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Jul 8, 2013 10:19 PM

June trip report from grayelf and co.

Many thanks to the Portland Hounds who commented on my query thread: Herewith a rambly report on our fifth gastrotrip to your lovely city.

Our first stop was at Mr Green Beans on Mississippi to pick up quite a few pounds of green coffee beans and a simple Hario hand grinder for $30. We got this little guy last trip and the SO has been enjoying learning how to roast in it:

We got to Toro Bravo at opening for a DIY happy hour (they don't offer any discounts). This place is super popular and while we by no means ordered a representative number of dishes, I'm afraid I don't quite get it. My chef's choice cocktail was fine, and our snacks were okay to not great (speck and cheese with olive oil on it? overprocessed mayo on a flavourless salt cod fritter? overcooked padrones -- sob!--?) We won't be rushing back.

Dinner was at Cabezon, where the outside dining is right on the street so though it was warm enough we opted for a cozy window booth. I'd booked here especially for the petrale not realizing the menu online was a sample one only, though it is clearly marked as such, duh.

I really wanted fish and the kitchen was kind enough to swap the sides from the sturgeon (not a fan) onto the lingcod for a $1 charge. I started with an outstanding local asparagus soup with Manchego cheese and croutons ($7; served piping hot, yay!), and the aforementioned ling cod with excellent mashed potatoes, strangely hard English peas, baby carrots, T&T pancetta and jus for $26. Fish was done perfectly and all the flavours worked well together.

The SO opted for cioppino with white gulf shrimp, local fish, Dungeness crab, manila clams, mussels and calamari ($22.50) which though a tad tomatoey for his taste was well executed and generous without being overwhelming. It went well with his pint of Hop Lava Double Mountain IPA ($5), while I washed my meal down with The Bee's Needs (Aviation gin, St Germain, lemon and sparkling water $9) which was a bit more medicinal-tasting than I like.

I couldn't resist the Deep Roots Farm strawberry crisp with caramel and vanilla bean ice cream ($7) which was good but not special. If I lived near Cabezon I would be here a lot: good value, tasty food and solid service.


The SO had some work stuff to take care of so I headed off to Sweedeedee. The place was almost full at 10:30 and very warm inside. Kind of amazing that there could be 30-odd people under 30 all at loose ends on a Thursday morning. Nabbed a counter seat and settled on the breakfast which contains the famous corn cakes, braised greens, eggs and bacon (forgot to note the price).

I had decided I couldn't get the vaunted honey pie as well, and wistfully asked the woman sitting next to me if that was what she was having. She said yes, and insisted that I take a piece of hers to try (!). It was lovely, sort of like a pecan pie without the pecans. The breakfast was also delicious with nicely prepped greens and perfectly cooked eggs and bacon, and very hearty -- I could only finish one of the pancakes.

I read some complaints on another site about the counter service and lack of seating after the fact. I could see how that might be an issue with a group but it didn't bother me as a solo diner. I sat close enough to where the orders are taken to request butter and receive it speedily.

Picked up the SO and we headed out to Hawthorne and another Evoe revisit. Chef Kevin was in the house, as were sand dabs! I am obsessed with sand dabs and petrale, and will order them whenever they are on a menu. These might be the best ones I've had yet (vying with a dish made by Chef Dennis Leary at Canteen in SF).

I was delighted that my best-evah beet salad survived from March. We also tried the Basque-influenced txistorra with frisee and a sunny egg, a fave of the SO's whose love of gnarly sausages knows no bounds. And we had to have the fava beans with pecorino which were either a hair past their prime or slightly overcooked but still very tasty.

I really wish we'd tried the artichoke, fennel and guanciale but we were running out of room. As usual, an exemplary repast in a charming setting. There was a fellow next to us who had a when-Harry-Met-Sally moment with the lamb meatball sandwich; will have to try that next trip. Washed it all down with a Commons Madrone and an elderflower spritzer. Sigh.

We noodled around a bit more on Hawthorne and then decided it was time for a cold drink and a sweet snack. The lefse at Viking Soul Food beckoned, as did the delightful lingonberry iced tea, which I would recommend in the strongest terms. The lefse (one honey, one strawberry, goat cheese, honey and pistachios) were tasty but didn't seem all that different from a sweet crepe.

