The slogan “Keep Portland Weird” is the unofficial motto of this liberal city, as well as the informal mantra of the local residents. The number of weathered travellers, homeless youths and drifters is overwhelming, although everyone minds their own business. Perhaps it’s Portland’s weird ora that attracts these people, or maybe the fact that Oregon does not enforce Federal Tax, making the cost of living lower in Portland compared with other west coast cities. Who knows? All I know is that Portland is most definitely different from any other American city I’ve visited, and you know what, I actually enjoy its weird nature.
Portland is also beer capital of America. Playing host to the Oregon Brewers Festival (now in its 26th year and the largest gathering of independent craft brewers in the United States) and with more than forty craft breweries in the city, it’s no surprise that beer is king in Portland. Noteworthy breweries include Widmer Brothers (I recommend trying their Hefeweizen) and Hopworks Urban Brewery (who brew a tasty Deluxe Organic Ale), although my favourite brewery is to be found just outside of Portland in the city of Ashland. Rogue Ales have been crafting incredible beer since 1988 and have been awarded countless World Beer Championship medals. Rogue’s American Amber Ale and Dead Guy Ale are standouts, and in keeping with Portland’s weird nature Rogue have crafted a Maple Bacon Ale, and Chocolate Peanut Butter Ale in collaboration with local Voodoo Doughnut. If you’re interested in sampling some of these beers then I recommend getting yourself to Utobeer in Borough Market, they’ve always had Rogue Ale in stock every time I’ve visited.
Voodoo Doughnut is another fine example of Portland wackiness. An independent bakery known for its unconventional doughnut flavours and ingredients, as well as the eclectic store decor. Voodoo is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Now that’s doughnut dedication. I must have passed Voodoo on four separate occasions, at various times of day and night and each time was surprised to see a line out of the door for these sweet treats. On my fifth passing I decided to join the line and see what all the fuss was about. Ten minutes passed and I had one foot in the door of this bright pink, shoebox sized store, with death metal blaring at me and a chalkboard full of doughnut flavours to choose from. I don’t have a massive sweet tooth so played it safe with one of each of Voodoo’s Regular Glazed and Raspberry Romeo doughnuts. Both were superb. Handed to me in an iconic pink box branded with their Voodoo Priest logo, these doughnuts are double the size of a Krispy Kreme. Despite the size the raised yeast dough is light and fluffy, with just the right levels of sweetness. The glazing adds that finger licking goodness craved when devouring doughnuts and the raspberry jam filling was bursting with berry flavour.
Now I mentioned that Voodoo create some unique doughnuts using unconventional ingredients, a few of these include their Bacon Maple Bar (maple frosting topped with strips of deep-fried streaky bacon), Captain my Captain (vanilla frosting topped Captain Crunch cereal), and Grape Ape (vanilla frosting, grape dust and lavender sprinkles). And if that wasn’t enough, those tying the knot may be interested to know that Voodoo offer legal wedding ceremonies complete with a doughnut reception. Truly bizarre.
Missing the fresh ocean air we decided to take an excursion to the sleepy beach community of Rockaway Beach, a couple of hours drive west from Portland. There’s little more to do than go crabbing for your lunch, stroll along the expansive, secluded beach, or browse the few local boutique arts and craft stores for souvenirs. There are also some establishments serving up excellent local produce. Old Oregon Smokehouse is a fine example of local, fresh seafood, cooked in an unfussy manor to showcase the excellent produce. From the outside Old Oregon Smokehouse is nothing special; a shanty town shack sitting just off the main (and only) street in Rockaway. Walk inside this wooden fixture and there is barely enough room to place your order. Everything is fresh caught, and when a fish choice is out for the day, it’s really out. The style of cooking is humble. We started our lunch with a cup of clam chowder; a rich soup tasting of cream, parsley and potato, with bucket loads of plump clams. Next we received a complementary fillet of in-house smoked, Oregon salmon. Hot off the smoker, the thick fillet fell apart to the touch into large, almost translucent flakes. I love this method of cooking as it ensures the protein maintains the maximum amount of flavour and all its juices. The fish’s natural sweetness was enhanced by the subtle, underlying smoke of the wood. In short, this salmon was outstanding.
Then came the main event, fillets of local caught halibut, dipped in a light batter and deep-fried until crisp and golden. The fish was delicious, far superior to the Atlantic cod we’ve grown so accustom to in the local British chippy. Our fish came with hand-cut chips (although the thickness was somewhere between chip shop and fries), as well as house-made coleslaw and tartar sauce for dipping. We finished our lunch with yet more complementary treats, oyster shooters dressed in a tangy seafood sauce. Now I’m of the opinion oysters should be enjoyed on the half-shell without the fuss of condiments that overpower the oysters flavour. But on this occasion I happily threw back my shooter, enjoying the Oregon caught oyster’s sea salt richness.
Mexican restaurant Dos Rocas has a patio that overlooks the beach, making this another great spot for a lazy alfresco lunch. We snacked on house-made chips and salsa, while sipping on pints of Rogue’s Dead Guy Ale before ordering halibut tacos. Halibut is plentiful in these waters so again we were treated to this super fresh fish. Grilled to give a slightly charred, earthy flavour, and dressed in lime juice. The fish was cooked and seasoned perfectly. White corn tortillas, shredded cabbage and fresh coriander, with a side of tender, refried beans accompanied the fish. This is summer eating at its best.