Portland: Great Meals, OK Food, and a Rude Restaurant Experience

Posted by on Aug 9, 2011

Think Portland, Oregon and funky food trucks, freshly roasted coffee, and craft beer immediately comes to mind. Two weekends ago, I tornado’ed through the city to explore what else defines their eclectic food scene.

With a group of friends, we travelled to Portland for a wedding. Rather than doing extensive research, I left my dining itinerary up to twitter recommendations.  I’ve heard such great things about Portland’s food scene that I figured I would trip over awesome joints at every step. That was not entirely the case.

Here are my observations and experience of dining in PDX.

Portlanders love to wait.

That’s fine. I don’t. I’m not too good to wait in line but if I’m travelling for 2.5 short days, I can’t afford to wait 1.5 hours for a seat. The problem doesn’t lie in the fact that certain restaurant are awfully popular. Rather, it baffles me that locals are willing to blow years of their lives on restaurant line-ups. How odd.

 

Coffee at Ristretto Roasters in Portland by Melody Gourmet Fury

Maple danish, cappuccino and macchiato at Ristretto Roasters while we waited for our seats next door. Excellent coffee.

Due to group consensus, we ended up waiting 1.25 hours for brunch at Tasty n Sons. (I suppressed my hunger with a danish and a macchiato at Risretto Roasters a few doors down while we waited).  Thankfully, the brunch was exceptionally tasty and was my most memorable meal in Portland.

 

Cocktail at Tasty n Sons in Portland by Melody Gourmet Fury

Good morning in a gin and grapefruit cocktail at Tasty n Sons.

Their cocktails were sublime, the menu was inventive and diverse, the airy space was beautiful, and the comfort food was prepared with care. A definite two thumbs up.

 

Polenta at Tasty n Sons in Portland by Melody Gourmet Fury

Hearty ragu in cheesy polenta with a poached egg on top.

 

Gravy and biscuits at Tasty n Sons in Portland by Melody Gourmet Fury

Comforting sausage gravy on fluffy, buttery biscuits at Tasty n Sons. Killer.

On another breezy morning, we were deterred by the infinite queue at Broder and unfortunately had to pass on it. We instead headed to the oddly empty The Press Club around the block and enjoyed some savory and sweet crepes and artisanal sandwiches. They have a large collection of niche magazines to peruse, including Meat Magazine. This little spot was a really neat find.

 

Smoked salmon, chevre, spinach crepe & breakfast croissant-wich at The Press Club  in Portland by Melody Gourmet Fury

Smoked salmon, chevre, spinach crepe & breakfast croissant-wich at The Press Club

In addition to waiting for food, don’t even get me started on the ridiculous line-up outside Voodoo’s Donuts. You’ve got to be joking me, people.

The Good

Apart from Tasty n Sons, we managed to squeeze in a few more good bites in Portland. On our first evening, after the challenging hike up the Multnomah Falls, the famished wedding attendees gathered at a food trailer park.

A few bottles of wine non-discretely disguised in paper bags marked our territory on the picnic tables. We ordered a few pizzas from Pyro Pizza, a rustic trailer with an impressive wood burning oven.

 

Pyro Pizza  in Portland by Melody Gourmet Fury

Housemade mozzarella and sausage

Their handmade mozzarella was creamy, juicy, and was the star on many of their pizzas. However, the thin-crust pie topped with caramelized onion pizza, gorgonzola cheese and pistachios stole my heart. The generous layer of sweet, but not overly soft onion melded perfectly with the tangy cheese. The bubbly crust had the right amount of give – ever so slightly stretchy with some resistance. The little pops of pistachios took the pizza over the top.

 

Pyro Pizza  in Portland by Melody Gourmet Fury

Caramelized onion, gorgonzola, pistachio

A fries trailer named Potato Champion was in the same lot but the “champion” title was a stretch. A friend from LA ordered her first poutine and was unsure what to make of it. I had to explain to her that poutines were created in bone-chillingly cold Quebec. The gravy’s role is to melt the cheese curds so diners have to fight with the long, stretchy strands of melty cheese curds.

 

Potato Champion in Portland by Melody Gourmet Fury

Poutine

Here, the tepid gravy resulted in luke-warm and soggy fries topped cold, rubbery curds. What a bummer. Their pulled-pork on cheese curds on fries were much better and I’m still tempted to try their intriguing PB&J fries.

