Friday, August 12, 2011

Ice Cream, More Glorious Ice Cream!

Ah, ice cream, my first love. OK, it's a tie between red meat and ice cream.....

As a writer for, I've had the honor to speak with a few of Portland's premier ice cream purveyors. All in the name of journalism, of course. Earlier this month I had the good fortune to join Salt & Straw for their sneak preview for the new store launch. You may have seen my previous entry featuring Kim's cart of fabulous scoops, but now, behold, a whole shop full of dairy (and some non-dairy) goodness!

Just up the road from the mobile cart on NE Alberta, I step into Salt & Straw's new scoop shop - and into my new happy place. Immediately I am approached by a staffer cheerfully waiving a delicious ice cream concoction in front of me. “Would you like to try our Thai Sticky Rice sundae? Be sure to scoop through all of the layers; there’s sweet sticky rice on the bottom, pineapple, and these are cinnamon croutons” She says, pointing to the cookie-like cubes sprinkled on top. I dig in. I never imagined I’d be eating an ice cream sundae with rice. It works. It’s delicious! And of course, it’s all natural, and made with local ingredients. The sweet sticky rice is Pok Pok’s creation. So is the honey drinking vinegar used in Salt & Straw’s Honey Vinegar Milkshake, which I also wolfed right down. In the most wonderful way, it was like the best tasting sour milk I’d ever tasted. Sweet, tangy, and surprisingly addicting.

If these flavor combinations strike you as a little odd, get over it, because they totally work. As does the Three Berry BBQ ice cream, made with Oregon Marionberries, Raspberries, Huckleberries, and yes, actual BBQ sauce. Reminiscent of a raspberry chipotle sauce, this is something I want to dip my french-fries in, or slather on a chicken wing! I’m content to eat it on a cone as well, as this flavor is growing on me lick by lick. If you’re not a fan of the dairy, there is always the summery Lemon Basil Sorbet, with Oregon basil fresh from the farmers market. Or choose from an array of dessert bars, cookies, and other snacks. Glancing around, I see more and more diversity in the menu – and the décor.

Kim and her team created a space for folks to sit and mingle; meet over an ice cream cone, or a float, or a shake. Loads of antique dairy paraphernalia lines the shelves. Weathered milk barrels and crates show the inspiration behind the name, Salt & Straw …. Describing the old time method of churning ice cream that Kim herself employs. Have a seat in a vintage chair and gaze at local artist Neil Perry’s work. Specially commissioned for Salt & Straw, his Saccharine Lands series lifts you into yet another dream world of sugar and cream. The partnership was a natural fit, as his love affair with sugar melds so well with Kim’s sweet creations.

As I make my way to the door, Kim stops me short. “Have you seen the bathroom yet? She asks as she ushers me that direction. Kim works with a local picker to achieve Salt & Straws rustic, vintage image. The wall paper was made especially for this bathroom – from vintage Portland postcards – Kim’s find at an estate sale. Another reason to sit and stay awhile at this ice cream joint that gets more and more endearing by the minute.

I eventually do depart, with more than my fill of ice cream in my belly. Neil Perry, Kim, my first love, too, was sugar.

Salt & Straw
2035 NE Alberta
Portland, OR 9721

Obsessed with Oregon "vino-culture"? - A great place to read about Oregon Pinot Noir

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Occidental Brewing Co.: Bringing German Brews to St. Johns

Dan and Ben Engler are charting new waters under the St. John’s Bridge. The only local brewery rooted in North Portland concocted their first batches of German style beers around Memorial Day, and they opened the tap room-slash-brewery to the public in June.

I trekked up to NoPo specifically to do some sampling. What are the locals in St. John’s chugging that I am missing? A complex Hefe, a malty Alt, a Dunkel (my favorite), and a seasonal Cloudy Summer ale (now if that doesn’t sound like a Portland brew….)

But first, a brief history: Dan comes from the Missoula area but has lived in Portland with his family for years. His nephew Ben, also from Missoula, migrated to the Pacific NW for college and settled in Seattle. When Ben parted ways with Weyerhaeuser, the pair reunited in Portland to form Occidental Brewing Co. Ben brings the business savvy, while Dan presides over brewing, and all that science-y stuff.

I chatted with Ben about the why’s and how’s of Occidental’s inception.

Why “Occidental”?

