Edgar Farms’ 2014 Asparagus Festival

Mack and I have had intentions to visit the Asparagus Festival at Edgar Farms for several years, but summer weekends are always too easily filled. This year, we made sure to book it in our calendar well in advance, and finally made it out there on June 15, the last day of their 2014 festival.

Edgar Farms' Asparagus Festival

Asparagus Festival

Edgar Farms is located in Innisfail, about two hours south of Edmonton. They offer rhubarb, peas and grass-fed beef, but what they are known for is their tender, sweet asparagus. With 28 acres, they have the largest asparagus patch in Alberta.

The $5 (per adult) admission granted us access to explore the farm, take part in tours and sample asparagus-centric dishes. We started with the latter first – if not just to warm ourselves up! It wasn’t the warmest of days, with clouds threatening rain all afternoon, so creamy asparagus soup hit just the right notes. The southwestern beef on a bun was fine (especially with pickled asparagus as a condiment), but what really surprised us was the asparagus dip – the Edgar Farms version of guacamole, substituting asparagus for avocado. It would be a great use for those bags of asparagus “seconds”!

Edgar Farms' Asparagus Festival

Asparagus for lunch

Satiated, we ended up first on a self-guided tour of the farm, then joined up on a tractor-pulled group tour. The self-guided tour was marked by informative posters along the way (some cheeky in nature), and given we were the only ones exploring on foot at the time, granted us some time and space to take in the farm at our own pace.

Edgar Farms' Asparagus Festival

Walking tour markers

Edgar Farms' Asparagus Festival

Mack on the farm

This was our first time seeing asparagus plants, and both of us were surprised at how patchy they appeared to be sown, with the scraggly spears of each crown shooting up at intermittent levels (Mack commented that he expected to see a field flush with asparagus, not unlike a wheat field). We learned later that the asparagus are harvested daily, and given the spears can grow up to ten inches a day, the patchwork effect made sense.

Edgar Farms' Asparagus Festival

Asparagus up close

We also got to see firsthand how sandy the soil was. Because asparagus prefer warmer conditions, the sandy soil is perfect to capture and retain heat, as well as offering better drainage. It now made more sense as to why the Edgar Farms staff at the farmers’ market were always strongly recommending thorough cleaning of asparagus prior to consumption.

Edgar Farms' Asparagus Festival

Taking a closer look

On our walk, we saw some asparagus pickers at work, riding a foot-controlled “asparagus buggy” built by the patriarch of the farm, Doug Edgar. The vehicle enables three farm workers to cover a lot more ground, as all of the asparagus is hand-picked.

Edgar Farms' Asparagus Festival

Say “asparagus”! (the staff were nice enough to pose for the photo)

Later, on the group tour, we were told that the plants take five years to mature to the point where they can be harvested for six straight weeks. And when asked how long the perennial would continue to give asparagus, our guide cited neighbouring plants that were still healthy at over one hundred years old.

Edgar Farms' Asparagus Festival

On the tour

At the end of June each year, the asparagus are left alone, and allowed to go to fern. We were told this allows the plants to rejuvenate for the following year.

Back at the barn, we watched staff weigh and bundle asparagus, before placing it in a cold water bath to help the vegetable retain its natural sweetness.

Edgar Farms' Asparagus Festival

Bundling asparagus

The farm’s commercial kitchen was located on the same facility, which allows the farm to value-add to their products and extend income past the short growing season. We picked up a handful of their frozen rhubarb and berry pies to take home (not sold at their stand in Edmonton, but can be found at the Edgar Farms/Innisfail Growers Calgary Farmers’ Market booth). The pies didn’t last two weeks in my freezer, as they were promptly devoured by my pie-loving family.

Edgar Farms' Asparagus Festival

Some of the Edgar Farms bounty

The farm also offered numerous attractions for kids – lots of friendly animals, a play area, and even an asparagus mascot!

Edgar Farms' Asparagus Festival

Goats

Edgar Farms' Asparagus Festival

Okay, so we’re not kids, but who could resist Gussy?

