I saved the best for last when it came to Portland. I’d heard endless praise for Broder, a Scandinavian cafe, and, of course, chef Andy Ricker’s internationally famous Pok Pok Thai restaurant. In the hopes of beating out weekend waits, I scheduled these hot spots on our holiday Monday. It turned out to be an excellent idea, providing Jay and I with ample time to explore and eat our way through Portland.
Jay and I got a head start in the morning, arriving at Cafe Broder fifteen minutes before opening. While it was an effort, it paid off — by the time the doors opened, there was a line dozens-strong behind us.
Service was a bit slow, but that didn’t matter once we got our food. The aebelskivers, or Danish “pancakes,” were everything I wanted and more: piping hot, donut-like fritters, perfect when slathered with tangy lemon curd and wonderfully mellow lingonberry jam.
I had the seasonal fruit fritter, similar to a cinnamon-apple-stuffed pancake — divine, especially with a smidge of the sour cream and syrup on the side. The plate also came with wonderfully runny baked eggs and extraordinarily flavorful apple pork sausage.
Jay also enjoyed his baked eggs, served in a cast iron skillet, alongside a hash-like potato pancake and walnut toast. He also ordered bacon on the side, which came in delicious, hefty slabs of porky overkill.
Jay and I then headed to do a bit of shopping — this time, the kind that Jay could firmly get behind. We visited the Nike Factory Store in Southeast Portland, where Jay was over the moon to find a pair of sleek-looking basketball shoes at a heavy discount and not a cent of sales tax.
We drove back to Clinton street for another essential Portland stop at Salt and Straw. This adorable, local-minded ice cream parlor serves up incredibly creative seasonal flavors (our friend had previously tried an uni [sea urchin] mix there)! Jay and I both enjoyed our picks: honey lavender; salted caramel; seasonal Oregon kiss (artisanal Sahagun chocolate with hazelnut gianduja); and vanilla with almond brittle and chocolate ganache. While I enjoyed the waffle cone, I thought it sometimes overwhelmed the velvety subtlety of the ice cream — next time, I’d want my scoop in a cup.
We decided to walk off some calories by visiting the nearby Hawthorne neighborhood. This stretch of Hawthorne Street is dotted by cafes, shops, and theatres — a welcome contrast to the more industrial, business-like environments we’d been exploring. We peeked in:
- Cassidy: a really cute, and affordable, shop featuring jewelry both handmade and vintage.
- Powell’s Books for Home and Garden: an outpost of the larger Powell’s featuring domestic-centric literature and lots of gift-worthy goods.
- Pastaworks: an artisanal pasta shop stocking delicacies of all types.
- Baghdad Theater and Pub: a movie brewpub owned by the McMenamins brothers, who run many other classic Portland institutions.
After getting our fill of the neighborhood, Jay and I were ready to sit down for our final meal in Portland at Pok Pok Thai. Coming during off-hours meant that there was no wait for a table in the covered outdoor patio. Having eaten so well over the past few days, we easily could have done with two dishes — but we wanted a good last hurrah.
The famed Ike’s Vietnamese fish sauce hot wings were, indeed, fantastic. I’d read a Yelp review claiming that these knocked San Francisco San Tung’s out of the park. While I wouldn’t be so quick to choose a winner, they were loaded with flavor and truly, addictively excellent.
We also had another Pok pok favorite, the khao man som tam: green papapaya salad (papaya pok pok) served with coconut rice and sweet shredded Carlton Farms pork, fried shallots and cilantro. Jay wasn’t a fan of the coconut rice, and I’m not sure I’d order this again considering the more intriguing flavors of other menu items. All the same, a solid dish.
Behold, the kung op wun sen: wild caught gulf prawns baked in a clay pot over charcoal with pork belly, lao jjin, soy, singer, cilantro root, black pepper, Chinese celery and bean thread noodles. This Chinese-influenced dish was incredibly tasty, but was made over-the-top divine once mixed with the accompanying naam jjim (sweet chili dipping sauce).
We left the restaurant full and happy, ready to return home after a total food-fueled trip. As we drove to the airport, I gazed out the car window and watched all the buildings pass us by. It seemed to me that the entire city was awash in gray tones: warehouses, roadways, bridges, rivers, the sky itself. Even the people seemed to suffer from a type of sameness; I’d observed that diversity was not Portland’s strong suit.
That’s not to say that we didn’t like Portland. Jay and I really enjoyed ourselves throughout the trip! Jay’s experience, however, was colored by his travel fatigue, and mine by unrealistically high expectations. I’d imagined a cross between Berkeley and San Francisco, as portrayed in Portlandia: colorful, quirky, flush with life-changing food options. I was quick to compare it (constantly) to a certain other Pacific Northwest metropolis and my own great city, which is pretty unfair considering these other cities’ booming tech industries.
What I failed to see, however, is a city that’s still developing — albeit at a rapid clip — from very industrial roots. Portland is holding on fast to its blue-collar heart and identity, even against the incoming tide of transplants and threat of gentrification. As they say, “Keep Portland weird.” Next time I visit, I’ll do so without preconceived notions of its exact weirdness. Portland, you keep doing you… and I do hope to see again you soon.