Give your taste buds a tour of Portland
It's 10:45 on a Saturday morning, about the time most sane tourists are relaxing over a late breakfast. But not the 10 of us who are following...
Seattle Times travel writer
PORTLAND — It's 10:45 on a Saturday morning, about the time most sane tourists are relaxing over a late breakfast.
But not the 10 of us who are following David Schargel, founder of Portland Walking Tours, on one of his "Epicurean Excursions" through the streets of downtown.
Just 45 minutes into the tour and we've already sipped tomato-orange soup and sampled a dairy and wheat-free energy bar made by a local chef.
Now as we wait for a streetcar to take us to the restaurant- and cafe-filled Pearl District, Schargel announces it's time for a beer.
Ten minutes and eight trolley stops later, we enter through the back door at BridgePort Brewery, Portland's oldest craft brewery, and meet cellar master Todd Fleming.
He passes out plastic cups filled with samples of India Pale Ale, and explains the difference between ale yeast and lager yeast.
"Beer is food," someone jokes, looking at her watch. "We've got to remember that."
Walking through Portland
Portland Walking Tours' Epicurean Excursion ($59 per person) runs 10 a.m.-1 p.m. or 1:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through Nov. 25. Call 503-774-4522 or see www.portlandwalkingtours.com. Reservations recommended; maximum 15 people. Walking distance is about 1.5 miles.
The company offers two other regularly scheduled walking tours, Best of Portland, at 10 a.m. daily April-November and Underground Portland, at 2 p.m. daily Both are $15.
Getting around on public transportation is easy. Consult Portland's transit system, TriMet, at www.trimet.org, for information on buses, the Portland Streetcar and Max Light Rail. Rides are free in the downtown area.
Amtrak makes five daily round-trips between Seattle and Portland. Call 800-872-7245 or see www.amtrak.com. The trip takes about three and a half hours. Tip: Cascades runs are more reliable than the Coast Starlight Express which comes from Los Angeles and is often delayed on the northbound run.
Other culinary tours
• In Vancouver, B.C., Edible British Columbia offers culinary walking tours through the Granville Island Market, Chinatown, the Commercial Drive area ($48.50 U.S.) and the Richmond Asian Night Market ($35 U.S.). Phone 604-662-3606 or see www.edible-britishcolumbia.com.
• Seattle's Pike Place Market Foundation holds winter and summer chef's tours. Included is a walk through the market with a local chef, a wine-tasting, a stop at a chocolate shop, then a cooking demonstration and lunch at the chef's restaurant. Cost is $70 per person. The next tours will be in February and March. Call 206-774-5249 or see www.pikeplacemarket.org.
More midmorning culinary marathon than leisurely walk, Schargel's tour is aimed at exposing visitors to Portland's lively and eco-friendly food scene.
"A food tour was just a natural for Portland," said Schargel, 42. He started Portland Walking Tours five years ago, with a focus on historical walks, and added the culinary tours last year. "There's such an abundance of fresh, whole, organic food here. It's a fairly large novelty to people who are not from the Northwest."
Schargel is a former New Yorker who left a career in high-tech and moved to Portland 10 years ago. Dressed in baggy khakis and pepper beard, he looks like someone whose idea of a culinary treat might be pastrami on rye, but he's passionate about Portland's organic farmers, artisan food producers and save-the-environment culture.
The Epicurean Excursions are built around a theme he calls FLOSS — Fresh, local, organic, seasonable and sustainable.
With the exception of one or two items — tea from China and coffee from Italy — everything sampled on the tours is made locally with local ingredients.
"There's so much that's going to happen with your senses today," he promised the group I joined on a recent Saturday morning.
Our goal: to sample 30 local food and drink items in three and a half hours.
Soup first, dessert later
Our first stop was a deli called the Flying Elephant, where we sipped the tomato-orange soup from plastic cups. I think most of us would have liked to have started with coffee, but Schargel said it was important to get a little food in our stomachs. The brewery was our next stop.
Founded in 1984 by a local winemaker, BridgePort brews its beer inside a restored former hemp-rope factory built in 1888.
Portland's changing hotel scene
Budget travelers no longer have the Hotel Mallory, but for those with deeper pockets, its reincarnation as Hotel deLuxe means another boutique hotel choice downtown. The Hotel deLuxe at 729 S.W. 15th Ave. is a sister hotel to the Hotel Lucia in Portland and the Hotel Max (the former Vance) in Seattle. Rates range from $139-$199. Call 866-895-2094 or see www.hoteldeluxeportland.com.
Helping to fill the niche for budget travelers or families is The Mark Spencer at Southwest 11th and Stark, on the edge of the Pearl District, one block from Powell's City of Books. This is a 1907 building that once housed apartment units. Each room or suite has a kitchenette. Rates include a continental breakfast, a copy of The New York Times and afternoon tea and cookies. Call 800-548-3934 or see www.markspencer.com. Rates range from $89-$169 per night.
Coming soon: The Ace Hotel opens Oct. 1 at another corner of Southwest 11th and Stark, in the former Clyde Hotel. The 79-room hotel is a sister property to the 28-room Ace Hotel in Seattle's Belltown. Rates will range from $85-$195.