 

Potato Champion in Portland by Melody Gourmet Fury

Pulled pork and cheesecurds on fries

Next up, Gruner. I’ll sum this restaurant (that proudly hangs the GQ article that hails them as one of the 10 best US new restaurants in 2010 in their bathroom) as: solid.

Things I loved:

  •  bright space, comfortable banquette seating, long patio space
  •  open prep table in the back where we can watch the cooks roll dough for pies and bread
  •  clean, well-executed food made with wonderfully fresh ingredients
  •  great wine and cocktail selection
  •  unpretentious and reasonably priced

The spaetzel with reisling braised chicken hit the spot. The noodly dumplings had a lovely bite and was thankfully not waterlogged. A creamy thyme sauce tied the spatezel together with the succulent chicken pieces and crimini mushrooms. The fried shallots provided the additional oomph factor.

 

Chicken spaetzle at Gruner in Portland by Melody Gourmet Fury
Spätzle with riesling braised chicken.

 

I devoured half a burger too. The pillowy potato bun was excellent and I especially loved the condiments: lightly pickled onions and cucumbers and a housemade celery ketchup. The crispy and salty smashed potatoes were a fun alternative to fries. They slightly overcooked our burgers (to the medium side of medium rare) but given their busy lunch rush, it was a forgivable glitch.

 

Burger at Gruner in Portland by Melody Gourmet Fury

Burger on potato buns with crispy smashed potatoes.

Oh, and the cocktail was spot on. No complaints there.

 

Cocktail at Gruner in Portland by Melody Gourmet Fury

Arsenic & Old Lace: gin, dry vermouth, crème de violette, absinthe. A cocktail that encapsulates me, more or less.


Interlude: The Rude Restaurant Experience

Throughout my trip, Portlanders were generally friendly but not overly so. We’re in the chilly Pacific Northwest, after all. The only time that we received unacceptably rude service was at an extremely popular restaurant called Mother’s.

In short, get over yourselves and treat your patrons with some decency.

More specifically, our group went to Mother’s for a bite. We called in advance for reservations and were on time. Upon arrival, a snooty server named Jeffery gave us an unwelcoming precursor before they even poured water for us. He announced loudly that we’d be charged auto-gratuity for our group and asked how we’d like to split the bill. He huffed about, speaking condescendingly to us as if we were wasting his time, and walked off from the table repeatedly without reason. Upon returning, he borderline lectured us that putting all of our drinks on one bill and billing us each separately for our food was the easiest for him. All we really wanted to do was to order some food but we ended up sitting awkwardly, looking confusedly at each other over our menus. His snarky attitude did not improve throughout the meal but we simply endured it.  Thanks a lot for single-handedly killing the party’s mood, Jeffery.

Lastly, the merely OK

At only $6 a pop, I can see why Nong’s Khao Man Gai chicken rice cart is popular with locals and visitors alike. The poached chicken on seasoned rice comes with chicken skin crackling and a side of chicken broth with preserved mustard greens. Add a few pieces of chicken liver for  $1. It’s good value for a quick downtown lunch but I wouldn’t go out of my way for it. The rice wasn’t particularly fragrant, nor the chicken very succulent. Overall, the meal was rather bland, impressionable, and dare I say, overrated.

 

Nong's  Khao Man Gai chicken rice  in Portland by Melody Gourmet Fury

Chicken rice with liver and chicken crackling

Lastly, Pix is coffee shop in a hip part of town (neighboring Tasty n Sons) that claims to serve authentic French pastries. Let’s just say that they did not deliver. I liked the spunky decor and the open garage door spacial concept but that’s about all. The dense, unrefined macrons and cakes have a long ways to go to even come close to the most mediocre Parisien creations.

 

Pix  in Portland by Melody Gourmet Fury

Hazelnut and curry-coconut macarons

Portland, you were hip, beautiful, vibrant, and overall, delicious.

Since we travelled as a group for a wedding and had very limited time, food wasn’t our primary focus and we truly couldn’t spare any more time in line ups. I’ll be back for Pok Pok, Clyde and Common, Le Pigeon, and Little Bird. I’ll attempt to eat at Broder again too.

What else am I missing? I better start compiling my list now.

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  • http://twitter.com/thom_wong Thom Wong

    No Pok Pok? No Le Pigeon? I’d say you missed out in a big way. 

  • http://www.gourmetfury.com/ Melody Fury

    Those were listed on the bottom! I had such limited time.

