Unconventional and Traditional, the City of Roses is Flourishing

It can be quick to recognize Portland as an unpretentious city of diverse subcultures that thrives on its unofficial slogan: ‘Keep Portland Weird.’ Just consider the fact one of America’s top eco-minded cities is also home to a 24-hour quirky bakeshop called Voodoo Doughnut, where couples can also be legally married beneath the holy doughnut and a velvet painting of Isaac Hayes or Kenny Rodgers. For visitors and residents, Portland is, indeed, a popular haven for encouraging and embracing self-expression.

Underneath all the eccentric layers of Oregon’s largest metropolis situated at the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia Rivers, the greater Portland region has evolved as a magnet for new residents and tourists of all ages with a penchant for a varied and exciting food culture, a topflight craft beer scene, a blossoming wine landscape and a utopia for outdoor adventure to help retract a full belly.

“We‘ve fallen in love with Portland since retiring here from Northern California,” exults Bruce Lewis, a lifelong Californian who admits it’s odd to now be an Oregonian. “My wife and I were instantly grabbed by the energy, beauty and the incredible transportation structure which, as a senior citizen (called ‘honored citizens’ in Portland), allows us to go anywhere in the city by purchasing an all-day bus or train ticket for $2.50.”

Regardless of the generational demographic, the ex-Golden Staters represent a snippet of an unfolding trend as evident by the rapid growth in housing and the city’s forthcoming 3,000 hotel rooms over the next couple years to accommodate a steady stream of tourists cashing in (state tax free!) on a destination with a small town feel and big city amenities.

In the birthplace of American culinary icon James Beard, Portland’s restaurants are at the forefront of a creative, accessible culinary scene serving fresh, innovative dishes emphasizing superb local ingredients, including a legendary menu of more than 500 food carts peppered throughout Portland’s 95 neighborhoods dishing gastronomic flavors from all corners of the world. I promised not to worry about any over-indulging until I returned home.

Roughly thirty minutes from downtown Portland, the majestic Stone Cliff Inn, situated inside a log cabin amid an old growth forest, overlooks the Clackamas River flowing through the historic town of Carver. Had I arrived ten minutes later after the doors opened for lunch at 11:30, there would not have been an empty chair to sit and consume my elk burger (one of three rotating game burgers, including boar and lamb).

In Lake Oswego, an affluent suburb south of Portland, I strolled into a morning hotspot and home to the only four-time Food Network Cupcake Wars winner, Kyra’s Bake Shop, serving up amazing treats ranging from gluten-free to grain free and low carb Paleo selections.

A short drive from the Portland boundary line, the century-old South Shore Café in the Tualatin Valley, known as “Silicon Forest” with all its tech companies, is housed in a historic landmark along a country road in the town of Hillsboro and offers scratch-made soups, sandwiches and pastries attracting hungry guests from miles around. If still room in your stomach, wander across the street to the Smith Berry Barn to enjoy a fresh berry milkshake or family-run U-pick farm with seasonal fruits or vegetables.

One of the newer (spring 2016) culinary experiences commenced operations at the eclectic Pine Street Market in downtown Portland near the waterfront. Under one roof (historic Baggage Carriage Building), foodies are faced with a difficult choice of nine distinctly different cuisines from Mediterranean at Shalom Y’all to Spanish-inspired dishes at Pollo Bravo to OP Wurst paying homage to the authentic American hot dog.
Additional Portland eateries worth craving include Trifecta Tavern, serving barrel-aged cocktails along with an American fare menu and Tasty n Alder, the downtown sister restaurant to James Beard Award-winning chef John Gorham’s wildly popular Tasty n Sons in North Portland. Be prepared to wait for a table to taste one of Gorham’s signature internationally inspired dishes, cocktails or boozy “adult milkshake.”

What is all the brewhaha about beer in Portland? The city may not be the state’s capital but it does lay claim to the beer capital of the world as the home of more craft breweries (65-plus) than any other city, thus earning the nickname, “Beervana.” From BridgePort Brewing and Widmer Brothers Brewing, forerunners of the local craft beer revolution in the ‘80s, to relative new kids on the block like 10 Barrel Brewing or Backpedal Brewing, Portland has elevated craft beer consumption to an art form and lifestyle. With a multitude of beer festivals, brew ‘n view movie theaters, or beer pairings at fine restaurants, brew guzzlers will never be far from an extensive lineup of taps pouring IPAs, ales, lagers and stouts.

