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Feast your eyes: the 12 tastes of Oregon

Feast your eyes: the 12 tastes of Oregon

Homer Simpson would be right at home at Voodoo Doughnuts in Portland

Oregon is known for its fragrant forests, jagged peaks, luscious cascades and all-round amazing natural beauty. But did you know it’s rapidly becoming a major player on the world foodie scene, too?

From flame-grilled fish to strawberry and balsamic black pepper ice cream; from food carts to farmers’ markets; chophouses to coffee shops; diners to distilleries; gorgeously smoked salmon to delectable gourmet cheeses, syrups and jams; from the hip, famously liberal major city of Portland and beyond – this northwesterly state is is a playground for food and drink lovers.

We recently traced Oregon’s stunning coastline on the foodie hunt, and here, we share some of the most illustrious gastronomy options the region has to offer. And remember: food is life!

1 The food carts

A staggering 600 food carts serve hungry Portlanders every day. If you can never decide what to eat, let a Food Carts Portland tour guide ease your pain as you’re shown around the buzzing SW 5th and Oak food cart ‘pod’.

You'll find a bit of everything on Portland's food cart scene.
You’ll find a bit of everything on Portland’s food cart scene. Photo: Jamie Francis/Travel Oregon

Our favorites were The Frying Scotsman for fish and chips – a salty, battered taste of the UK – and The Grilled Cheese Grill [below], for multiple slices of Americana and ‘a taste of your childhood.’

Are grilled cheese sandwiches the greatest invention in the history of mankind? Apart from pizza?
Are grilled cheese sandwiches the greatest invention in the history of mankind? Apart from pizza? Photo: Grilled Cheese Grill

2 The hipster desserts

The thick, glutinous, artisan ice cream at Portland’s Salt & Straw screams pretension – and it’s the best we’ve ever tasted. Oh, and there’s one in LA, too. Below, you’ll find a picture of the aforementioned strawberry, honey, balsamic vinegar and black pepper variety; be sure to try the almond brittle with salted chocolate ganache, too. Stop drooling.

The aforementioned strawberry, honey, balsamic vinegar and black pepper concoction. Amazing. Photo: Jamie Tabberer
Quite the concoction. Photo: Jamie Tabberer

For more sweet treats that are big on irony and even bigger on portions, head to Voodoo Doughnut, where ‘the magic is in the hole’. Quite. The Texas Challenge [below] involves eating a glazed ring the size of your head in under a minute. We passed on this as we were still full from the ice cream…

We have a feeling Homer Simpson might like Voodoo Doughnuts. Photo: Travel Portland
Voodoo Doughnuts: they’re a little on the small side. Photo: Travel Portland

3 The breweries

A great introduction to the state beyond Portland (population 609,456) is Thunder Island Brewing Co., found near the ‘city’ of Cascade Locks (population 1,148) and the stunning 611-foot tall Multnomah Falls. This super-cool brewery – casually perched on the bank of the stunning Columbia River Gorge, frequented by bearded boys in caps and lumberjack shirts – is indicative of many in the region. And its clear, crisp, handcrafted ales are amazing.

The brewery overlooks the scenic Columbia River Gorge. Photo: TIB
The brewery overlooks the scenic Columbia River. Photo: TIB

4 The mountaintop dining

The 3,429m tall Mount Hood is the undisputed daddy of Oregon attractions, and nestled among its heights is the cozy Resort at the Mountain – and within it, the sleek and glamorous Altitude restaurant. The menu is upscale but hearty with a lot of meat, veg and potato combos: we recommend the grilled pork chop with root vegetable hash and mashed potatoes infused with brown butter and sage.

The Resort at the Mountain is surrounded by natural beauty. Photo: Resort at the Mountain
The Resort at the Mountain is surrounded by natural beauty. Photo: Resort at the Mountain

On a quick tangent, another essential stop-off on the Mount is the iconic Timberline Lodge [below], a ski resort some 6,000 feet above sea level. You might recognize its exterior as that of The Overlook Hotel from Stanley Kubrick’s 1979 horror The Shining, based on the book by Stephen King. The Cascade Dining Room also has an unbeatable view.

Remember this hotel from the 1980 film The Shining? Photo: Brian Reed
Timberline Lodge or the Overlook Hotel – which do you see? Photo: Brian Reed

5 The wineries

The exquisite, family-owned Sokol Blosser Winery is worth a visit for the serene, Scandinavian-inspired design of its tasting room alone: it’s the centerpiece of this 100-acre estate. Built in 2012 and overseen by Allied Works Architecture, the flowing grain and warm hues of the wooden cladding is irresistible.