  • http://abeautifullife.ca A Beautiful LIfe

    what a thorough review – this should be helpful if I ever venture down there for a food tour!  

  • http://www.inuyaki.com inuyaki

    nice…I think we’re going to Portland for my birthday…this will be very useful. and great pics, as usual. :)

  • Rose Cameron

    Interesting that you got bad service at Mother’s – shame! But not a huge must-go on my list. Sucks Broder had a line, we went earlyish and were sat immediately. SO good. Voodoo – same thing – you got to get there early. I refuse to wait that long either. We met friends (locals) who insisted we try A Pizza Scholls, and we waited for almost 2 hours. I got hammered on wine, the pizza was okay, the wait was not worth it. 

    Le Pigeon didn’t impress me when I went (only once). Everything was a bit too much – like they were really trying to impress every “foodie” who came in to eat. The duck was seriously undercooked (raw), everything was salted to an extreme, the wine pairings suggested weren’t enjoyed and the price was excessive for what I felt we got. 

    Pok pok, however, is a big YUM. Clyde Common – super trendy but nice appetizers (and late night menu) and wonderful cocktails. Jam on Hawthorne is great for breakfast but can have a long wait (free coffee is a plus). A good tip is to bring a snack with you just in case there’s a long wait.  We also had a nice dinner at Chez Machin a little place in the Hawthorne district – good escargot and boef bourguignon. 

  • http://twitter.com/Phanyxx ♔ Nick Routley

    Great post! I’ve got some new places to check out when I’m down there later this month.

    Pok Pok is definitely worth your while (I’ve been here a few times and it’s always top notch). Also, the farmers market at PSU has some really great food stands. I’m not sure what’s up with the obsession with Voodoo Doughnuts either! Doesn’t look look like anything special to me.. So there’s a bacon doughnut, bfd, haha

  • http://www.gourmetfury.com/ Melody Fury

    You’ll have a blast. Just wish I had more time to explore. Have a lovely birthday trip, and thank you ;)

  • http://www.gourmetfury.com/ Melody Fury

    Thanks Nick! You’re gonna have a great time. I’ll definitely try Pok Pok next time and I was totally eyeing the farmer’s market too!
    I’ll add my own bacon to my donuts, thank you very much.

  • http://twitter.com/thom_wong Thom Wong

    Definitely not in your post, and the best eating experience I had in Portland:

    http://simpaticacatering.com/

  • http://inthekitchenwithkath.com Kath

    I generally agree with you about waiting to get in a restaurant. That said, I recently visited Vancouver and waited 1 1/2 hours to get in Vij’s. It was SO worth it! Of course, while you wait at Vij’s you can order a drink and enjoy complementary taste treats that are served from trays.

  • http://www.gourmetfury.com/ Melody Fury

    True true. I would wait for Vij’s too but it’s tough to wait with a large group when traveling together on such limited time. The drinks + appys make the wait a lot more tolerable, you’re right :) I wish more places would implement that. Thanks for dropping by, Kath!

  • Elizabeth

    Sounds like a fabulous trip Mel! That’s too bad about the wait times though. I feel the same way about many a restaurant in Victoria on a Sunday morning. People willing to wait in line ups for simple brunch at “hot spots” such as John’s Place and Blue Fox kill me. There are other equally fabulous places all over town, but people just “MUST” go to those ones, creating ridiculous wait times for food I would not call out of this world.

    I am willing to wait for my food, but nowhere would I wait over an hour. Sorry food lovers! 

  • Jacqueline

    Sounds like an adventure packed trip! The pizzas look very rustic and tasty and who knew cocktails could be so colourful? It’s such a shame when you encounter bad service as it can sour the whole experience. Good manners cost nothing after all. I salute the patience of people in Portland, not sure I would be so willing to wait for my food ;-)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=629670284 Ivy Fong

    Side door. its amazing there. Seriously. Best fried chicken ever.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=629670284 Ivy Fong

    Side door. its amazing there. Seriously. Best fried chicken ever.

  • http://www.gourmetfury.com/ Melody Fury

    NOTED. Thank you Ivy!

  • http://www.gourmetfury.com/ Melody Fury

    Exactly. I’m happy for the restaurants’ successes but I also think that it’d be beneficial if they can flip the tables quicker. I’d make you brunch, Liz!

