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Portland, Oregon: A Food Hub in the Pacific North West

Portland, Oregon: A Food Hub in the Pacific North West
Catrin Hughes: How has a small, industrial American city in the Pacific North West become a thriving food hub?
 
As you drive into Portland, Oregon’s main city, it looks dirty and industrial. Still an urban working port, the banks of the Willamette and Columbia River that divide the city are lined with logs, containers and gravel. How has this small industrial city in the Pacific North West become such a foodie hub?
 
Once you leave the urban sprawl you began to understand why. Beyond the city limits are gentle rolling hills dotted with vineyards, fruit and vegetable farms, and ranches. The produce from these farms make their way to Portland, where the restaurants and food carts make the most of what is in their local larder.
 
When we arrive at our hotel, the Hotel Lucida, having navigated Portland’s confusing one-way system. We are greeted with the appealing smell of a wood fire and coffee – just a taste of what was to come.
 
The design hotel has a 1960s/70s feel, and it houses the largest collection of black and white photos from the Pulitzer-prize winning photographer David Hume Kennerly.
 
The smell of wood burning came from the restaurant attached to the hotel. The Imperial is owned and run by head chef Vitaly Paley – who is a bit of a local celebrity. His philosophy is all about keeping it hyper-local. Honey, which is used in a number of their dishes, comes from a hive on the roof of the hotel – it does not get any more local than that.
 
Paley fuses together traditional Pacific Northwest cuisine with wider American influences. One of his signature dishes is fried rabbit with semolina corn cake, pickled watermelon rind, and bacon. This is his take of southern fried chicken and it is delicious.
 
Wash down the food
Portland, Oregon: A Food Hub in the Pacific North West
with one of the cocktails – a mix of classic and contemporary they are some of the best in Portland. One of the most surprising things about this restaurant is how reasonably priced everything is. You’ve got to love Oregon for its lack of sales tax.
 
The next day it was time to take a tour of Portland’s fabled food carts. There are over 600 of them dotted around the city in ‘pods’. On our tour we focused on the pods in the downtown core. We met Brett Burmeister from foodcartsportland.com at 10th and Washington, and he took us to four different carts. The first and my favourite cart was Dump Truck. A dim sum shack that fuses American and Chinese flavours, its signature dumpling is the bacon cheese burger, and the pork, ginger and scallions.
 
Our second port of call, Korean Twist, was conveniently located next door to Dump Tuck. This cart specializes in Korean-style tacos. What makes them different is that way the pork and beef is cooked. I tried the spicy pork in a corn tortilla with shredded cabbage.
 
The third cart, Gaufre Gourmet, had Belgian waffles made out of brioche-style dough and not batter, which is used the most in the USA. They are thicker and fluffier than what you would get from other places selling ‘Belgian’ waffles.
 
Our final destination is Pulehu Pizza. The cart is run by a couple from Maui, Hawaii, who after trying to grill pizza on a barbecue on a camping trip decided to open up a food cart here in Portland. The pizza that was chosen was not quite to my taste – but everyone else seemed to be enjoying it.
 
This was a mere sample of what you can get. Portland has one of the most diverse food range I have seen in any city – it could even give London a run for its money.
 
That was the food taken care of. It was now time for drink. Portland has a vibrant up-and-coming micro-distillery scene. East of the downtown core is Distillery Row – a collection of micro-distillers who make anything from whiskey to gin to vodka.
 
There are five distilleries within walking distance of each other. The term ’distillery row’ is a little deceiving: it makes it sound like all these sprit makers are conveniently located on one street, which they are not. The distilleries are dotted around Portland Eastside neighbourhood.
 
If you are going to take on Distillery Row, get a ‘passport’. For $20 this will get you no-obligation tastings at all of the micro- distilleries in the area. Out of the five I visited, Vinn, Rolling River, and New Deal stood out to me.
 
Vinn is unique among the other distillers, as it is the only one to make rice-based spirits. The recipes have been passed down through seven generations of the Ly family. The rice-based spirits tend sweeter and less harsh on throat.
 
Rolling River is the new kid on the block. They currently only have a vodka out. The gin and whiskey are coming soon. Ran by a mother, father and son team, they are embracing an organic way of making spirits and their tasting room doubles as a gallery for local artists.
 
New Deal – who make one of the best gins – has an interesting array of liquors. Try the Hot Monkey if you like your tipple to have a spicy kick. It really works well in cocktails. Many of the distilleries do cocktails with their spirits and New Deal had some of the best.
 
After doing a taster and a couple of cheeky cocktails, the boyfriend and I were feeling somewhat tipsy to say the least. We decided to walk it off by taking a stroll along the river while the sun set behind the green tree covered hills.
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15 June 2014
By: Catrin Hughes
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