The Asparagus Festival was a fun day trip, and a great way to spend a summer afternoon. I’d recommend it to anyone interested in learning more about local food – watch for dates in June 2015.

Toronto 2013

I’m perpetually playing catch-up with my travel posts, and though this is essentially a year late, I thought it best if I at least got past my 2013 Toronto write-up before we leave for another visit there this weekend. Last spring, I was lucky enough to be able to visit Amanda there twice – once in April for a girls trip with my Mum, and the second in June while attending a conference.

I know one of the reasons why I’ve grown to like Toronto is because it is my sister’s adopted home, and I’ve been able to see it through her eyes. But it’s also hard not to love a city with so many possibilities borne out of density, diversity and history.

Airbnb

I’ve only had positive experiences with Airbnb, and have now used the site to book accommodation in Calgary, Toronto and New York. Particularly in the latter two cities, where taxation levels are quite high, I find the Airbnb rates much more reasonable than hotel prices.

While in Toronto with my Mum, we booked a 1 bedroom + 1 den for the three of us, in a condo just off King and Spadina. It was a great location with its proximity to the subway, streetcar, and Chinatown; so much so that Mack and I will be staying there.

AirBnB

Oxley condo

For the conference, I was able to find a cheaper 1 bedroom, much roomier than Amanda and I needed. This unit was notable for having a number of solid independent take-out restaurants just down the street. We felt like residents of the neighbourhood instead of tourists.

AirBnB

King Street condo

Festivals

Amanda and I ended up at the first Dundas West Festival in June, where a section of the road was closed off for a variety of activities.

Dundas West Festival

Dundas West

Dundas West Festival

Feet on the street

It was a rather long stretch, with sporadic concentrations of extended patios, sidewalk sales and food vendors. It’s taking place again in 2014; I am assuming it will continue to grow!

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Pulled pork sandwich from La Rivolta

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Talk about a makeshift change room

The festival we were both looking forward to was Woofstock! We both love dogs, though our family has never had one for a variety of reasons.

Woofstock

Dogs everywhere!

Proud dog owners came out in droves for the event, offering information, pet-friendly vendors, and of course, a dog agility showcase.

Woofstock

Amanda with an adorable doxie

Odds and Ends

I had heard about Honest Ed’s but couldn’t really tell you about what it actually was. So we went to find out.

Honest Ed's

Honest Ed’s

It turns out it is a discount store, on par with Army & Navy. It really isn’t worth seeking out, though after seeing photos of The Stop’s Night Market just outside of the building, it turns out Honest Ed’s may have a good use after all.

Honest Ed's

Amanda’s excited about pants

I had seen Riverdale Farm on Top Chef Canada, and wanted to see how an “urban farm” in the city would look like. Located in Cabbagetown just across the street from an elementary school, the farm is operated by the City of Toronto and is used primarily as a teaching facility. It is open to the public, and does play host to functions as well.

Riverdale Farm

Amanda’s excited about pigs

Riverdale Farm

Goats

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So cute

Livestock are definitely the focus of the farm; I can see how it would be a hit with younger children.

I also had the opportunity to hear Michael Pollan speak. He was preaching to the choir, but I did still appreciate his message, and giggled like a fangirl when I had the chance to meet him, too!

Michael Pollan

With Michael Pollan

Breakfasts

Caplansky’s was great, offering huge portions and friendly service – we even saw the owner, Zane, bussing tables during our visit!

Caplansky's

Caplansky’s

Their Montreal smoked meat was wonderful, in either hash or sandwich form. I also loved the option of substituting challah for regular bread.

Caplansky's

Montreal smoked meat hash

Caplansky's

Montreal smoked meat sandwich

Caplansky's

Omelette

Uncle Betty’s was a You’ve Gotta Eat Here! discovery, intriguing because of their use of house-made doughnuts in place of bread or biscuits in their breakfast sandwiches. It was a novel concept, and even though the doughnuts themselves weren’t greasy, I found they didn’t have enough heft to form a savoury sandwich. My Mum’s eggs benedict was a bit better.

