Portland: A Gastro-tour

Cruising into downtown Portland
  • Cruising into downtown Portland

“So when do you think you’ll be in Portland?” Aaron asked, as we drove through forested mountains.

“Give us an hour.”

When Aaron called, we were on Highway 26 heading toward Portland. My friend had driven from San Diego to Medford, Oregon, in his GMC tour van, and decided to complete the rest of the journey via rental car.

When I heard he wanted to party in Portland, Adam and I knew we had to meet him.

“Yeah when I’m in Portland I want to do everything Anthony Bourdain did in his show,” he told me over the phone several weeks earlier.

So Adam and I drove from the Puget Sound with a mission. A couple months earlier, I’d tagged along with Ziggy, founder of Another Zeke Productions, La Escalera Productions and Breaker Breaker One Niner, to Portland, serving as a merch guy. When they headed south to Redding on their way back to San Diego, I stayed around looking for a freight train bound for Cheyenne.

We picked Aaron up in southwest Portland. For newcomers out there, Portland is divided into four quadrants. First are North and South, with Burnside Street serving as kind of Mason Dixon line.

The Willamette River divides the city into its Eastern and Western hemisphere, and for some Portlanders the difference is night and day. But in my opinion, the rent’s just cheaper on the east side.

Before heading out to our main venue, we spent a little time at Ground Kontrol – a bar and video arcade. I like to take visitors here because there’s something unique about playing coin-operated '80s and '90s video games while drinking a PBR tall boy.

Our main destination for the night was Apizza Scholls on Hawthorne. Aaron likes to call them the “Pizza Nazis.” According to their website, they only mix a limited amount of dough, and there’s a maximum of three toppings.

We ordered a Bacon Bianca – a smoky bacon pizza topped with three different cheeses. Aaron captured the sentiment of the pizza perfectly when he said, “It’s interesting, I don’t know if I like it, but the more I eat it the more I want to try.” Adam agreed.

I washed this pizza down with Green King Ale and copious amounts of red ale they had on top from a pitcher we ordered. I chose Green King because it’s brewed in Ipswich, England, near where I went to high school.

We also ordered a Sausage and Pepper, which they topped with their housemade sausage and cherry peppers.

Finishing our meal, we drove down Hawthorne. I looked for a skate ramp in a yard near the 7-11. During the summer the residents had built an impressive mini ramp, which I skated during one of their parties. It was no longer there.

En route to our next destination, we passed the Baghdad Theater. Last time Aaron visited, we posted here for a couple hours in between our bar hopping to watch Inglorious Basterds. Being a 1920s theater, where one can drink a pint and watch a three-dollar film, makes it a landmark. I spent half the movie passed out.

We then headed off to grab some drinks down at a bar near Hawthorne. What I liked about that particular bar is it’s close to a food cart colony. I made Adam and Aaron try Potato Champion, a Belgian fry cart. It’s my favorite eating establishment in Portland. I do have a quip with them; they cut their fries thinner and fry them darker than the traditional Vlaamse frites, which for me makes all the difference in the world.

But what keeps me coming back is the Peanut Butter Jelly Fries, which they top with raspberry chipotle sauce and Thai satay sauce, and the poutine, fries they top with cheese curds and beef gravy.

We being San Diego guys, I enticed my crew with the promise of burritos at Santeria. What they didn’t know is that I would be leading them into sin.

A note to parents or any straight-laced traveler: the bathroom of Santeria is actually in Mary’s Club – Portland’s oldest gentleman’s club. One may have seen the location in the opening credits of Portlandia. So be aware. The girls do sometimes wear tassels.

After swinging by Santeria, we dropped by Voodoo Doughnuts. Aaron picked up a Bacon Maple Bar, which he said “tasted like breakfast in your mouth.” My favorite donut, though, has to be the Old Dirty Bastard. Oreos, peanut butter and chocolate. To use the words of the great poet himself: “because baby I like it raw.”

In a hazy stupor we walked back to the hotel in the Inner Southwest, where Aaron had a case of Rainier (or "northwest Coors," as I like to describe it).

We ended our night nowhere near finishing our challenge. But we still finished the night with no reservations. I went to bed with the world spinning. Adam was incoherent.

As for Aaron, I think he went to bed with a severe case of bloating. This town’s gastronomy had bested him.

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Quick edit, Green King is actually brewed in Bury St. Edmunds. Forgot to correct myself.

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