“Local” isn’t a catchphrase in the City of Roses – it’s a way of life.
“Portland is a city of makers,” urban winemaker Kate Norris says as she pours me a flight of Oregon wines in Oui! Wine Bar + Restaurant at Southeast Wine Collective. “That’s what I really love – that there is a desire to see, smell and touch, and to know the person that is connected to it.”
Perhaps no other city in the United States embodies this spirit more than Portland, which embraced local decades before it was cool. It’s a place where you can order house-made walnut-almond milk in your latte and eat a plate of vegan tacos that benefit social justice causes. In fact, after watching Portlandia, one might say these people sometimes care a bit too much about the provenance of things.
It’s my first visit, though, so I’m thrilled to eat, drink and shop along the maker trail. They’ve been doing it for decades, but it’s all new to me.
I admit it: The Portland hipster stereotype colors my assumptions of the city’s denizens, whom I imagine to be a horde of flannel-clad, blank-eyed Urban Outfitters models. I am right about the flannels – do you get one and a fleece vest when you move here? – but Portlanders are overwhelmingly kind and helpful. It starts with my Uber driver from the airport, Scott, and his plastic chicken, Brewster Con Queso. Scott photographs Brewster all around town, from restaurants to strip clubs, and posts his adventures at @brewstertheroosterpdx on Instagram. I’m starting to get what they mean by the slogan “Keep Portland Weird.”
After checking into my hotel, Woodlark (see ‘House of Welcome’ below), I walk to Bistro Agnes (527 S.W. 12th Ave., 503-222-0979, bistroagnes.com) for a pitch-perfect lunch of croque monsieur and a chilly glass of Melon de Bourgogne. It’s not an Oregon wine, but the couple next to me spot me rating it on my Vivino app and we start chatting about The Beaver State’s lovely Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs. I note their favorites for further exploration, grab a latte at Heart Coffee Roasters (three locations, heartroasters.com) next door, and head to the historical – and gentrifying – Mississippi neighborhood.
I purchase a couple of 33 Books Co. whiskey tasting journals for friends at Tanner Goods (4719 N. Albina Ave., 503-222-2774, tannergoods.com) and flip through the vinyl at Mississippi Records (5202 N. Albina Ave., 503-282-2990, mississippirecords.net). Paxton Gate (4204 N. Mississippi Ave., 503-719-4508, paxtongate.com) reminds me of Phoenix’s Curious Nature with its animal skulls, taxidermy and exotic plants, while Pistils Nursery (3811 N. Mississippi Ave., 503-288-4889, pistilsnursery.com) is a ringer for The Pueblo. After buying a bar of artisanal Alma Chocolate for my partner at The Meadow (3731 N. Mississippi Ave., 503-288-4633, themeadow.com), I head to Canard (734 E. Burnside St., 971-279-2356, canardpdx.com) for a dinner of dry-fried chicken wings with truffle ranch and truffle honey, and garlic fries with chermoula, Gouda and green goddess dressing. To drink, a Sage Wisdom cocktail: gin infused with rose and peony teas, byrrh, sage, grapefruit, lemon and soda.
My high school friend, Andie, moved to Portland a few years ago. She hears about my visit and insists I meet her at Portland Night Market (100 S.E. Alder St., pdxnm.com), a locals-only makers’ market on steroids held a few times a year. (Next dates: July 19-20, October 18-19 and December 13-15.) It’s lovely to catch up and meet her sweet new Portland friends as I wander through the market’s serpentine paths and blow my budget. My favorite find: baker Amanda McCoy’s chocolate-pecan PieCake (piecakepdx.com), which unites the best elements of those desserts in an adorable, cupcake-shaped package. Did I discover my favorite part of Portland on the first day?
I begin my second day with Portland’s holiest sacrament: brunch. I walk to hot spot Tasty N Alder (580 S.W. 12th Ave., 503-621-9251, tastynalder.com) and belly up to the bar abutting the open kitchen, which allows me to watch (and smell) the harried cooks sear steaks and fry Brussels sprouts. I devour the latter, which come tossed in a garlic-fish sauce Vietnamese caramel that I want to pilfer a gallon of and put on everything I cook at home. Paired with a fried chicken and cheddar biscuit sandwich and cold brew coffee, it’s a brunch to end all brunches.
I roll myself to the Portland Art Museum (1219 S.W. Park Ave., 503-226-2811, portlandartmuseum.org) and get lost in its many floors and wings of contemporary and Native American art. The tribes of the Pacific Northwest have a singular aesthetic – ocean and forest life rendered in bold U and S forms in red, black and yellow – and I relish contrasting it with the Southwestern tribal art I grew up with in Arizona.
After spending hours indoors, it’s nice to immerse myself in nature at Portland Japanese Garden (611 S.W. Kingston Ave., 503-223-1321, japanesegarden.org) and Lan Su Chinese Garden (239 N.W. Everett St., 503-228-8131, lansugarden.org), and look for rose bushes throughout my walks in the City of Roses.
The clarion call of maker shopping sends me indoors once again, though – this time to MadeHerePDX (two locations, madehereonline.com), a boutique with a 100-percent Oregon-made stock. I pick up smoked honey sauce from Bee Local and greeting cards from Letterpress PDX and Adrienne Vita. Finally, I make a personal pilgrimage to Powell’s Books (five locations, powells.com), which has been on my bookworm bucket list for as long as I can remember. After buying seven books, I feel fleetingly guilty at my excess. Then I remind myself that I’m just stimulating the local economy.