We also tried a malasada from Namu -- while nicely made to order, it was kind of a glorified Timbit.

The day was unseasonably warm and the iced tea wasn't enough so we next sought out some cold beverages of the hops-based variety at Horse Brass Pub, largely on the advice of the lovely young man at Namu who goes there most every day before his shift.

This place styles itself an English pub with all of the stereotypical flotsam on the walls and stodgy-sounding grub on the menu but more than two dozen daily drafts on offer. Very comfy and welcoming with lots of snugs to sit in and a well-versed young waitperson who clearly know her beer. She hastened to point out that virtually every draft is available in 10-oz pours when we asked about smaller sizes. Sold!

The SO tried the Full Sail Session Dark Lager ($2.25) to start and followed that up with an ESB ($2.95) from the same brewery, giving the edge to the first one. I was tempted by a Summer Radler from Ten Barrel Brewing in Bend ($2.95; mmmm fruit beer! a bit sad that we didn't make it to the fest for these lovely beverages) which was super drinkable and one of the best beers I've tried.

Photos: sad padrones and ham at Toro Bravo, Cabezon bar, lingcod and cioppino, Sweedeedee breaky and honey pie, sand dabs, sausage and beets from Evoe, wonderful fruit beer from Horse Brass, lingonberry juice

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  1. After a return to the hotel to rest and change, it was time to head over to the Woodsman Tavern for our reservation. We got a lovely booth and an excellent server in this slightly studied room that looks a bit Restoration Hardwarey despite the lovely and apparently original hardwood floors.

    Still full from lunch, we focused on lighter items: devilled eggs, corndog (couldn't resist!), octopus, a side of smoked barley "risotto" with asparagus, more ham and parmesan, a simple salad and a sampler of their signature ham. Also tried a Finally There ($9) with gin, pisco, grapefruit juice, raspberry syrup and rosewater. Like a couple of the other cocktails I had this trip, didn't quite cut it and ended up leaning into cough syrup land.

    The SO enjoyed his Double Mountain IRA which he has tried before. I haven't been blown away by any of the Duane Sorenson spots I've tried, though I have to give him props for his many successes. I can't put my finger on it but there just seems to be something missing.


    Ticking off the top twenty Portland coffee houses that I found on a list last year, today was Case Study's turn, though we went to the new outpost which wasn't open when the list was published. This place has an awkward setup to order and pay, and the SO wasn't enamoured of the coffee but they have beautiful copper counters, Nuvrei pastries and did a great job on my steamed milk so all was not lost.

    I'd mentioned one CH board denizen's zealousness for Spella and the SO, intrigued and feeling in need of another caffeinated beverage, suggested we try it out. It was quite tricky to park down there what with all the events (a marked contrast to our other trips) but we stuck it out and were rewarded. This little coffee bar delivered with a fine, unadorned cappuccino and an excellent Fleur de Lis scone. We sat at one of two tiny cafe tables on the street (no interior seating).

    We decided to explore the arboretum in Washington Park, admiring the redwoods and checking out the magnolias. All that fresh air meant we had an appetite for lunch which was a burger from Burgatroyd and some poutine from Potato Champion. We got the Garden State one which they have now renamed the Sandri in honour of its creator (Calabrian chili aioli, provolone, pickled onions, tomatoes).

    The flavours were good together and I enjoyed the burger but it was not as beefy as I like. The poutine was decent. The fellow in the truck mentioned that Kevin Sandri is at the Alberta Street Pub and does old Garden State dishes at happy hour there on occasion. This particular pod was a bit down at heels and it didn't help that there were competing sound systems.

    We went to Clive Coffee to drool over the lovely coffee gear there and pick up a timer the SO had spied in March. We headed to the Alberta and after a bit of a wander, it was time to meet up with our fellow travelers who were arriving from Vancouver.

    What better meeting spot than Saraveza? We had some of their excellent pickles and housemade Chex mix (not wonderful) along with a large bottle of the awesomely named Brainless on Peaches from Epic Brewery, plus a local pint for the SO of Elysian Oddland peppercorn saison. After a nice relaxing catchup and a walk around Firwood Lake in beautiful Laurelhurst Park, we moved on to the southeast and the Sunshine Tavern.

