Monday, April 02, 2007

Spice Route

Who knew it was right here in PDX, and on 82nd Avenue, no less? I'm talking about a famous spice purveyor from Madison, Wisconsin, called Penzeys Spice that I only just heard about the other day from my pal Mary, who has a friend who...well, you get the idea. Why Penzeys chose a godforsaken location near Clackamas Town Center is anybody's guess, since I don't think many people out 82nd way use much aleppo pepper or white cardamom, but maybe I'm just out of touch with the culinary mecca that East County has become.

All snarkiness aside, this really is a find. Located in a brick strip mall with the likes of TJ Maxx and Smoothie World, it's a direct descendant of the bulk-spice explosion of the 70s and has dovetailed nicely with the food world's interest in directly imported, single source fresh spices. The inside of the store is very plain and almost generic looking, with crates and wood paneling being the basic design scheme. No big color posters or fancy graphics here. They're all about the spices that are stacked on every surface and filling every shelf, and at remarkably reasonable prices.

Each spice comes in several package sizes, from small 1.5 oz jars to large plastic pouches, depending on your needs. Each one also has a sample jar where you can inhale its aroma and determine whether you prefer Chinese cassia cinnamon, extra-fancy Vietnamese cassia cinnamon, Korintje cassia cinnamon or Ceylon cinnamon (ground or softstick). There are informational stickers on the sample jars explaining the history and use of each spice, and recipe cards are scattered around the room with helpful suggestions about what to do with your 8-oz. bag of Albanian savory leaves.

They also have plenty of seasoning mixes, some interesting (like zahtar, a mix of sumac, thyme, sesame and salt) and some not ("Tsar Dust Memories Russian Style Seasoning"), as well as salad dressings, spice rubs and soup bases. You probably won't find me buying their regular bulk spices, since I can pick those up at my local New Seasons, but when I run across a recipe that calls for charnuska, the black, smoky seeds found on Jewish rye bread, or mahlab, the pit of the sour cherry, you can bet I'll be heading out 82nd Ave.

Details: Penzeys Spice, 11322 SE 82nd Ave. Phone 503-653-7779.


Kai said...

I adore Penzy's. I work a few blocks away and took some time during my lunch break to go smell everything. It's nice to have access to some hard to find spices and herbs. Plus their herb mixes rock!

Kathleen Bauer said...

Seems like lots of people know about it, but somehow I'd missed it all this time! I was knocked out by their selection and the freshness of the spices. I didn't mention the whole dried peppers (ancho, cascabel, etc.), but those are some of the freshest I've seen in town.