A gin fizz cocktail and Parmesan tempura cauliflower at the stunning, moody Multnomah Whiskey Library (1124 S.W. Alder St., 503-954-1381, mwlpdx.com) prime me for a decadent dinner at Nostrana (1401 S.E. Morrison St., 503-234-2427, nostrana.com). Its décor – a caricature of rustic Italian – belies its incredible food, which evokes the simple, perfect execution of Chris Bianco’s modern Italian cuisine. I inhale a seasonal pizza, its stretchy, chewy, blistered crust topped with fresh Dungeness crab, crème fraîche, chives, paprika butter and baby arugula. Bless the Pacific Northwest and its crustacean bounty.
Another day, another brunch. Today it’s at Screen Door (2337 E. Burnside St., 503-542-0880, screendoorrestaurant.com), whose long line is so infamous it has been pilloried on Portlandia. After one bite of its signature praline bacon – smoked lardons so long they hang off the plate, each caramelized with brown sugar, toasted pecans and cayenne – I get it. I’d also wait an hour for the buttermilk fried chicken and sweet potato waffle. It’s so much food, though, that I end up sharing with the couple next to me at the bar, befriending them in the process. “Would you like some of my candied bacon?” turns out to be the best opening line ever.
A fun way to celebrate Portland makers is by day drinking. Head underground to do so at Upright Brewing (240 N. Broadway St., uprightbrewing.com), located in the basement of the Leftbank Building. It specializes in Belgian and French farmhouse ales, but with Pacific Northwest flourishes like calendula flowers and hand-picked black walnuts.
I’m partial to wine, so I was a captive audience for winemaker Kate Norris, who owns Southeast Wine Collective (2425 S.E. 35th Pl., 503-208-2061, sewinecollective.com) and its on-site Oui! Wine Bar + Restaurant (one of Portland Monthly’s Best New Restaurants when it opened) with her business partner, Tom Monroe. “We decided we wanted to have our winery right where we live, in the heart of our community,” Norris says as we nosh on chive-Pecorino popcorn and sip the Chardonnay she made under her Division label. “The idea of a collective was really appealing to us, especially since we had made wine in other people’s wineries.” Currently, 11 winemakers operate in the collective’s 4,500 square feet. Every year, Norris partners with entrepreneur and community organizer Michelle Battista on I Love Gamay, a festival dedicated to Oregon’s Gamay Noir wine.
I visit Battista at The Nightwood Society (2218 N.E. Broadway St., 971-236-2267, thenightwoodsociety.com), her “community of lady makers” in an open, airy space filled with female-made art, ceramics and installations. “Every single thing in here is done by women that make things by hand in Portland, which is a wonderful thing to be able to support,” Battista says. The Nightwood hosts cooking and butchery classes, chef dinners, political activations, social-justice events and more. “We built a very different business model than most businesses,” she says. “It’s very values-based… It’s all of these women doing rad things for the world, and we get to be a space where they can do those things, because everybody needs a place where they can gather.”
I make my own community of small plates for my last dinner in Portland, at the nouveau Middle Eastern restaurant Tusk (2448 E. Burnside St., 503-894-8082, tuskpdx.com). Every single bite is delicious, from hummus topped with black Basque beans and Urfa pepper to chicken skewers with yogurt and Aleppo pepper. Tusk offers a monthly Generous Pour cocktail for $13 and donates $1 from each to a different cause. Knowing that, my Generous Pour of Tinkerman’s gin, Campari, Appleton rum, blood orange, pineapple and cardamom is made that much sweeter.
On my final day in Portland, I have just enough time for one last maker blitz, though my shopping is limited to window this time (see: buying seven books at Powell’s). Next time I visit, I want to buy my partner a wallet at Orox Leather Co. (450 N.W. Couch St., 503-954-2593, oroxleather.com). I’ll have to save up, but a vintage Shibori Haori kimono jacket from Kiriko Made (325 N.W. Couch St., 503-222-0335, kirikomade.com) would be the prettiest Portland souvenir.
Inspired by the Japonaiserie at Kiriko, I walk to indoor food court Pine Street Market (126 S.W. Second Ave., 503-476-1825, pinestreetpdx.com) and beeline for the Marukin Ramen stall. As I slurp my miso ramen and read one of my Powell’s books, Norris’ words bubble to the surface of my consciousness.
“If you’re going to spend your time and your energy and your money and you’re going to focus on something, don’t you want to know exactly where it came from and to support the person who made it with their hands and their heart?”
House of Welcome
Portland’s chicest new hostelry, Woodlark (pictured), opened last year in two historical buildings, the French Renaissance-style Cornelius Hotel (1908) and the Beaux Arts-inflected Woodlark Building (1912). Now it feels like a glamorous urban loft, with high ceilings, spiral staircases, midcentury-inspired furniture and a pillow menu. Plus, it’s in the walkable city core and there’s a great coffee shop, Good Coffee, on the ground floor.
813 S.W. Alder St., 503-548-2559, woodlarkhotel.com.
It’s always time to make the doughnuts in this town, where three cult-favorite shops offer distinct types of circular delights. Find the right Portland doughnut for you:
If you like mini cake doughnuts:
Pip’s Original Doughnuts
Order: Simplicity is perfection with the raw honey and sea salt doughnut, or go all out with the Tropical Wu (cinnamon, sugar, honey, Nutella, sea salt).
If you like funky yeast doughnuts:
Order: Are you allowed to come here and not order the signature bacon-maple bar? Meat-free option: the Maple Blazer Blunt, shaped like its naughty namesake.
If you like nouveau doughnuts:
Blue Star Donuts + Coffee
Order: The crème brûlée doughnut is filled with vanilla custard, topped with torched sugar and served with a pipette of Cointreau. Cointreau!