a bright Clementine, yogurt with fruit, granola and a roasted apple followed our caffeine fix.
You thought that was it, didn’t you? Oh no. Vacation breakfasts by definition include eggs. Mine were baked, with their sunny sides up, atop a pile of cubed potatoes, peppers and smoked trout. Perfect fuel to explore southeast Portland’s Craftsman neighborhoods and dizzying array of thrift stores, boutiques and retro shops.
By the time we headed downtown for a mandatory stop at Powell’s Books, it was time for lunch. And where else does downtown Portland go for lunch? – the food carts.
There are 387 licensed food carts in Portland, taking advantage of landowners who want to squeeze a bit of cash out of their undeveloped lots. Downtown, food carts seem to supplement the income of parking lot owners, who have rented a few coveted spaces to a colorful array of trailers with awnings and makeshift patios.
In one strip of downtown street, I passed up vegan, Mexican, Hawaiian, Italian, Greek and incredibly good looking hot dogs for a double fist of Celtic Scotch egg (hard-boiled egg, wrapped in sausage, breaded and deep fried) with a hearty splash of HP sauce, and a Thai meat sandwich. Culinary Nirvana achieved.
That evening, after a food-cart-induced nap, and a Mediterranean meal that can only be adequately described if I had a visual of me licking the homemade hummus from my plate (I resisted that), we filled our camping cooler with treats from one of Portland’s gourmet markets. The Oregon coast was calling, but not until we took our last two tastes of Portland.
First stop – Pine State Biscuits. All I have to say to you is: The Reggie. It’s a cream-top buttermilk biscuit, gently hugging a juicy fried chicken filet, thick-cut bacon, an egg, grits, and preserves, all smothered in sausage gravy.
When you’re lying temporarily prone from a heart attack, be sure to peer up at Pine State’s menu, which includes other farmers-market-fresh, artery-compromising items: fried green tomatoes, sausage, country ham and an array of sandwiches made from a combo of the aforementioned meats and fried goodness. Be prepared to wait. It’s worth it. And don’t expect a table. Instead, grab your food and scarf it down a few feet away, at an abandoned outdoor table of the neighboring bar.
Really, the only way to work off breakfast at Pine State is to head downtown and wait in line for a box of Portland’s world famous Voodoo donuts. Despite the gaggle of teenagers in line with us (text messaging about the previous night’s Lady Gaga concert), and bellies full of biscuits and gravy, we couldn’t resist the bacon-maple bar, the “Captain My Captain” raised donut decked out with vanilla frosting and Captain Crunch, or the “Dirty Old Bastard” with chocolate frosting, Oreos and peanut butter.
We threw two more donuts — grape Kool-Aid and orange Tang-coated — into our signature-pink Voodoo Donuts box, just for good measure. Then we were on our way west for a few days of roughing it on Oregon’s stunning coast.
As we left Voodoo Donut’s bordello-lit downtown flagship store, with our pink box of sugar-coated deliciousness, a mural declaring “Keep Portland Weird” was our farewell.
But I couldn’t help think, “au contraire.” Weird is venturing out after 10:00 for food with no choice but Denny’s or an inability to have breakfast with my friends without getting in the car. It’s also weird when serving local, fresh food is a novelty, and ethnic food options are few.
So, wiping grape Kool-Aid from my chin, I stared down at my box of donuts and back over to the line of donut-lovers stretching around the corner, and realized how much I dig Portland’s brand of weird.
A few Portland food links:
Adam Mankoski is a recent North State transplant who feels completely at home here. He enjoys experiencing and writing about the people, places and things that embody the free spirit of the State of Jefferson. He and his partner own HawkMan Studios and are the creators of Redding’s 2nd Saturday ArtHop. Email your NorthState weekend events to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This portrait of Adam Mankoski was created by Shasta High School students Chance Norman and Kenzi Bell.
A News Cafe, founded in Shasta County by Redding, CA journalist Doni Greenberg, is the place for people craving local Northern California news, commentary, food, arts and entertainment. Views and opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of anewscafe.com.