— Carol Pucci
Fleming invited us to chew on a few grains of roasted barley and took us into a chilly room where the brewery stores fresh hops in burlap sacks. We rubbed a few in our hands like crushed flowers and picked up the citrusy, floral scent of the IPA.
"We approach beer like artists," he said. "Everything is done by hand."
It was 11:30 a.m. by the time we left and headed to our next stop. Schargel opened a cooler he'd been pulling behind him like a suitcase on wheels.
He produced plastic bottles of Oregon Rain, water harvested from the sky on aluminum sheets by a company in Newberg, Ore., and told us a bit about the history of the Pearl District.
Known for years as the Northwest Industrial Triangle, the neighborhood was a 60-block no-man's land of warehouses and factories.
About 15 years ago, it began attracting artists looking for cheap loft space. Today's it's a thriving, upscale urban community filled with high-priced condos, art galleries, chic restaurants and fancy boutiques housed in a mix of new glass and steel towers and renovated, low-rise 1800s-era brick buildings.
He calls the Pearl, with 45,000 residents and 2,500 new living units under construction, "a poster child for urban planning."
One of the most popular businesses is the European-style Pearl Bakery, opened in 1997, a block from Powell's City of Books. Schargel marched us past the cyclists having coffee at the sidewalk tables and led us to the back, where a baker was hand-dipping macaroons into a bowl of chocolate.
Lined up on a counter were six plates of goodies. Someone started to grab a croissant, but Schargel urged us "to build up to the flavors, like wine," starting with the lightest — a French baguette — and working up to the heaviest, a dense, dry chocolate muffin called a bouchon. Everyone's favorite was the Gibassier, an airy French pastry flavored with anise and orange-flower water.
Next came samples of gourmet mustards and Oregon pinot noir at a combination kitchen shop, wine store and cooking school called In Good Taste. Then we moved on to more of what Schargel calls Portland's "liquid assets."
Epicurean Excursion pros and cons
PRO: This tour is a great way to get familiar with the Pearl District and Portland's free downtown streetcar line.
CON: No gourmet restaurants or farmers markets are included, notable omissions given the number of places to eat in the Pearl and the Saturday morning market at Portland State University.
PRO: Group sizes are limited to 15 so there's no waiting in line or crowding.
CON: The guided commentary is lively, but it would be nice to hear first-hand from more of the business owners.
PRO: The tour is well-organized. Guides carry microphones and are easy to hear. We visited seven places. Everything was set up and ready for us when we arrived (though the walk felt rushed at times).
Besides wine, beer and coffee, the city is known for tea. Oregon Chai, Stash Tea and Tazo Tea are all homegrown, and at least a half-dozen cafes around town specialize in exotic Asian blends. One is the Tea Zone, opened seven years ago in the Pearl District by husband-and-wife team Jhanne Jasmine and Grant Cull.
The weather was nice so we gathered at one of the sidewalk tables. Schargel passed out lemon cookies (acid to clear the palate from the mustard), and poured cups of a fragrant jasmine pearl, smoky oolong and a sweet black tea flavored with lychee fruit.
I was beginning to see that there was logical order to the foods we were sampling.
First came soup, then beer, then dessert. Now after mustard, wine and tea, it was time for pizza. We walked a few blocks to the Ecotrust building, a former truck depot built in 1895 and reconstructed seven years ago using mostly reclaimed or recycled materials.
All the tenants are eco-friendly businesses. Hot Lips Pizza, for instance, uses its pizza oven to provide the building with hot water. The owners source all their ingredients from local farms and press their homemade fruit sodas from locally grown berries.
We washed down slices of a pesto-cilantro pie with cups of fresh strawberry soda.
"We're running about 20 minutes behind," Schargel announced. "Everybody ready?"
We really weren't. It would have been nice to linger longer and hear more about Hot Lips, but it was nearly 1:30 p.m.
Five more tastes to go, and we still hadn't had coffee. I knew we wouldn't be stopping at Starbucks. Portland is proud of its own homegrown chain, Coffee People, and its many independent cafes.
Our final destination was a Tuscan-inspired dessert shop called Via Delizia, Italian for "Street of Delights." The coffee here was Illy, imported from Italy by the owners, Portlanders Karen and Chris Lawless.
We grabbed seats next to a faux olive tree and sampled three of the cafe's 24 flavors of gelato — hazelnut, tiramisu and lemon-blackberry.
Then, nearly four hours after we started, we crossed the finish line with our final taste, coin-sized brandied chocolate truffles.
We hadn't eaten large amounts, yet after the parade of small bites, beer, wine, tea and coffee, no one left hungry. Except for Schargel. He hadn't eaten anything.
So where was he going for lunch?
"Honkin' Huge Burritos," he said without thinking. "You can get this huge burrito for under $5."
They're sold from a booth on Pioneer Courthouse Square near the tourist office where the walking tours start. Check it out.
Carol Pucci: 206-464-3701 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company
NEW - 7:51 PM
Special interest? There is a camp for that
Sam and Sara Lucchese create handmade pasta out of their kitchen-garage adjacent to their Ballard home. Here, they illustrate the final steps in making pappardelle pasta.