North by Northwest: Portland

February 24, 2013

Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall
Stop number two on my Northwest tour with the BF was lovely, Portland, Oregon. Up until our visit, our only perceptions of Portland were those stemming from the hit television show, Portlandia. Fully expecting a plethora of hipsters, mustaches and bicycles, we made the 2.5 hour drive south from Seattle.

If there's one thing to know about me, it's that I do my research. Not only is my day job research-centric, I also try to research restaurants and places of interest before embarking on any travels. A staple of Portland's food scene is its assortment of food carts. Unlike your typical food trucks that may roam a city's streets, Portland's food carts are refurbished trailers that are permanently set up in various areas of the city. 

Portland Food Carts
There are a variety of food options from Greek to Mexican to Thai, making the decision of where to dine quite difficult. Our first food adventure was at one of these carts called Nong's Khao Man Gai. I had read about this cart in particular in various foodie outlets so that helped me in my decision. This cart is known for its chicken and rice dish. Sounds simple, right? The chicken and rice (Khao Man Gai) is one chicken breast that has been poached to pure tenderness, on top a bed of rice cooked in chicken broth. The dish is complemented by a spicy soybean sauce and fresh cilantro. It was hard to decide whether the sauce or the chicken itself was the star of the show because both were fantastic. A chicken soup is served on the side to help with the spiciness of the soybean sauce. We enjoyed our paper-wrapped chicken in a park near the food carts and people watched; it was a great start to our Portland experience!

Nong's Khao Man Gai
Khao Man Gai
One thing Portland shares with Seattle is their abundance of happy hours. Nearly every restaurant and brewery offered both an early and late happy hour menu with discounted food and drinks. We ended up eating dinner quite late on our first night in Portland, but that allowed us to try the late night happy hour menu at a place called Little Bird Bistro. This tiny bistro is the more-casual sister restaurant to the most famous restaurant in Portland, Le Pigeon. We arrived at 11pm for dinner (so not my normal dining schedule) and started with their cheese plate. I enjoyed the three types of hard and semi-soft cheeses which were a nice snack before our main course.

Little Bird Bistro: Cheese Plate
We had heard great things about their burger, which was the same burger served at Le Pigeon, so we knew we had to try it. The square-shaped beef patty was served on a baguette bun with a heaping portion of freshly-cut fries. The burger was unbelievably delicious and it was interesting with the baguette as the bun. Even more delicious was the price--the burger was only $9 during the late night menu! I felt like I was making money off of that meal!

Little Bird Bistro: Le Pigeon Burger
Next up on our culinary tour of Portland was a biscuit shop recommended to me by a coworker. Pine State Biscuits has two locations serving up a variety of sandwiches on, you guessed it, biscuits. The location we went to was tiny but had just enough tables to sit and enjoy our breakfast sandwiches.

Pine State Biscuits Menu
The BF and I both ordered fried chicken biscuits. His was the "Reggie" which featured fried chicken, cheddar, bacon and gravy. Mine was similar (the "Chatfield") but had apple butter instead of gravy. They had me at apple butter. We were both brave and tackled the sandwiches mouth first, no utensils needed. I was in heaven with every morsel of tender biscuit and buttery bacon. The chicken was perfectly fried, not greasy, and extremely juicy. We also got to wash down those biscuit sandwiches with Portland's well-known coffee company, Stumptown Coffee Roasters. This was the BF's favorite meal of the trip!

Pine State Biscuits: The Reggie (fried chicken, cheese, bacon, gravy)
Pine State Biscuits: The Chatfield (fried chicken, cheese, bacon, apple butter). Note: not shown to scale
If there's one place I knew I had to visit in Portland, it was probably Voodoo Doughnuts. The 24/7 doughnut shop with a cult-like following has made itself known for its creative doughnut creations.
Voodoo Doughnut
Voodoo Doughnut
If its slogan and packaging didn't give it away, Voodoo likes to take risks in doughnut making. They have an extensive doughnut menu with names such as "Captain My Captain," "Ain't That A Peach Fritter," and, of course, the "Voodoo Doll." Each doughnut is topped with generous amounts of cereals, cookies, bacon or other fantastic additions. We bought four treats at the cash-only shop and split them for lunch over two days. Yes, we had doughnuts for lunch for two days straight. It was amazing. I recommend the "Old Dirty Bastard" and "Maple Bacon Bar"!

Voodoo Doughnut: Triple Chocolate Penetration, Old Dirty Bastard, Dirt Doughnut, Maple Bacon

Our last dinner of the trip was at an Italian restaurant whose chef was nominated two years in a row in the James Beard Best Chef Northwest category. Chef Cathy Whims crafts a daily-changing menu of antipasti, pizzas, pastas and large plates. I loved how each menu was printed that day and showcased what was fresh and local.

We started off with an appetizer that was intriguing to us both. The kebab of sorts included pig heart--yes, pig heart--and pancetta. We weren't too crazy about the texture of the heart which was crunchy but also tasted fatty. The kebab included a side of greens tossed with balsamic and nuts.

