PDX Postcard: Food-Themed Events Celebrate Portland’s Culinary Culture
By Julie Snyder
The Portland food scene is a deep dive into deliciousness. When my husband, Joe, and I moved here nearly five years ago, we were drooling with anticipation, especially after 14 years in a small-town Nevada gastronomic desert. We quickly discovered not only a fertile food landscape but themed food weeks and even a dining month. Let’s dig in!
A sunny spot in Portland’s often gray winter days for the past five years, the Oregonian’s Dumpling Week dishes up delectable dough-enclosed delights for $10 or less at more than 30 restaurants. There’s a passport to download and print to collect unique stickers—and a chance to win a $25 gift card—for each dumpling purchase.
How about a Potato Vareniki with Sauerkraut and Caraway Butter from Kachka, one of America’s premiere Russian restaurants? Or Danwei Canting’s wontons stuffed with ground pork from Tails and Trotters (noted for hazelnut-finished pork products), Oregon black truffles, ginger and scallions?
Nel Centro once concocted Oxtail & Porcini Ravioli in a Parmesan Brodo, while Nonna Tavern offered Italian comfort food—a breaded and fried polpette stuff with sausage, potato, herb puree and Parmesan.
For tradition, Boke Bowl’s Szechuan style, 5-spice duck dumplings delight. And for dessert, the folks at Salt & Straw ice cream emporium have designed treats like Raspberry Butter Mochi Dumplings with White Chocolate Mousse and Ice Cream.
I’ve already put in an order for my last meal on earth—a double pepperoni pizza on a chewy crust—so it’s a given that Pizza Week is where I work hardest to sample the $2 slices from over 30 establishments. Portland Mercury newspaper sponsors this annual festival (typically in April) of one-of-a kind pies and eases the eating with an interactive map and live updates on its website. Here are a few contenders from the 2018 event.
Bacon improves everything, including Amalfi’s “Notorious B.R.P.” slice, featuring hickory-smoked bacon, roasted potatoes, scallions, pesto ranch dressing and house-made red sauce. Perhaps our President could special-order “Rocket Man” in preparation for his next encounter with the North Korean Leader. The Atlas Pizza special boasts Kim Jong Grillin’s soy-curl bulgogi, Follow Your Heart vegan “cheese,” sesame-braised kale, gochujang sauce drizzle, and sesame seeds.
The slice from Pizza Jerk trended Asian with “Beef and Broccoli”—sweet soy brisket and charred broccoli, with hoisin-glazed onions and fried chili oil. Fillmore Coffee and Pizza created an Indian-Italian mash-up with “The Nannfather”—Tandoori-spiced cauliflower, roasted peanuts, herbs and special sauce on a crunchy, chewy crust concocted from a top-secret dough recipe.
Straight from New York Pizza sweetened things up with “The Big Apple,” slices of Granny Smith and Honeycrisp apples on an applesauce base, sprinkled with brown sugar and cinnamon granola crumble and drizzled with caramel and streusel icing. Can’t get much farther away from double pepperoni!
What could be more popular than dumplings and pizza? Burgers! More than 50 Portland eateries get creative every summer (usually in August) for Portland Mercury’s Burger Week, where $5 buys tasty twists on the traditional beef-meets-bun.
Just like bacon, bleu cheese is an instant win in my book so Bar Maven’s “Oregon Black & Blue” had me at hello. This hefty half-pounder showcases local ingredients, including a 100% Angus beef patty rubbed in Urban Grind coffee and black pepper, topped with marionberry aioli, gorgonzola bleu cheese and kale slaw and nestled in a Grand Central Bakery brioche bun.
Rocky’s Sports and Spirits packs a burger punch by stuffing a ciabatta bun with 100% ground chuck topped by onion, peppers, fresh basil marinara, fresh mozzarella and Italian sausage, aptly called the “Yo Adrian.”
Venturing out of beef territory, Alberta Street Pub created “Can’t Banh Mi Love”—a seasoned pork patty loaded with ginger, lemongrass, rose bean curd, cilantro and Thai chilis. And the “Irish Breakfast” from Kells Brewery mounds a full meal on a soda bread bun—bangers, egg, bacon, baked beans, fried tomato, beef, zesty aioli and lettuce.
Portland Dining Month
Every March since 2009, Portland Dining Month has spotlighted a broad swath of city restaurants—more than 130 in 2019—as they offer a 3-course menu of their design for $33. Food lovers dive into the luscious list of participating restaurants and their specials as soon as it’s available, furiously make reservations for their top picks, and then prepare for power-eating.
We aim for one restaurant a week, but true PDX foodies are far more ambitious, even if it means extra workouts or letting the belt out a notch at month’s end. The menu of restaurants and pairings is simply too irresistible.
One of our most memorable meals from 2018 (yes, I took notes) was savored at Andina, a Peruvian gem. We started with a Yukon Gold potato timbale, followed by a quinoa risotto rich with Grana Padano cheese, golden beets, local mushrooms and truffle oil. For dessert, a brownie partnered with an avocado crème anglaise.
At Jackrabbit, we indulged in puree of root vegetable soup with hazelnut oil, then house-made tagliatelle with roasted wild mushrooms, pine nuts and peas, and finally a Meyer lemon tartlet fancied up with toasted cocoa nib meringue, brown sugar streusel and white chocolate mousse.
And because this is Portland, no matter what the theme of the week or month or type of restaurant, some combination of vegan, gluten-free, vegetarian and dairy-free options will be undoubtedly be available.
Julie Snyder lives in Portland, Oregon. As a writer, editor and publisher, she’s contributed to a variety of lifestyle, in-flight and travel publications, and produced award-winning catalogs for Backroads travel company. Among her passions are animal welfare, walking, travel and the Green Bay Packer