    We snagged a table right away, and our little friend was soon up and learning the delights of shuffleboard. We tried the asparagus pizza, two of the burgers and the pigs ear sandwich. All were decent to good except the pigs ear sandwich which was kind of greasy and tasteless, a shame as pigs ear is a thing of crunchy beauty when prepped well.

    We were a little disappointed with Sunshine Tavern, given the chef's pedigree. The setup is kid friendly but the adult food is just good, not great -- and they put one of the hardest to eat pastas I've even encountered in the children's portion, perciatelli. The honey ice cream is pretty killer, though, if oversweetened -- we shared a bowl. Lesson learned: pick the restaurant for the adults!


    If it's a late spring Saturday in Portland, it must be the PSU Farmers Market! All were impressed with the breadth of the produce and the setting, not to mention the wondrous biscuits from Lauretta Jean's.

    Served warm with butter and strawberry preserves, these were probably the best version I've had yet. The biscuit we got from Pine State did not have a chance. The ham and cheese hand pie from LJ's was also particularly worthy, as were the topnotch, perfectly ripe organic strawberries we nabbed. These latter were so good we went back and got another basket for later.

    Some retail therapy was in order for our adult traveling companions so we dropped them off and took our small friend to the Oregon Zoo. This nature park is a must-see for anyone visiting with children (heck, I'd go even if I didn't have a kid with me). Lions and giraffes and mandrilles and hippos and rhinos, oh my! Not to mention a baby elephant.

    We rounded up the crew and headed to La Calaca Camelona which was alas closed. Luckily Güero was nearby and gave us a chance to show off a food cart pod to our friends, specifically the one at SE Ankeny and 28th.

    This one is very nicely appointed with the tented area in front of the redoubtable Captured by Porches (oh bless the Oregon liquor laws) providing a natural focal point, and the Grilled Cheese Grill double decker bus providing distraction. It was nice to have several choices for lunch -- three of us sampled the delicious wares from Güero, while one had a veggie pita wrap from this outpost of Wolf and Bear and the other a grilled cheese. All were deemed exemplary.

    I really liked Güero's take on Mexican food -- local, organic, dietary options all there but still has what I consider to be an authentic taste. I liked the fried masa/potato huarache as much as the carnitas and the cochinita, which is saying something. The tacos were well proportioned, and the torta was also. The Diego bolo got high marks as well and is a good choice if you want to try a bit of most everything on the menu.

    We took our guests on a Hawthorne wander before heading out to The Ocean for an early dinner. The Korean fried chicken place had just gone dark, so we ended up with chicken pot pies from the Pie Spot, an okay burger and very greasy onion rings from Slowburger and a selection of tacos from Uno Mas, washed down by a couple of beers -- again, bless those Oregon laws that allow people to drink beer outside the establishment it was purchased in. So civilized.

    It was a lovely evening to sit outside and sample different things. Our DCs were amused to note that the table next to us was earnestly discussing food but in the most superficial possible way with plenty of f-bombs larded in. There were once again kids running around.

    Had a wander along NW 23rd to check out the scene and buy a couple of bags of flavoured popcorn from Poplandia, which was just good not great.

    Photos: ham plate from Woodsman Tavern, Spella storefront and goodies, pickles from Saraveza, Lauretta Jean and Pine State at PSU Market plus strawberries, Guero offerings

    12 Replies
    1. re: grayelf


      This was the day that I put my "choose the meals based on the adults" plan into motion and it was very successful indeed. After an early morning foray to Sterling for coffee and a lovely rhubarb hand pie for three of of us, Spints was our first target, as recommended by jillo, and what a meal.

      The breakfast we had was outstanding, a highlight of the trip even counting the places we went sans small. It was also ridiculously reasonable in price, less than $30 for four and a half diners. I only wish we'd had room for the chicken and waffles -- the server seemed so proud of it and if it's anything like the quality of the other plates... The beignets alone (they have a few specials each weekend as well, of which the beignets were one) are worth going for.

