Well, if this doesn’t prove how much I enjoy food, nothing will.
Just back from a couple of weeks in Portland, Oregon, where people really know how to eat. We had strawberries from the Montavilla Farmer’s Market that were the best strawberries we’ve ever tasted (proof: we demolished 2 baskets between my husband and I and the little kid — in one sitting).
There is a worthwhile Farmer’s Market just about every day in Portland. The biggie is on Saturday’s at Portland State University, where lots of cheese, produce and bakery make for some seriously easy meal planning. They also have the best tamales I have ever eaten ever ever ever from Salvador Molly’s. Ever. Not mealy, wet and tasteless — sweet, baked perfectly, with a lovely array of veggies inside. Wish I could have one right now.
But no trip would be complete without a review of bakery, with a special emphasis on vegan bakery, because it’s more of a challenge, healthier, and it can be either really good, or awful, with little in the middle. Rather than slam anyone for what they don’t do well, I’ll leave out the awful altogether and point out what each bakery does well. Here they are:
Best overall vegan bakery: Dovetail Bakery (Alberta and 30th). Morgan Grundstein-Helvey knows what the hell she is doing — she makes cornmeal scone-like I-can’t-remember-what-they-were-called-s with rhubarb/apricot/pink sprinkled sugar that are perfection – and I mean texture, too. Often vegan bakers get the taste but the texture is wayyyy off.
Last night I was out in L.A. and ate something billed on the menu as “The best vegan cheesecake ever” It tasted like overcooked, overmixed yams mixed with the Creamy Lemon Di-Gel tablets my father used to take. Let this be a lesson in overconfidence.
Dovetail would never commit such a sin. The cookies are huge and flavorful and are crispy on the outside and tender in the middle — not undercooked but genuinely tender. We tried a variety of things (um, twice) and they were all just amazing. If you like molasses lace cookies, try the Trail Mix cookies — the perfect mix of nutty, sweet and salty. Snickerdoodles so good even I ate some. Throw in the lovely aesthetic of the place and friendly owner and it just can’t be beat.
Back to Eden: Also on Alberta Street at around 22nd (incredible, two vegan bakeries on the same street not far apart). Two words: Good fudge. Peanut butter and almond butter when we were there, and deadly, like an intensely rich fondant (which might be what it is). The soft serve is good, but if you’re smart enough to add the fruit coulis (they had strawberry that day) it’s just lovely. If you want to spoil it completely as my child likes to do, add vegan sprinkles. Crunchy ice cream is for amateurs. We also had a very nice cranberry loaf and “everything” cookie with chocolate chips and flax seeds (um, we did take a lot of this to go, not all at once!). Either are terrific with tea, but the fudge so absurdly overshadows the latter selections that it was hard to pay attention.
Black Sheep Bakery: geeet the chooooocolates. The coconut truffle esta muy bueno!!
Sweetpea Baking Co. (SE 12th and Stark at the “vegan mini mall”): I was astonished to find that the best sandwiches in the city are made here. The bread is excellent, the Katie John Rainboots with it’s “mock tuna” and Daiya cheese (a new, and very very pleasant discovery) is so good even the kid adored it, and the Bendishaw is crazy good comfort food. The sandwiches are warm but not stuffed into a panini press until lightly blackened. They totally have it down (we tried them 3 times, just to be sure…). We sampled a variety of the bakery, but I’m not that crazy about it. Do. Not. Miss. The. Sandwiches.
Best Not-Vegan Bakery: Two Tarts. Tucked into a cute little place in ritzy-ish NW Portland (or, see them at the PSU Farmer’s Market), the cookies look little and unassuming but they are not. Little shortbread half-rounds with hazelnut-chocolate ganache? Peanut butter cookies drizzled with chocolate with a creamy, peanut butter center? Chocolate wafers with vanilla inside that make Oreos look like ugly stepchildren? I don’t even like sandwich cookies and I couldn’t stop eating these (damn it). Get the baker’s dozen and put the non-chocolate ones in the fridge, if they make it that far.
VooDoo Donuts: Okay, I wasn’t going to slam anyone, but I am going to say that the place is really cool, but the donuts are vastly overrated. Sorry, Voodoo Donuts.
Okay, did we eat anything else? Occasionally.
Cup and Saucer: go to the one on Killingsworth. They say they are the black sheep of the Cup and Saucer family but the place is nicer and the food better (which they were thrilled to hear when I told them). Whatever you get, make sure it includes a scone. The veggie scramble is awesome.
Bipartisan Cafe: Egg on a bagel – sub hummus for the chevre cheese (or not). Best rebuttal to the Egg McMuffin ever.
Blossoming Lotus: Thank you for being open for dinner. The place is beautiful inside. They also had a really great gluten free pasta dish (pasta fagiole) or you an go ahead and get a big bowl of rice, beans and expertly done greens. Or something raw. And a brownie.
Barista: If you love coffee (and Portland doesn’t f**k around with it’s coffee — they’re dead serious and haven’t heard of decaf either), or you love hot chocolate with 2 oz of Valhrona melted into soymilk (guilty!), absolutely don’t miss it. And they have Two Tarts cookies, too! The espresso here could melt paint off a wall. Steven loved it. Vegans: They have two stuffed deer heads in the back of the Alberta location, staring down at you. Downtown?
And a whole lot of veggies that I made into soups and stuff from the Farmer’s Markets. I swear.
One last thing, and it’s not food but I just have to say: The coolest belts in the world, from salvaged conveyor belt materials, made so incredibly that Steven couldn’t say no, and I think they last forever, seriously: Held vegan belts. Get one. Or get me one. I’m lusting after a green one. Seriously.
We don’t drive a Subaru or sport a sleeve of tattoos, but Portland, we love you.