We chose Occidental, meaning western. The name is regional, not necessarily tied to just Portland or Oregon. And it’s also an old fashioned word, which fit with the pre-prohibition style of our brand. Note, the period picture of the two from the website. Classic.

So why start another Portland brewery?

It was something we’ve both always wanted to do separately. When the time was right, we met up – probably over a couple of beers - and decided to go for it together. Portland was an obvious choice. We wanted to be a part of the biggest brew town in the nation.

A question my Portlander’s IPA-loving mind: No IPA, eh? German-style only?

That’s right. It helps us stand out amongst a sea of IPAs …. It’s a standard line-up of English ales in most of the northwest. We wanted to do German style – make what you like to drink, right?

(Besides, he sarcastically says, IPAs are almost like a contest now. How hoppy can it get? How crazy-strong does it have to be to get attention?)

OK, fair enough. I see a vast collection of beer memorabilia in the tasting room. What’s the history on that?

Yeah, there are a lot of beer cans. Some of them were ours, and from family members. But as we started thinking about décor, we started looking at collections….. Husbands being forced to clean out their garages, etc. We wanted classic cans from the ‘60s and ‘70s. We’ve even had customers come in and add to the collection. The bottle caps – that was us drinking a lot of beer, asking friends to drink a lot of beer, even asking bar tenders to save the caps. We even drank beer we really didn’t want to drink, just because we needed the caps.

That’s quite a procurement strategy. Tough job. So, any expansion plans?

The world! (Laughs) Right now, we’re just trying to get out of North Portland. We are going at the pace we can handle. We intend to stay in the St. John’s location – there aren’t a lot of breweries out here, and the local St. John’s community has been tremendous in their support efforts. But we want to cover more ground.

Plans to expand the tasting room?

Yes, it looks like a construction zone right now; we’re still building tables for the tasting room. We had to build a wall (between the tasting room and the brewing facility) to satisfy the government and separate the brewing are from the public area, but we wanted people to be able to see the brewery. We’ll use the outside space for events. We’ll be posting event information on the website and on Facebook.

Perfect, more reasons for me to make my way back up here. Now, on to my tasting …..

Dan kept himself busy on this Wednesday night in his tasting room. Every bar stool was taken, so I bellied up to the lower, bottle cap covered bar to put in my first order: a taster of the Alt, a pint of the Dunkel.

Altbier: Malty and spicy with Saphir hops - it’s what a good German Alt is all about. And lucky me, it offers up a little extra hops, just like Portland likes it.

Dunkel: My winner for the evening. You can smell the yeast as you go in for a drink. Smooth yet complex, this one’s not too dark, and not too heavy on this warm August night. But it would still be soul warming for those not-so sunny eves. I’ll have this beer any season.

Round two, a taste of the summer ale, and a pint of that fabulous hefe.

Cloudy Summer: It’s a thirst quencher, I think, as I gulp down the taster. Dan calls it “sessionable” and they do know best. Crisp and clean, yet still offering just a smidge of hops.

Hefeweizen: Move over Kurt and Rob, there’s a new hefe in town. It has the floral notes beer lovers look for, citrus, spice … wheaty deliciousness. Dan makes it in the classic Bavarian style, using German Hallertau hops and true weizen yeast.

Well, it looks like my work here is done. I’m shutting the place down! I thank the gentlemen Engler as I polish off the last of my hefe. I’ll be keeping an eye out for events to come.

Occidental Brewing Co.

6635 N. Baltimore Ave

Portland, OR 97203

Tap room hours:
Wed.-Thurs. 4-7 pm
Friday 3-8 pm
Saturday 12-8 pm
Sunday 12-6 pm

Occidental Brewing Co.

6635 N. Baltimore Ave

Portland, OR 97203

Tap room hours:

Wed.-Thurs. 4-7 pm

Friday 3-8 pm
Saturday 12-8 pm

Sunday 12-6 pm

See more about Occidental Brewing Co. at

Obsessed with Oregon "vino-culture"? - A great place to read about Oregon Pinot Noir

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Scooping up local goodness with Portland ice cream makers

I'll tell ya this much: I'd be perfectly content romping around all summer long, trying scoop after scoop of local ice cream. What I love about the Portland ice cream scene is - surprise - the unique flavors our proprietors bring to the table. I want to share a few stand outs that I'll be frequenting this season -if this mythical "summer" thing that was supposed to be delivered on June 21st ever arrives!