      Our excellent server added an extra one so there were five to go around but they are huge! He also offered to turn the music down which I've never had happen without asking before. The schnitzel with latkes was my favourite dish and the plain latke with apple butter my least favourite (just because the butter was too sweet for me) but there were only winners on that table.

      I don't know why there aren't huge lineups here -- this is the best brunch fare I've come across in a very long time.

      The SO was in need of an espresso-based drink so we headed to Heart. They have replaced the strangely low stools so that is a good thing. Realizing we'd not yet strolled beside the Willamette, we decided to head down and check out the HMCS Oriole which was in town for fleet week. Kind of ironic considering it is based in Esquimalt! It was pretty cool despite the nerds on the inland navy boat who kept firing off guns (!) and scaring our niece.

      Evoe twice in two days, yes! We had the kimchi devilled eggs, the jamon iberico, the cheese and meat platter, porcini mushrooms, and a spring soup. A small plate of fresh strawberries showed up gratis to end off another perfect meal at Evoe.

      Podnah's was our first target for dinner but there was too long a wait so we backtracked to Grain and Gristle who seated us immediately. They have a daily two fer that is a screaming deal ($14) and very tasty -- it was ham steak the day we went. Killer sides on the dishes, too, with cooked greens and so on being highlighted, plus they throw in two beers.

      We also had an appetizer of fresh whole favas that hit the spot and more devilled eggs, this time with those little Spanish fishies on top. Top notch burger (may be my new favourite of the ones I've tried in Portland since the sad and recent demise of Matchbox) -- be sure to get it with the onion "rings" which are more like shreds, though the fries are excellent too.

      And if they have it, get the braised pork. Wow. The only thing that was a tad underwhelming was the chop salad -- nothing wrong with it, just boring. Upright Englebert Pils, Good Life Brown, Caldera, IPA, Terminal Gravity Pale Ale were all sampled and found to be good. Very nice beer options here. And the dessert was so good we ordered another one even though we were stuffed -- panna cotta! Super reasonable pricing meant we overfed four and a half people with four beers and a cider for just $75.


      After a solid to good breakfast at Besaw's despite a very clued out server and a potato-free version of corned beef hash, we loaded up our stuff and the gang headed to Keen's for shoes, while I hit Blue Star, Cacao, Courier and Cafe Velo (the latter was closed temporarily alas).

      Then it was out to Coava and some other antiques stores nearby for our final coffee before hitting the road for home.

      Photos: cross-sectioned rhubarb hand pie at Sterling, Spints' beignets, apple latkes, schnitzel with latkes and sausages, meat and cheese plate, mushrooms and spring soup at Evoe, ham, pork and panna cotta at Grain and Gristle, corned beef hash and scramble at Besaw's

      1. re: grayelf

        So glad that Spints worked out for you - sorry that Sunshine Tavern did not. I haven't had that pig ear sandwich there, usually end up with the steak frites or the entree salad or sharing a pizza, occasionally fried oysters - all of those things are very good there.

        Yeah, I don't know why Spints is not crowded. It should be - the food and drink and service are top notch. My only complaint is that it's generally a heavy breakfast there...I have to be up for that.

        Have been having some great breakfast german pancakes at Sanborn's (in SE, just south of Powell on Milwaukie - across from the Aladdin Theater) - especially the bacon/apple/maple one and the cream cheese and cherry, if you are into that kind of thing. It's not a hipster/new place it is more of an old-school kind of place. Haven't had much else there, but those pancakes are delicious! (The coffee not so much, which is a down side, to be sure).

        1. re: JillO

          Passed on the Spints tip to another Vancouverite who was up last weekend and her group loved it too. Thanks also for Sanborn's, sounds great. I'm perfectly happy with old school as well, and there are plenty of places to get a more salutary cuppa joe before/after!

          1. re: grayelf

            Am in Portland this weekend and am sorting through the dusty, massive tomes that make up the grayelf PDX Research Archives.

            Spints appears to now be closed (Stammtisch now shows up in its place on Google searches... is it the same restaurant?)

            Interesting how the vast majority of restaurants reviewed are in the SE. What's up with that?

            Mr Taster
            (Beaverton adjacent)

            1. re: Mr Taster

              Correct Spints is closed. Stammtisch is a new and different German bier restaurant owned by the folks who own Prost up on N Williams.