Uncle Betty's

Sparse breakfast sandwich plate

Uncle Betty's

Eggs benedict

On the bright side, the small serving allowed us to indulge in dessert (yes, in the morning) – a doughnut ice cream sandwich. This is definitely something I’d recommend.

Uncle Betty's

Doughnut ice cream sandwich

On the other end of the spectrum, Janice and Bennett took me to the nearly empty Hoof Café for an offal brunch (given the line-up across the street at Saving Grace, a more mainstream brunch restaurant, I’d have to say Torontonians probably weren’t as adventurous as I thought).

My tongue benny was overwhelmingly sour, though the meat had been rendered tender, and to a consistency that reminded me of corned beef. Bennett’s breakfast cassoulet with pork belly was the best dish that day, with a great depth of flavour.

The Black Hoof

Tongue benny

The Black Hoof

Blood sausage McMuffin

The Black Hoof

Breakfast cassoulet

My favourite brunch ended up being at Beast.

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I loved that they provided a timer with the French press

The Beastwich was an epic fried chicken thigh biscuit sandwich slathered in sausage gravy and pimento cheese. Each component was perfectly executed – there was no weak links in the sandwich.

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Beastwich

Suppers

My Mum couldn’t stop talking about the Korean pork bone soup she had been craving, so our stop that first evening was to the Owl of Minerva.

Owl of Minerva

Pork bone soup

It was delicious. The broth had a kick from the kimchi, while the meat itself was full of flavour.

Owl of Minerva

My Mum is satisfied!

The next night, we decided to try out Daisho, David Chang’s mid-priced Toronto restaurant. The space is absolutely gorgeous, a stunning glass-lined dining room that floats over University Avenue. The laid-back vibe from the main floor Noodle Bar continued in this restaurant, with the servers clothed in t-shirts and sneakers. This was in stark contrast to the table next to us, dressed to the nines in Chanel and Prada.

The experience as a whole was mixed. Service waivered, particularly at the start when no explanation of the menu was provided until about ten minutes after seating. The food was inconsistent; the hangar steak lettuce wraps were excellent, made up of succulent, perfectly medium rare meat. The monkfish, on the other hand, was such a small portion that when it arrived my Mum literally laughed out loud. To boot, it was undercooked.

Daisho

Hangar steak

Daisho

Monkfish

We shared the famous “crack pie” for dessert, and it actually lived up to expectations, tasting like an intense butter tart. It was sweet, but not cloyingly so.

Daisho

Crack pie

Playa Cabana Cantina was one of the hottest new taquerias at the time, having just opened up in the Junction. I have no idea what it replaced, but I can only describe it as a dive. In spite of being “new”, it had such a lived-in look I swear I saw a cascade of dust fly when a sign was shifted.

Playa Cabana

Playa Cabana

But no matter, this place was packed. And though noise doesn’t usually bother me in restaurants, it did here – halfway through our meal, they dimmed the lights and jacked up the music – so much so that it felt like we were eating in the middle of a dance club.

The food was pretty good though. My favourite were the braised short rib tacos, so tender, with added texture from the crispy shells. Amanda loved the fish tacos, while my Mum really enjoyed the spicy tacos al pastor with fruit-finished Berkshire pork.

Playa Cabana

Braised short rib tacos

Playa Cabana

Fish tacos

Playa Cabana

Tacos al pastor

Even on a Monday night, the wait for the popular izakaya Guu was forty minutes. Service wasn’t great compared with our last visit, but the food made up for the neglect for the most part.

Guu

Cheers!

A favourite was the meguro tataki, seared BC tuna served with ponzu and garlic chips. I also liked the yakiudon, pan-fried noodles with beef and scallions.

Guu

Meguro Tataki

Guu

Yakiudon

We also ended up at a few restaurants in neighbouring Chinatown that are apparently frequented by Chef Susur Lee. If it’s good enough for Chef Lee, why not?

