Wining and dining Bridgetown by bike is a feast for the stomach and the eyes.
“We actually get less yearly rainfall than Dallas,” my buddy Martin informs me as we pedal through Portland’s trendy Buckman neighborhood.
Given Portland’s reputation as a rain-logged kingdom of artistic misfits, it’s a fairly shocking piece of trivia – even on this blazingly agreeable late-summer afternoon. “We never really get big downpours, like monsoons or any of that,” the newsweekly editor continues, as Buckman’s pleasant New England-style clapboard homes resolve into a receiving line of high-concept yoga studios and craft brewpubs. “What we get is four or five months of perfect weather, and then a steady drizzle the rest of the time. It never stops. But I don’t mind it. I’ll bike to work in it.”
A Phoenix transplant now three years deep into his Portland period – enough time that he now casually refers to the town as “PDX,” but doesn’t yet sit cross-legged in restaurants – Martin was only too happy to oblige when I asked him for a bike tour of this woodsy metropolis, which he calls “easily the most bike-friendly American city I’ve ever seen.”
To be sure, Portlanders have much to be proud of. The city, which sits at the intersection of two rivers – the Columbia and the Willamette – is gorgeous. It also boasts one of the deepest food and beverage cultures in the country: “Top five for sure,” Martin boasts. And unlike, say, Manhattan or Chicago, you can bicycle from place to place confident you won’t be crushed by a taxi or cement truck. It’s a town built for bicyclists. And I aim to bike it.
Bike Trip #1: Clackamas County Beer Run
Portland proper is a city of about 600,000, but Greater Portland comprises more than 2 million people spread over five shoebox-size counties. It’s a fairly easy proposition to explore Greater Portland on bike. One of Portland’s best bike trails – the Springwater Corridor Trail – slithers southeast out of the city into contiguous Clackamas County, an area known for its excellent fishing and water sports, smattering of award-winning breweries, and year-round skiing at Mount Hood, the only place in the U.S. where you can hit the slopes in the dead of summer.
A converted railway line, Springwater Corridor starts near Hawthorne Bridge in east Portland and extends a leisurely, mostly-level 21 miles out of the city. Roughly an hour into the journey, we break at Bob’s Red Mill (13251 SE Pheasant Ct., Milwaukee, 503-654-3215, bobsredmill.com), famed for its gluten-free, globally-distributed baking products. I grab a tasty BLT at the cafe, and catch a glimpse of owner Bob Moore himself – improbably attired in the same cap-and-vest ensemble that graces the packaging of his products. He’s a genial sort, and takes me for a short spin in his cherry Model T.
Bidding Bob adieu, we head around the corner to get a post-lunch pick-me-up at Breakside Brewery (5821 SE International Way, Milwaukee, 503-342-6390, breakside.com), a midsize (5,000 barrels per annum) microbrewery that recently outgrew its old facility in the city. Similar in temperament to Gilbert’s Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co. – they even do a beet-based beer, just like the AW boys – Breakside is definitely worth a visit, if only for brewmaster Ben Edmunds’ righteous Double IPA.
The balance of the Springwater Corridor Trail leads us through a pleasant litany of pastures and fir stands, ending at the town of Boring. About a half-mile off the trail, we “water our horses” at Boring Brewing Co., (13503 Southeast Richey Rd., Boring, 503-793-1382, boringbrewing.com), a four-barrel nanobrewery run by a fellow named John Griffin out of a tidy laboratory next to his home. Despite the name, we find his Boring Brown Ale to be quite the eye-opener.
Backtracking seven miles up the Springwater Corridor, you can hop a ride back to the city on the MAX, Portland’s dependable and far-reaching light rail system (trimet.org/max). Be forewarned: This baby puts our Metro Light Rail to shame. You’ll have rail envy.
Bike Trip #2: Willamette Valley Wine Cruise
Resting southwest of the city is Washington County, northern terminus of the splendid Willamette Valley wine country. For all but the heartiest of gearheads, it’s a bit far to bike from Portland (30-plus miles), but local rental shops are plentiful (go-oregon.com/Willamette-Valley/biking).
The Willamette Valley stretches across half the state and encompasses more than 300 wineries, so Portland visitors may want to restrict themselves to the tidy cluster of tasting rooms in Washington County’s Tualatin Valley. A good place to start is Ponzi Vineyards (19500 SW Mountain Home Rd., Sherwood, 503-628-1227, ponziwines.com), set on a bluff overlooking a verdant ripple of hillside vineyards extending to the horizon. As one of the first wineries to recognize the potential of Pinot Noir in Oregon soil back in the early 1970s, family-owned Ponzi is a living piece of Oregon wine history. Black-and-white photos of the founders’ children crushing grapes underfoot hang over the tasting room. Today, the Ponzi kids run the joint, operating a state-of-the-art, gravity-flow production facility that would make a Bond villain jealous. The Pinot’s great, too.
From Ponzi, it’s a short but bracing bike ride to Raptor Ridge Winery (18700 SW Hillsboro Hwy., Newberg, 503-628-8463, raptoridge.com), which excels in Pinots, naturally, but also drier German whites like the hard-to-find Grüner Veltliner. Smacking our lips, we grab a much-needed bite – and espresso – at nearby South Store Cafe (24485 SW Scholls Ferry Rd., Hillsboro, 503-628-1920, southstorecafe.com). Tired of wine? Fortunately, one of America’s premier sake brewers, SakeOne (820 Elm St., Forest Grove, 503-357-7056, sakeone.com), is not too far down the road. Educational and intoxicating all at once, a visit to the brewery will definitely give you a heightened appreciation of Japan’s erroneously-labeled “rice wine” – sake master Greg Lorenz, an ASU grad, reminds me that sake is actually brewed, like beer. Kampai.