Salt & Straw
is scooping up customers in the Alberta neighborhood. This cart is pretty darn new but already has loads of regulars and even turned heads nationally within it's first few weeks of opening (due in part, perhaps, to using internationally honored Rogue Creamery blue cheese in their creative flavors ... more on that later)

The concept: A farm-to-cone ice cream experience with mature, savory flavors along with the classics, re-invented. Salt & Straw creates fresh, handmade ice cream with all local ingredients.

I first met Salt & Straw while dining al fresco at nearby restaurant The Aviary. I watched as scores of people left the ice cream cart licking away at their cones. After the meal, Monsieur Boy and I opted out of dessert at the restaurant and joined the line at the red and white striped cart.

So what flavors did I sample? Pear with Blue Cheese, featuring Salem pears and the aforementioned award-winning Rogue Creamery bleu. Lemon basil sorbet, which was as refreshing as it sounds. But for my full cone? A big scoop of sea salt and caramel. Long, creamy ribbons of caramel flowed through the salted ice cream. M. Boy went for the Brown Ale with Bacon. Laurelwood Brew and Olympic Provisions bacon. Good move - a delectable mix of salty and sweet.

My second trip to the cart was dedicated to the coveted Pear with Blue Cheese. The blue cheese doesn't overwhelm, which i was glad for. The coldness of the ice cream and the pears help to mellow it out, giving the dish a perfect combination of flavors.

Unique flavors aside, what makes this ice cream special is the high fat content: 17% butter fat, compared to many premium ice creams at 13%. The result is a thick, creamy ice cream that successfully merges with the sophisticated flavors Salt & Straw highlights. Also, the ice cream is less sweet than most, lending itself to a more mature palate of flavors that will change seasonally, keeping freshness and integrity in check.

The permanent location is slated to open August 12th, just a few blocks down from where the cart stands on NE Alberta. It will have an old-school mercantile vibe; a perfect place to chill out on a hot August day. But for the crew are serving scoop after scoop from the cart outside of the Aviary, 1pm-10pm daily.

Current Roster:
- Sea Salt Ice Cream With Caramel Ribbons
- Double Fold Singing Dog Vanilla
- Stumptown Coffee With Cocoa Nibs
- Chocolate With Gooey Fudge Brownies
- Brown Ale With Bacon
- Granda Malek's Almond Roca With Salted Ganache
- Honey Balsamic Strawberry With Cracked Black Pepper
- Lemon Basil Sorbet
- Pear With Blue Cheese
- Mimosa Sorbet

Where to find it:

2035 NE Alberta St.

Fifty Licks

Rain or shine, it’s hard to resist an ice cream truck, and this cheery, sky blue van with bright red lettering calls to you from across the street.

As the truck proclaims, Fifty Licks ice cream is fresh, handmade, and local, each small batch receiving TLC. I chatted with owner, Chad Draizin about his philosophy behind Fifty Licks and upcoming flavors (yes, he creates them to go with the season). On deck, strawberry, for one. Chad personally goes to the farmer’s market to hand select the perfect strawberries and keeps the recipe simple, letting the ingredients shine. Other ideas swirling around his head: Peach Gewürztraminer, possibly some cherry coconut milk sorbet….. the menu ultimately depends upon what he likes at the market, and what produce is happening when he goes to production. You’ve just got to swing buy to see what’s being scooped.

Flavors I sampled:

Caramel Apple: Washington apple cider “boiled down into a buttery, bittersweet caramel”. Fresh, tart, and tangy, this cone was addictive! It’s not often you get to enjoy a dessert made with all natural, fresh, and local ingredients, but in Portland, it seems to be a mainstay.

Next up: Maple Bacon. Yesss. It reminds me of Voodoo Donut’s bacon maple bar, or maybe pancakes and bacon. Is it cool to have ice cream for breakfast? Fifty Licks uses humanely raised and hormone free bacon, so take comfort in knowing that your ice cream cone did not contribute to the delinquent treatment of pigs. Chunks of salty bacon in sweet maple ice cream? Yes, I am getting a full cone of this.

Sample # 3: Passion Fruit Sorbet with Szechwan Peppercorns. The peppercorns add just enough pop at the end of each lick - not too invasive to the tangy, almost lemonade vibe of the passion fruit sorbet.

