Portland feels like the kind of party you might have in up in snow country, where you make a couple invitations and put out the bruschetta as people start to trickle in and kick off their boots, and all of a sudden the house is packed with flannel and beards and the fireplace is crackling and no one leaves til the next morning cause it’s just too darn cold out. It’s as if a bunch of tiny towns got lonely and decided to pick up their foundations and shuffle in cozy. The vibe is sleepy and peaceful and neighborhood chummy; the main streets run a couple blocks long and every house has a front yard [yes, there are houses instead of apartment buildings]. There’s no double-decker bus to trundle around and snap photos of grand monuments, or sprinting across town cause you’re late for a show. But that’s exactly why MJW and I went. “It’s a cool city,” people had told us — that sounded good enough.
The takeaways: microbreweries upon microbreweries, coffee shops upon coffee shops, exceptional temperature regulation on the part of the locals [light fleeces] and not on mine [fur and wool and nearly hypothermic], fantastic thin crust pizza, excessively enthusiastic Yelp reviews, and a precisely 15 minute bike ride to anywhere. Mostly we ate, and I was more than satisfied.
Downtown food cart Nong’s Khao Man Gai advertises only one item on their hand-Sharpied sign: khao-man-gai, aka chicken and rice. The shutters swung open from the front of the cart are plastered with magazine articles and newspaper clippings citing their chicken in various “best of” and insider foodie tip lists; the crowd gathered seemed to support the accolades. In reality, poached chicken can only be so good. Still, the meat was moist, the accompanying chili sauce was killer, and the delicate poaching liquid soup a welcome shot of warmth while huddled against the wind.
Lardo, where the pork belly/egg/cheese sandwich was overshadowed by the fried cauliflower with tangy chimichurri.
I couldn’t get over the idea of traversing a body of water to get from one side of the city to the other. And doing so by bike — sucking in the damp breeze, rattling with the vibrations of the bridge, feeling my stomach lurch in the vast height above the water — was even more incredible. The Willamette River is criss-crossed by eleven bridges in the Portland area, and looking up- or downstream gave the impression of layers upon layers of steel and concrete all tangled and merged.
Back to food carts! In contrast to SF’s mobile truck scene, which has you feverishly scanning Twitter feeds to locate your regular haunt, or showing up to Off the Grid only to be disappointed by the selection [let’s throw it out there that I am neither of these types of fanatics – I love the serendipity of food on wheels, of being happily surprised every time I happen onto something new or am revisited by an old favorite], Portland is all about “pods” — clusters of carts permanently cemented in place and relied on for semi-regular hours.
Allow me to reiterate what is clearly drool-worthy about this photo: fried chicken, bacon, and a fried egg drowning in gravy, balanced inside a massive biscuit, surrounded by a moat of collard greens.
And to offset all that fatty goodness, a peppy kalbi taco topped with kimchi and crisp fresh slaw. Sneakily fantastic.
Lest you panic that I’d neglected Portland’s raging craft beer scene, I’ll admit . . . I don’t really love beer [gasp!] so it wasn’t too high on my priority list. Still, when in Portland . . .
Widmer isn’t exactly an indie operation, but they do offer tours and MJW is a sucker for large vats of grain. The most exciting part, naturally, was the tasting, and our guide was generous enough to smuggle in a keg of their new seasonal spring ale to sample before it went out for distribution. This would have been my “posing with a celebrity” shot if I had gotten it out, oh, two months ago, but I can pretend it means something about being in the know even now.
The morning after our woodland party, with guests wrapped in knit blankets and strewn about couches: you put a pot of coffee on the stovetop and organize dessert for breakfast — a perfect slow ease into the day.