Ambacht Brewery, located in Hillsboro, is the brainchild of Tom Kramer and Brandy Grobart, proud co-owners of Oregon’s only brewery without an IPA! Instead, they focus on producing organic, Belgian-inspired ales, including one called Matzobrau. Yes, made with matzah.

To toast the oenophile crowd, Portland is surrounded by the Pinot-rich Willamette Valley wine country where welcoming tasting rooms offer a chance to sit and sip a glass with the owner, grape picker, wine maker, bottler, and they’re usually the same person!

With more than 500 wineries producing world-class Pinot Noirs and other varietals, Christopher Bridge founders, Chris and Susi Carlberg represent the epitome of local wine hospitality at their 80-acre farm they’ve resided for 63 years. Where wines are sometimes as good as the stories behind them, my captivating vino time (two hours) next to the indoor burning fireplace resulted in a philosophical journey of Chris’ transition from a 30-year teaching career to dedicating himself to sustainable winegrowing and producing estate-bottled Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris wines.

“I’ve become very attached to a business I’d never thought much about until I was in it,” says the self-described poet, Chris. “My business model is ions away from the boys in Napa and even here in Oregon but the wines still must have your blood and passion in it.”

As a member of a 15-winery wine trail, the nearby family-operated Kings Raven Winery is producing 400-500 cases of white, Pinot Noir, Maréchal Foch and hybrid reds from their 10-acre vineyard.

Name-inspired by the native preying birds in the Chehalem Mountains AVA, Raptor Ridge Winery proprietors Scott and Annie Schull established (1995) a complete wine tasting experience with single vineyard Pinot Noirs and a tranquil patio setting that, on the clear day I stopped by, yielded stunning views of four mountaintops, including Mt. Hood.

One of the latest waves of adult drinking adventures to hit Portland has turned very spirited, especially over on the southeast side where Distillery Row has been marked with small-batch distillers setting up shop in renovated industrial warehouses.

Tom Burkeleaux, founder and distiller at New Deal Distillery, was one of the early pioneers back in 2004, when he made what he jokingly referred to as a “natural progression” from a computer job to making booze. Ever since, he’s been crafting artisan gins, whiskeys, ginger and coffee liqueurs, and vodkas including his signature grain-to-glass New Deal Vodka.

By the time I finished my robust-portioned rounds at New Deal, it was time to take it down a couple notches and luckily, Steven Smith Teamaker was only blocks away.

Casting a snow-peaked backdrop over Portland, the 11,249-foot Mt. Hood is a testy runner-up to Japan’s Mt. Fuji as the world’s most climbed mountain. Having already conquered that quest, I was hoping to complete the one-two punch but my limited time delayed that until another visit. Not a huge disappointment since there’s a bucket load of soft and daring outdoor activities within an hour of the Pacific Coast and throughout the Cascade Mountains. 

Thanks to the warm fall temperatures during my visit, it would have been regretful to not experience Portland from water level so, I boarded a single kayak at eNRG Kayaking and followed my guide along the gentle Willamette River to the Willamette Falls, the largest waterfall, by volume, in the Pacific Northwest.
To traverse with another viewing angle, Pumpkin Ridge Zip Tour, a half hour west of Portland, buckled me up for an adrenaline-rushed tour of seven Zip lines that gradually increased in length, speed and height until I was standing on a suspension bridge 120 feet above a forest of Douglas Firs.

Back on earth, it would be a stiff assignment to identify a major city where its citizens worship their two-wheelers more than the pedal power kingdom of Portland. I could have saddled up with any of the city’s variety of themed bike tours but instead, opted for the Nike (based outside Portland)-branded BIKETOWN that has integrated over 1,000 bikes at 100 stations around the city as an affordable system to get around town.

It takes longer than a calorie-packed weekend to fully appreciate Portland’s hip and laid back lifestyle but the brief visit was an excellent barometer from which to whet the appetite.  NVL