So next time you have an ice cream craving - or want to celebrate the presence of sunshine this summer - start contemplating your flavors and scurry on down to one of these carts!

Where to find it:

4262 SE Belmont
Portland, OR 97215

Sold at New Seasons and Whole Foods markets and they post up all over town for special events

See more about both awesome ice cream vendors at's Food & Drink page

Obsessed with Oregon "vino-culture"? - A great place to read about Oregon Pinot Noir.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Portland Cartopia

Just in time for summer, I'm raving about food fit for dining al fresco: Portland food carts!

For years street food has had cultural importance worldwide, and it has become increasingly popular in the states. Exotic, sometimes unimaginably intricate creations are cranked out of the tiniest of kitchens daily. With all due respect to our fabulous chefs and restauranteurs, some of Portland's best cuisine is on the streets.

Some say the trend has been taken too far. Gourmet this, push the boundaries that... I say, the more the merrier. There are just too many carts to cover in a single diatribe, so I'll start with the goods in my 'hood, inner SE Portland.

Cartopia: Corner of SE 12th and Hawthorne

Potato Champion holds a special place in my heart.
This was my first foray into the world of poutine, and no other Portland restaurant can hold a candle. A Canadian favorite, poutine is a soul warming pile of fries topped with squeaky cheese curds and brown gravy. Potato Champion does a great twice-fried, Belgian style fry, poutine or not. You can go with the Belgians' dip of choice - and my fave- mayo. But even THIS gives you options. Pesto mayo, tarragon anchovy mayo, wasabi or chipotle mayo, Ay, caramba! Not a fan of the mayo? Their ketchup & mustard selection runs deep as well.
Hang out at this hipster favorite for other delectables like PB&J fries, featuring peanut satay sauce and raspberry chipotle jelly.

Perierra Crêperie
Whether you're in the mood for something sweet or savory, Perierra's crisp, thin, crepes have mountains of flavor combinations. My go-to dinner crepe is the meat centric version with Italian style cured meats, gruyère and spinach, but there are plenty of veggie or vegan arrangements as well. Bridging the sweet and salty gap is a Nutella and precuitto number (although they've skimped a bit on the prescuitto in my opinion) or perhaps the gorgonzola-pear-walnut . Desserts are abound with lemon curd, honey n' fig, plantain and Nutella ...... or may I suggest a shake? Inspired flavors like lavender-honey-cardamom and avocado are worth the calories the full fat milk instills.

Whiffies Fried Pies - Keeping with the sweet-or-savory theme, Whiffie's will see you through dinner or dessert, or both, if you like fried pies that much. The menu changes seasonally, and can include savory fare such as bbq beef brisket with mozzarella, chicken pot pie and mac n' cheese with bacon. Contributing to the sweet team, pies with apple and berries galore, peanut butter chocolate chip. In grand Portland style, vegan and veggie options are always present. The pie itself boasts a flaky and crisp crust, with enough density to partner well with the filling.
I munched on the pumpkin creation all last fall, and always enjoy the beef brisket - sharp and tangy, not overwhelmingly barbeque-y, and lots of gooey cheese. Pies are made to order and piping hot!

Pyro Pizza. Wood fired and delicious. Aside from having a giant, wood-fire oven, they've got an organic, sustainable waste not, want not attitude. Get your pie shroomed out, extra meaty, cheesey, vegan ... You'll wait the longest at this cart, and probably pay the most for a single item, but their caramelized onion pie is worth it. Loaded with fragrant gorgonzola, and topped with pistachios, also wood fired, enhancing the nuttiness. I am dying to try their handiwork with white truffle oil. The pie is simply prepared with with romano and black pepper.

Also present, a Cajun and a Mexican mission style burrito cart. I've sampled both and have not been back to either, so I will not be gushing on. I found Bubba Bernie's offerings to be a tad dry and under-seasoned, and while the burritos at El Brasero aren't bad, there are so many superior options in this cartopia that I've found no reason to return.

Party all night, as much of Cartopia is geared toward the after hours, drunk munchies crowd and is open until 3am. But beware, most carts are closed on Mondays, so options are limited.

Obsessed with Oregon "vino-culture"? - A great place to read about Oregon Pinot Noir.