Nostrana: Pig heart, pancetta, mixed greens
I always enjoy homemade pasta, so we tried the goat cheese stuffed papardelle which featured delicious smoked salmon. I wasn't used to having fish in my pasta, but I really liked it. The accompanying beets and capers were also a nice touch and I loved the homemade texture of the pasta.

Nostrana: Homemade Goat Cheese Stuffed Papardelle, Smoked Salmon, Capers, Beets
Lastly, we ordered a pizza from their wood-burning oven. Our pie included heaping portions of salami, tomato, provolone, mozzarella, and spicy peppers. They served the pizza uncut and handed us a pair of scissors to divide up the doughy pieces. At first I thought it was a pain we had to cut our own pizza but when I actually did it, I thought it was fun! The crust has the perfect crispy-to-chewy ratio and I loved the spiciness of the salami and peppers.

Nostrana: Salumi Pizza (Calabrese Salami, Tomato, Provolone, House Mozzarella, Oregano, Honey, Peppers)

Nostrana: Cutting our pizza with scissors
Our final meal before heading back to the Windy City was at a cute restaurant called Mother's Bistro. The interesting part about Mother's is that in addition to their own menu offerings, they feature a different Mother's recipes each month. The dining room had a classy southern charm to it and reminded me a lot of Chef Art Smith's Table Fifty-Two in Chicago.

Mothers Bistro
We started out with two cups of Stumptown coffee (seriously some of the best coffee I've ever had) in adorable coffee mugs.

Mother's Bistro
For my brunch, I chose the pork apple sausage and cheddar scramble which was served with a side of house potatoes. It sounds like a simple dish but it was the tastiest scramble I've ever had! I also had to try their biscuits which were buttery and perfectly flaky and acted as the perfect canvas for their homemade raspberry jam.

Mother's Bistro: Pork Apple Sausage and Cheddar Cheese Scramble
Mother's Bistro
The BF ordered the breakfast nachos which began with a base of red potatoes topped with bacon, caramelized onions, cheddar and green onions. This is definitely not a dish for those looking for a light brunch! It was extremely hearty and flavorful.

Mother's Bistro: Breakfast Nachos (Red Potatoes, Bacon, Caramelized Onion, Cream, Cheddar Cheese, Green Onions)

Since we were in what I'd like to think is the craft brewery capital of the world, we had to hit up some local breweries. First up was Bridgeport Brewery, Portland's oldest craft brewery and creator of the Bridgeport IPA, one of our favorite beers. The brewpub is beautiful and features exposed brick and steel, which hint at its roots in the former industrial area of Portland. We enjoyed a couple of pints here over an appetizer of freshly baked pretzels and dips.

Bridgeport Brewery : Baked Pretzels, Blue Heron Pale Ale & Kingpin Double Red Ale
Many of the craft breweries in Portland are located in walking distance of each other so we walked on over to Deschutes Brewery, a brewery making a large entry into the Chicago beer scene. The brewpub is modern, open and inviting. We sat at the bar which afforded us an up-close view of their numerous taps. We didn't eat here but their selection of beers was the most extensive we saw at a brewpub on our trip.

Deschutes Chainbreaker White IPA
Another brewery on our list was Widmer Brothers, home of the first American style Hefeweizen. I felt the need to try the Hefeweizen (which was delicious) while the BF tried the Nelson Imperial IPA. We were impressed with the size of their brewing facility which looked comparable to a Miller or Budweiser facility! We also loved how each style of beer was served in a style-appropriate glass, allowing for an optimized tasting experience.

Widmer Brothers

Widmer Brothers Brewing Facility

Widmer Brothers: Hefeweizen & Nelson Imperial IPA
In an effort to try more local beers, we hit up a Portland beer bar called The Horse Brass Pub. Inside it felt like a traditional English pub with an extremely casual feel. They offered an enormous tap and bottled beer selection which made it hard to decide on a beverage! I definitely recommend this bar if you're looking to drink like the locals!

The Horse Brass Pub
The Horse Brass Pub
Oregon is also of course known for its wine country, so we felt visiting a winery was another must on our trip. Exploring Oregon wine country would take days, if not weeks, but since we didn't have too much time to spare, we chose to drive thirty minutes outside of Portland to Edgefield Winery. This winery was situated on a property which also houses guest rooms, a distillery, two golf courses, restaurants and bars. The tasting room was located in the basement of the main building of the property and provided an intimate wine tasting experience. For $6 you could choose a tasting flight of your choice, with the option to purchase a bottle to consume there or take with you. I chose a flight with a mix of white and red wines, while the BF chose to stick to reds. I thought some wines were better than others but the tasting fee was well worth the amount of each pour. They also have an abundance of oyster crackers and I'm pretty sure that never hurt anyone.

Edgefield Winery

Edgefield Winery Tasting Menu

What are you favorite restaurants or breweries to hit up when you're in Portland?


Nong's Khao Man Gai

Little Bird Bistro

Pine State Biscuits

Voodoo Doughnut


Mother's Bistro


Bridgeport Brewery

Deschutes Brewery

Widmer Brothers

Horse Brass Pub

Edgefield Winery

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