Friday, March 25, 2016

Showing Off My Take on Portland's Food Scene

Where would you take a well-known food writer who asked you to show her your favorite Portland haunts? That happened to me last week when Leslie Kelly, Seattle food and wine writer and staff writer for the Dish section of, asked if I'd be interested in meeting up and showing her a few of my go-to spots.

She made it easy when she asked to start a few blocks from our house at Muscadine, the tiny outpost of genuine Southern American cooking owned by chef Laura Rhoman. During our sumptuous order of fried chicken, sea island red peas, collard greens, biscuits, oxtail ragu, cheesy grits and eggs arrived—did I mention we're both passionate eaters?—she did a short video of the meal while we plotted a few stops in the 'hood.

Since, like me, Leslie's a committed carnivore, I wanted her to meet my favorite vegan-turned-whole animal-butcher Ben Meyer (left). Handily for us he was right next door at Grain & Gristle for the day, so we marched in and promptly ordered G&G's signature and justly lauded burger along with a tap cocktail, a house-made hibiscus gin fizz that was an ideal counterpoint to the richness of the juicy pasture-raised beef in the burger.

Leslie managed to moan over the burger while at the same time talking cuts of beef with Ben. With second lunch literally under our belts, we drove up the street to tour the newly burgeoning businesses on 42nd Avenue. We stopped in so I could buy a chuck roast from Old Salt Marketplace's butcher case (right), and as it was being wrapped I gave Leslie a tour of the meat aging gracefully in the walk-in, then showed off the dry goods and value-added pickles and preserves that Ben has begun producing out of the space.

Across the street was Tommy Habetz's new Pizza Jerk, so we popped in for a slice of cheese pizza (left). (If you're keeping count we're now at third lunch…) Part of my not-so-hidden agenda was to drag my guest away from restaurants and shift the conversation to ingredients. Knowing that the Cully neighborhood is home to two urban farms, we drove a few blocks down NE 42nd to Simpson Street Farm, Rex Rolle's nearly 1-acre plot that supplies vegetables to farmers' markets and local restaurants.

A little further up the street is The Side Yard Farm (top photo), one of the small-acreage urban plots that is also a farm-to-plate catering service and supper club, the brainchild of chef and farmer Stacey Givens. As we stood surveying the orderly planted beds, Stacey herself emerged from one of the outbuildings and gave us the background on the project, along with farm schwag of mugs and a shopping bag. Do I need to mention that Leslie was totally impressed with the scale and ambitiousness of our urban agriculture scene as embodied by these two places?

My guest was needing to get back for her next appointment, but I prevailed upon her to make one more stop at Providore Fine Foods (right) the new location for the patres familias of the city's provisioners, Peter de Garmo and Don Oman, who opened their legendary Pastaworks shop on Hawthorne 25 years ago. This new incarnation is now owned by de Garmo's son Kevin and his wife, Kaie Wellman, who converted (in an oh-so-Portland move) a former car dealership on what is a still-developing stretch of lower Sandy Boulevard.

After chatting about kalettes and sea beans with Ken Fisher, wet rack wunderkind and body man to Rubinette Produce owner Josh Alsberg, exchanging fish stories with Flying Fish's Lyf Gildersleeve, then oohing and aahing over the fresh-baked focaccia, cheese-and-charcuterie counter and pasta display, I almost had Leslie packed in the car when she saw the Pie Spot (left). Part of the Ocean micro-restaurant hub that backs up to Providore, she had to run in and grab a few samples of the mini-pies on display and try to recruit them to open a branch in Seattle.

I'm guessing that means she was happy with our three-hour tour.

Read more about Providore Fine Foods and its purveyors.

All photos by Leslie Kelly.

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