If you still have a tasting in you, hit Two Kilts Brewing (14841 SW Tualatin Sherwood Rd., Sherwood, 503-625-1700, twokiltsbrewing.com), where co-brewers Chris Dillon and Alex Mcgaw track 10 hand-crafted taps – and one devoted Hamm’s handle – via a cool digital status board. You can monitor it online, too.
Feeling energetic? Bike the 21-mile Banks-Vernonia State Trail – like our previous trail, hewn from a converted railway line – to Coastal Mountain Sport Haus (66845 Nehalem Hwy., Vernonia, 502-429-6940, coastalmountainsporthaus.com), a custom-built, four-bedroom Euro-style guesthouse set in the wilderness northwest of Portland. It will prove to be the highlight of your trip. Built by owners Glen and Sandy Crinklaw on a 100-acre parcel of family-owned land, the lodge’s garage-style panel windows open up to a striking pasture populated by the couple’s herd of handsome Piedmont cattle. The Crinklaws run an all-inclusive operation. They’ll feed you, entertain you, introduce you to the cows, and in the morning, Sandy will treat you to a yoga session in the downstairs studio. If you’re nice, maybe they’ll legally adopt you. It’s definitely worth a Portland side trip – whether you bike or drive.
Bike Trip #3: Portland Food Circuit
Naturally, no bike tour of Portland would be complete without touring the city itself. Split neatly into east and west halves by the Willamette (the west side of the city encompasses the downtown financial district and old-money homes; the east side boasts most of the city’s elite restaurants and up-and-coming neighborhoods), Portland has essentially been retrofitted for convenient bicycle travel. Select bike-friendly streets have barriers limiting car traffic, and each of the eight bridges spanning Willamette includes dedicated bike lanes; one of them, the Tilikum Bridge, doesn’t allow automobiles.
From downtown, we start the day at Voodoo Doughnut (22 SW Third Ave., Portland, 503-241-4704, voodoodoughnut.com) – the legendary sugar den famous for its Maple Bacon Ale collaboration with Oregon beermaker Rogue Ales & Spirits. I have something called the Old Dirty Bastard – a traditional raised doughnut with chocolate frosting, Oreos and peanut butter – and feel my expected lifespan dwindle in kind.
Pedaling eastward, we cross Hawthorne Bridge into east Portland and its frankly overwhelming bounty of small-bites cafes, James Beard-winning gastro-palaces, bustling tapas bars and post-modern cocktail lounges. Recommending one or two restos from such a windfall seems capricious; instead, focus on food-destination streets as you make a wide, all-day loop around the city. There’s Alberta Street, home of Portland’s groundbreaking savory ice cream parlor, Salt and Straw ( 2035 NE Alberta St., Portland, 503-208-3867, saltandstraw.com). Also check out Killingworth Street, where you’ll find Beast (5425 NE 30th Ave., Portland, 503-841-6968, beastpdx.com), the Franco-fusion stomping grounds of star chef Naomi Pomeroy. Next door, Yakuza (5411 NE 30th Ave., Portland, 503-450-0893, yakuzalounge.com) does a fair impersonation of Nobuo at the Teeter House back in Arizona – exquisite small plates in the Japanese izakaya tavern-food tradition. We inhale the pan-seared black cod with sweet miso and wildflower honey and agree it’s probably as good as Nobu’s – you know, the Vegas one.
Just as impressive: Portland’s world-beating food cart scene. Circling through southeast Portland, we lock up the bikes at Good Food Here Belmont (SE Belmont St. and SE 43rd Ave., Portland, goodfoodherebelmont.com), essentially a restaurant incubator where entrepreneurial chefs can try out concepts – Hawaiian sandwiches, nouveau Thai, etc. – without big overhead. There’s even a craft beer cart, bless Portland’s regulation-averse heart.
Downtown Portland has a welter of food carts, too, and they’re generally very good. But for dinner, we decamp at Imperial, (410 SW Broadway, Portland, 503-228-7222, imperialpdx.com), the domain of James Beard-winning chef Vitaly Paley, who someone describes as the Vincent Guerithault of Portland – the fine-dining legend who was on the scene before the scene itself. I expect a stuffy place, given the restaurant’s location at the swank Hotel Lucia, but instead find a cool, four-seat “chef’s table” overlooking the kitchen, a bar tap pouring white Negroni, and an irresistible pig’s tail appetizer. Don’t order the last expecting a dainty, cartoon-style curlicue – this looks like a turkey leg, and the fat has been charred to caramel-like, tooth-picking perfection.
Yes, I just shaved another two months off my life span. Better get biking.
Where to Stay: Portland is replete with remodeled classic hotels, but if you’re serious about a bike tour, one in particular rises above the fray: the Hotel Monaco (506 SW Washington St., Portland, 503-222-0001, monaco-portland.com). Besides the convenient downtown location and disarming animal-friendly philosophy – each room comes with a complimentary pet goldfish, and the hotel concierge is a golden lab – the Monaco rents a fleet of bikes out of its parking garage. Tally ho.
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