Mention sketch comedy show Portlandia to any native Portlander and you will likely be met with an eye roll or a groan. The very show that put the city on the North American map is now something more like the bane of its existence. That is not to say Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen’s parodic take on city life is bad, or offensive—it communicates a comedic, though certainly melodramatic, look at modern day “hipster” culture. But there is more to this city than humorously long brunch lines, sensitive feminist book stores, and loud bike messengers. There was a time when birds weren’t put on everything.
A Portland itinerary can quite easily end up looking like a checklist of craft breweries, and certainly there are many worth mentioning—Deschutes, Cascade, Burnside, et al. At the same time, though, the city exists in many forms beyond the hops. The historic Sentinel hotel provides a luxurious downtown home base, and from there it is simply a choice of what to eat, and when. The java and pastries from Heart Coffee Roasters provide a perfect wake-up, with green beans sourced from Africa, Central America, and South America. Brunch is a rite of passage, certainly, and the Bim Bop Bacon & Eggs from Tasty n Alder is a great introduction. Alternatively, humble, home-style breakfast must be had at Pine State Biscuits; there will be a line, but the fried chicken sandwich with apple butter will make it all better. In the King neighbourhood, a casual and flavourful dinner can be had at the cozy Ned Ludd—with a daily changing menu focused on the seasonal bounty of Oregon, it is hard to order wrong. Delightful meals abound at Old Salt Marketplace, a butchery-restaurant fusion that features a delectable fresh case and even hosts meat curing, butchery, and sourdough baking classes. Start with the beer tartare, and, if staying past dinner time, end with the burger from the late night menu. Inviting sister tavern Grain and Gristle also provides fine local fare, with an emphasis on farm-to-table. Sit at the bar, and be ready to talk Vancouver real estate with the friendly and knowledgeable staff.
The list could grow with every bite, but venturing outside of Portland proper is worth its own distinction. In Tualatin Valley, Big Bottom Distilling and Tualatin Valley Distilling share a warehouse for their craft spirits. “We know that Oregon has its own flavour profile, and we want to build on that,” says Tualatin Valley Distilling co-founder Jason O’Donnell. Try Big Bottom’s starka vodka—aged in Zinfandel casks for 12 months, it won’t, quite impressively, actually taste like vodka. Soak up the liquor with fish tacos, served on fresh handmade tortillas, at nearby Amelia’s.
The hideaway town of Lake Oswego has plenty to offer as well, including Kyra’s Bake Shop—a gluten-free bakery that has won the Food Network’s Cupcake Wars three times. If weather permits, a tour of Lake Oswego’s Gallery Without Walls is in order. The city-run, rotating public art program features the work of local and international sculptors dotting the city’s core. “We are really proud of the program,” says Nancy Nye, executive director of the Arts Council of Lake Oswego. And what would a vacation be without wine? At Sherwood’s Beckham Estate Vineyards, co-owner and winemaker Andrew Beckham will eagerly tour visitors around the vineyard he cut himself and planted with his wife Annedria and grandfather Dow. The professional ceramicist experiments with amphora wines, personally sculpting the pots that the wine ages in by hand, in the studio he built for himself. Lucky patrons may even be able to purchase a freshly-fired art piece (and a bottle of red, of course) right on the spot.
Back in Portland, local artisans can be celebrated at shared workspace ADX. Showcasing the city’s craftsmen alongside beginners, it acts as a reminder that Portland became popular not just for its themed television show, but for its community of people who spend their days working with their hands, forming something greater. That, and the food trucks.