I often tell people that one of my favorite things about Seattle is being so close to Portland. Don’t get me wrong; I love Seattle and that is why I live here. But, the Portland beer and food scene has a lot going on as well. There aren’t many cities in the world as close together as Seattle & Portland that have the level of craft beer and food that we have here in the PNW. To sum it up, we are pretty damn lucky up here in our secluded corner of the country.
I’m not sure how many times I’ve been to Portland since moving to Seattle almost 8 years ago, but at least once a year, and sometimes twice, is a good guess. At this point, I’ve hit a good chunk of the main craft beer spots. When I go down these days, I focus on hitting the spots I haven’t, while visiting lots of my “old” favorites.
Exploring the food in Portland is just as fun as exploring the beer. With so many great restaurants, the country’s best food carts, and a wide range of culinary styles, I’ve barely even broken the surface of the food this town has to offer. Just the other day I was reading a piece on Eater asking food writers what they thought were the “Best & Most Overrated Dining Cities of 2012”. Seattle got plenty of props, but Portland showed up in the “Overrated” category a few times, with one contributer saying “Portland, totally played.” I don’t have much of an opinion on whether or not the Portland food scene is overrated in the eyes of food writers; all I know is that there are tons of great restaurants down here, and every visit brings something new.
I had some time off to use before the end of the year, so I hopped on the new Bolt Bus ($38 round-trip, with wi-fi, plugs, and comfortable seating) down to Portland yesterday and will be here for 3 days. When visiting with my wife or friends, I typically stay at whichever downtown hotel we can get a good deal at. But, it seems like I always spend the majority time in SE Portland, so this time I grabbed a cheap ($50/night) private room at the Hawthorne Hostel, right in the middle of SE PDX. It ain’t fancy, but it works just fine for the price and you can’t beat the location. It is walking distance to many places and an easy bus ride to others and downtown.
Day #1 kicked off with a quick lunch at the famous Pok Pok (10 minute walk from the hostel), where I enjoyed some crab fried rice and a Double Mountain IRA as my first beer of the trip. As I was by myself, I was a bit sad not to have a bunch of plates to share between friends like we have on past visits. But, the fried rice was good, especially with the addition of some of their house-pickled habenero peppers and some fish sauce soaked Thai peppers (holy freaking spiciness). Then, I wanted to check out the Hawthorne Hophouse for the first time. Located in a small strip mall off of 41st & Hawthorne, the Hophouse has 24 taps with a focus on NW craft beer. The lineup was solid, with a few things that I was interested to try in my six beer taster flight. My favorite of the bunch was a Belgian IPA from the fantastic Boneyard Brewing of Bend, OR. But, the atmosphere of the place is a bit stale, and I can’t recommend going out of your way to check this place out if just visiting PDX. If I lived in the neighborhood, I’m sure I’d end up here occasionally, but there are better options in the general area.
After an afternoon nap, one of the benefits of travelling by yourself, I hopped on the 75 bus not far from the hostel and ended up almost at the door of Breakside Brewery about 45 minutes later. I visited Breakside back in the summer of 2011 and was impressed with the fact that they had four beers on tap that were 4% ABV or less. Everything was solid on that first visit, but this time I was even more impressed. Aside from their very solid regulars, a pale ale, IPA and dry stout, they had several special releases and seasonals on tap. Their Bourbon Barrel-aged Maple Oat Stout and their Imperial Stout were very good, but their Postmodern Lambic was the gem of the flight. It was tart, slightly funky and really enjoyable. The best news from my visit? Breakside is in the process of expanding to a new 30bbl production brewery, and we should be seeing their beer in Seattle sooner rather than later. They are already in talks with a distributor. No idea what we will see from them exactly, but I’ll be excited to have them around regardless.
After having the guy sitting next to me at Breakside tell me I was an idiot for doing it, I was out the door for a mile and a half walk to Saraveza in the pouring rain. It was not a pleasant walk. But, it was actually quicker than waiting for the bus connections. And, the 2 pints of Russian River Blind Pig I had upon arriving tasted that much better after I got there. Saraveza is a great little spot with around 10 taps of well-selected draft beer and a whole bunch of bottles that you can buy for consumption on site or to take away. The only downside of the place? It’s a Green Bay Packers bar. I can look past that, though…;-)
Next I hopped on the #4 bus for a bit to get to my dinner destination, Tasty n Sons. Well-known for their breakfast/brunch, I realized it was an easy bus ride from where I was and opted to check them out for dinner. Good move. Any place whose motto is “Put an egg on it” is okay in my book. I started off with the Nueve Cocktail at my server’s suggestion, which was a nice mix of octopus, prawns, and cocktail sauce served with grilled flat bread. For my main, the pork cutlet with spaetzle and a sunny side up egg was freaking awesome. I love German food, and this take on a traditional dish was amazing. As I said, it had an egg on it, which makes me very happy. As it goes with pretty much all Portland restaurants, they had a couple solid beers on tap. I enjoyed a Double Mountain Hop Lava with the meal.
As I hopped back on another #4 bus headed toward downtown and ultimately my hostel for the night, I thought I was done for. But, it was only 9pm and the bus just happened to be going right by Apex, one of my favorite Portland beer bars. I stopped in for a night cap of a Two Smoke – Whiskey Malt from Barley Browns, which I really enjoyed. If you’ve never been, Apex has an amazing selection (50 beers on tap) and a patio that is second-to-none, but even the indoor atmosphere in the winter is pretty great. They have definitely become one of my favorite stops in Portland, and I’ll probably even be back for a second time sometime this week.
That was plenty of drinking and eating for me on my first day in town, so I was back for an “early” bed time at 10:30pm. The idea of having a couple more beers at Apex was enticing, but I figured I’d go to bed at a decent time and “live to drink another day”.