              I live in SE, so I am usually biased when I give recs, but there are just so many great places in SE. There are great places in NE and N Portland too, but SE is a pretty big part of Portland geographically, and that might have something to do with it.

              1. re: JillO

                Thanks for the update.

                Looks like Matchbox is closed too, though their website doesn't indicate they've closed. Can you confirm?

                Mr Taster

                1. re: Mr Taster

                  Well, shit. Now I see Evoe has closed, too.

                  Has anyone tried the chef's new spot, Davenport?

                  Mr Taster

                  1. re: Mr Taster

                    Yes, very sad to verify that Spints, Matchbox and Evoe are all closed (Evoe continued without chef Kevin Gibson for a bit but I think is now transitioning to a another concept). I was inordinately upset by all three closures. Still haven't found a true replacement for the Matchbox burg, though the Grain and Gristle one was up there. Spints remains the best brunch I've had in this decade, no replacement as yet. Here's the good news: Davenport is worthy! We've been four times (twice in one trip) and Chef Gibson is continuing his deceptively simple approach to fine ingredients but with the backup of a full kitchen and commercial appliances. You should go, Mr Taster. My October reso is long made!

                    As for the SE bias, agree with JillO that it's partly to do with the sheer number of places out there, but there's also a different feel to the SE than to the other nabes. Not necessarily better, just different, and appealing to us. Not to mention the plethora of free parking :-).

                    Since you're near Beaverton, you should also check out Rama Thai, a favourite of local Hound sambamaster: "If I may (once again) offer the suggestion of Rama Thai in Beaverton. Their nem khao tod is probably the best in town. And their khao man gai kicks the trendy one at the single-item food cart downtown cleanly in the butt. (I tried 'em both in one day recently and it was no contest.) They also have what I think is the best khao soi in town also. YMMV." We've yet to make it to Beaverton but it sure sounds worth a look for Thai.

                    1. re: grayelf

                      Thanks for the Rama Thai suggestion. We tried both the khao man gai and the nam khao tod, and both were wonderful dishes. (We've had representations of both in LA and in Thailand, though I'm admittedly no expert in either as I do not eat either dish very often.)

                      First of all, let me say how refreshing it was to walk into a restaurant that did NOT have:

                      1. high cielings
                      2. exposed ductwork
                      3. wood countertops
                      4. communal tables
                      5. firewood-as-decor

                      (which is a general description of virtually all of the restaurants we saw in Portland.) I'm endlessly amused by the lengths people go to to differentiate themselves from the mainstream by doing virtually the same things.

                      But I digress. Rama Thai had none of these characteristics :) The khao man gai (which, since my wife is Taiwanese, we know better as Hainanese chicken rice), with dark meat (glad they offered a choice) was really wonderful. Juicy and flavorful, but the spicy sauce really put it over the top. Both of us were lapping that stuff up. The rice salad was also good, reminded a bit of Burmese roasted tea salad with the crunchy and chewy bits. Added a little of the chile fish sauce to boost a bit- really nice. No room in our bellies for khao soi, but my wife lives in the area (she has a 1 year residency in PDX) so guaranteed she'll be back. I noticed the Lao sausage on the menu, too. I chatted with the son of the owner after the meal, complimenting him on how the food tastes like I remember in Thailand. He said his parents are from Laos, and they don't believe in cooking dishes that they wouldn't want to eat themselves.

                      This is the kind of non-American mom and pop restaurant that LA has in spades, and I'm *really& glad to see it in PDX. Business wasn't too brisk on a Sunday afternoon, so I hope that's not an indication of anything. They need to stick around for a long time.

                      Thanks to you and sambamaster for this wonderful rec. I can't wait to go back.

                      Mr Taster

                      1. re: Mr Taster

                        Thanks for the report on Rama, and confirming they have sai oua on offer. Also that there is a Laotian connection -- I love the Lao version of nem khao the most. Did you make reservations?

                        1. re: grayelf

                          Reservations? Not really that kind of place!

                          Mr Taster

                          1. re: Mr Taster

                            Okay, good to know. That has been our experience in our limited forays to outer "boroughs" in Portland. Could be a good option for lunch as well....