Sokol Blosser Winery's awesome tasting room. Photo: SBW
Sokol Blosser Winery’s awesome tasting room. Photo: Sokol Blosser Winery

The wine’s great too, utilizing Oregon’s mostly cool climate to great effect, producing refined, earthy grapes that work especially well in the Pinot Noir, where we detected the finest flashes of cherry, spice and tobacco. The vineyard, founded in 1970 and now on its second generations of ownership, is a great example of Oregon’s growing wine scene. We also loved the rich, golden white wines at the nearby Eyrie Vineyards in McMinnville. Portland’s Clay Pigeon Winery, and the SE Wine Collective are also worth checking out.

Oregon Pinot noir grapes ready for harvest
Oregon Pinot Noir grapes ready for harvest. Photo: Travel Oregon

7 The eccentric eateries

We found quite a few left-of-centre places to eat in McMinnville (population 33,131, an hour outside of Portland) such as the charming Serendipity Ice Cream parlor, which, er, comes complete with a self-playing piano in the corner.

Fine French dining at Bistro Maison. Photo: Bistro Maison/Facebook
Fine French dining at Bistro Maison. Photo: Bistro Maison/Facebook

Meanwhile the charismatic and classic Bistro Maison [above] is known for its dainty interior and low prices, plus its rich, intense flavors and refined fish and meats. The salmon, the antipasto, the fondue, Coq Au in and Confit de canard were all impressive. I’ll most remember it, however, for the extremely friendly husband-and-wife owners Jean-Jacques and Deborah Chatelard.

The former is the chef, the latter is the hostess and manager, and both tell such long, rambling, hilarious anecdotes in between courses, it’s a wonder any food gets served. But we loved them.

8 This epic taqueria – just look at the avocado!

Now for one of the best lunches of our trip: Tacovore, in the city of Eugene (population 159,190 – the second largest city in Oregon). It echoes the hip factor of Portland some 110 miles upstate, boasting a plethora of edgy eateries, and this Mexican bar and restaurant is top of the pile.

Tacos, glorious tacos! Photo: Tacovore/Instagram
Tacos, glorious tacos. Photo: Tacovore/Instagram

The ingredients are bold, colorful and gorgeously fresh, and the extensive cocktail list is lethal. It’s an informal joint that’s great for people-watching (or hipster-mocking) with fantastic daily happy hours and a crushingly photogenic staff-force.

9 The markets and food festivals

From organic veg to responsibly-farmed fish, Oregon has embraced ethical food in a big way for many years. Nowhere is this more apparent than at the bustling Portland Farmers Market, or the ever-popular Newport Seafood and Wine Festival, (which takes place from February 25-28 2016). The food scene brings communities together, while also granting small, independent suppliers the chance to show off their wares.

Eating organic is never easier than in Oregon. Photo: Travel Portland
Eating organic is never easier than in Oregon. Photo: Travel Portland

10 The veggie-friendly dining options

Diversity-friendly Portland is known for its array of vegetarian and vegan outlets, but what impressed us was how well the standard eateries cater for the herbivores among us. One such example is the wood-fired restaurant Ned Ludd.

Inventive and imaginative dishes on the menu include chilled potato and leek soup with toasted caraway yoghurt, eggs fried in breadcrumbs with creamed greens and spring vegetables and – wait for it – nettle pizza. For dessert I opted for roasted grapefruit with hazelnuts. The picture [below] says it all.

A photo posted by Jamie Tabberer (@jamietabberer) on

11 The meat

So long as it’s free-range, huh? The best meat we ate during our Oregon odyssey was in Portland, at the Argentine-inspired, fittingly-named Ox (it serves exactly what it says on the tin, and then some). Try the maple-brined pork chop or the flanken-style beef short rib, while surrounded by the warmth of the grills and the intoxicating scents.

A photo posted by Ox Restaurant (@oxpdx) on

12 This whiskey ‘library’

Now we’re nearing the end of this article, how about a nightcap? If yes, you’re going to want to head to Portland’s Multnomah Whiskey Library.

Multnomah Whiskey Library is from a bygone era. Photo: MWL
Multnomah Whiskey Library is from a bygone era. Photo: Multnomah Whiskey Library

A half-lit, wood-paneled lounge with super high ceilings, this old-fashioned bar features shelf upon shelf of spirits, local and international. Many of which the cute, dapper cocktail waiters must scramble up rolling ladders to reach.

Every member of our pan-European drinking party, from Swedish to Dutch to British to German, found something that took their fancy. And you know what? That just about sums this amazing state up.

Gay Star News flew from Amsterdam to Oregon with Delta Air Lines, and from London to Amsterdam with KLM. With thanks to Travel Oregon, Travel Portland and First Nature Tours.; Tel: 0800 246 1241.

For a free Oregon guide and map email: [email protected] or call: 01326 250213.