  • http://stumptownsavoury.com Gareth @ Stumptown Savoury

    You missed the best of Portland. How could you not go to Paley’s Place or Higgins? As for the wait for Voodoo Donuts, you only missed the best donuts in the world. And you skipped Pok Pok? Okay, Le Pigeon was probably a good miss, but you should have hit up Castagna and Nedd Ludd. Mother’s, on the other hand, is rather mediocre on their good days. Drinks? Go to Teardrop Lounge.

  • http://www.gourmetfury.com/ Melody Fury

    Well DAMN Gareth, where were you when I was asking for recommendations?! :) But actually, thank you for the suggestions. I can’t wait to go back. I had to keep telling myself that I was there for the wedding and the festivities. I chose to spend my time with the wedding party instead but watch out when I’m there on my own next time, Portland!

  • Fernando G Medrano

    I have relatives who live on Portland so I have eaten there numerous times over the last decade.

    Thanks for confirming my suspicions that Nong’s is overrated. We have some pretty decent examples of Hainan Chicken Rice/Khao Man Gai here in town. The cart was closed on my last trip so I was spared a wasted eating experience.

    You really didn’t miss much at Voodoo IMO. Grunder and Broder sound amazing and they too are on my list. Almost made it to Tasty n Sons once and will try again. .

    These should probably be on your list:
    Toro Bravo
    Secret Society Lounge (above Toro Bravo)
    Pok Pok
    Whiskey Soda Lounge
    Apizza Scholls
    Kens Artisan Pizza ( and their seperate Bakery across town)
    Pine State Biscuits
    Clyde Common
    Teardrop
    Powell’s Books

    If you spend more time there, check out the SEAsian mom and pop jpints on Sandy Rd.

    fmed

  • http://www.gourmetfury.com/ Melody Fury

    Aah, how I wish I had this list before my trip! Thanks Fernando – I can’t wait to go back to check out some of your favourite spots.
    Someone said I missed the best donut in the world but you know, there are countless other things I crave before a donut, no matter how good.

  • http://www.gourmetfury.com/ Melody Fury

    See Jacqueline, you and I see eye to eye about waiting. Patience is not my virtue ;) The pizza was really tasty and I cannot have enough cocktails, you know? Portland was fantastic. Thanks for dropping by!

  • http://www.kimlephotography.com Kim Le

    Loved seeing you in Portland girl!  Your pics make me wish we were still there!  Tasty N’ Sons was the best! :)

  • http://www.gourmetfury.com/ Melody Fury

    So glad to share it with you. Hope to see you soon Kim Le :)

  • SessionOrange

    Sound’s like you hit the “hipster” scene up pretty well, but I’ve lived here all my life and if you wanna know of great food, great service, cheap, and down right a pleasant night then you need to not listen to the self absorbed Portlanders (haha). 

    There’s so many great places to eat here that hype is given to places because they are “cool” and snarky or everyone is there so you have to wait hours (which I refuse to do). Most of them have amazing food true, but so does places like Biddy Mcgraws (Irish), Annies (American/Coney), Takahashi (Japanese), and or El Pato Feliz (mexican).

    As for Voodoo, I too believe everyone should try it visiting, but not because they make the best donuts ever.  I in fact believe as far as donuts go they’re average at best.  However its the creativity which makes it echo Portland and really enjoyable.  Why go if there are better places you ask, well it’s because I don’t know of anyone else who makes a Grape Ape, Penis shaped cream filled donut, capn crunch donut, or there claim to fame the bacon maple bar.  Be warned though if you go to get just cake donuts or your commons then don’t waste your time, but instead go to somewhere like His Bakery or Sweetness Bakery.

    I’m not trying to bash your choices, but just be aware the places like Du’s Grill that look scary and not a place you wanna go into, is sometimes the best Territory you’ll ever have, and in Portland none the less.  Portland is a town of self exploration, so don’t listen to me or anyone else next time your here.  Just pull’s in somewheres and give it a taste.  I think you will be pleasantly surprised.

  • Melody Fury

    Thanks for the recommendations. I hope to return to Portland on my own schedule so I can explore it more thoroughly. I’ll be sure to look back on your tips!

  • Tomjones

    Toro Bravo, you won’t have a better meal in Portland

  • http://www.gourmetfury.com/ Melody Fury

    Thank you, friend!

  • Hunter

    You hit some good ones.  I feel compelled to point out – *Gruner, not Grunder.

  • http://www.gourmetfury.com/ Melody Fury

    Whoa what an oopsie! Thanks for fixing my typo.