The first was Swatow Restaurant, with reviews from 1985 still proudly displayed on the walls (I doubt the restaurant has changed much since then).

Swatow

At Swatow

The food hit the spot, particularly as we ordered the dishes we were craving – fried rice for Amanda and crispy noodles for me.

Swatow

Dinner

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My Mum’s special noodle soup

Chef Lee’s #2 hangout was King Noodle. This establishment features a kitchen just inside the entrance, tempting diners with aromatic and visual delights as they walk in.

King Noodle

I’m hungry already

We ended up preferring the food at Swatow, but there was no questioning the value at both Chinatown restaurants – our meals were around $30 each time.

King Noodle

Zhaliang

King Noodle

Rice noodles with beef

Amanda and I stumbled upon Hawker Bar after the Dundas West Festival. A thirteen seat restaurant, its “rustic” touches included candleholders made of punctured tin cans and menus hand-written on beer carton cardboard.

Hawker Bar

Hawker Bar

I appreciated the coconut-laced laksa broth, but the real star was the rendang pork cheek curry. The presentation was a bit too precious for the setting, but the meat just melted away, the heat balanced by a refreshing mandolin-thin cucumber salad.

Hawker Bar

Laksa

Hawker Bar

Rendang pork cheek curry

On the upscale casual side was Richmond Station, the restaurant by Top Chef Canada’s season two winner, Carl Henrich. It didn’t disappoint. The mushroom linguine, creamy and incorporating spinach and truffle oil, hit the spot. Amanda’s wild boar orichette, the pasta also scratch-made, was full of textures and just the right hint of sweetness.

Richmond Station

Mushroom linguine

The Station chocolate bar, made of mousse, a florentine crust and peanut brittle, was not as rich as we were expecting, but was the perfect way to end the meal.

Richmond Station

Station chocolate bar

I know even more culinary delights await us this week – all I can hope is that I write about it this time in less than a year’s time.

Calgary Mini-Break: All That’s Fit to Eat

Too often I put off my travel posts, which usually results in the good eats never being shared. Hopefully I’m reversing the trend now!

Last weekend, Mack and I headed down to Calgary for a much-needed break. Though the weather we encountered was more winter than spring, it was still nice to step away from our usual routine for a few days. While a dead car battery threw a wrench in some of our plans, we still managed to hit up more than a few places.

Coffee and Snacks

We’re always a little jealous of Calgary’s coffee scene – notably of Phil & Sebastian’s. It’s wonderful to find them all over the city – from mature neighbourhoods (Mission) to farmers’ markets (Symons Valley) to shopping centres (Chinook Mall), we’re never far from great coffee. We’re fortunate that District Coffee Co. in Edmonton now carries their beans, so it means we don’t have travel as far to pick up a bag!

Phil & Sebastian's

Pick-me-up from Phil & Sebastian’s

Analog Café by Fratello Coffee Roasters is one of our new favourites that opened last fall. It’s become a welcome haven on 17th Avenue after a day of shopping.

Analog Cafe

Afternoon coffee at Analog

As well, Analog carries pastries by Sidewalk Citizen Bakery, the darling of the baked goods scene in Calgary. We made the effort to check out the bakery’s main location, just off MacLeod surrounded by light industrial buildings. It was worth it for their flaky, buttery cheese sticks alone.

Sidewalk Citizen Bakery

Pastry case at Sidewalk Citizen Bakery

We also usually end up visiting at least one farmers’ market while in town, and this occasion was no different. Crossroads Market renovated a portion of their building to accommodate more food vendors – hopefully in the summer the stalls will be filled with more produce vendors, as I find the import-happy Chongo’s is a poor substitute. At any rate, we decided to share an order of poutine from Rocky’s Burger Bus, parked outside of the market, for lunch (one of the items that made Julie van Rosendaal’s 2014 list of 25 Best things to Eat).

Rocky's Burger Bus

Rocky’s Burger Bus

It was comforting to see the container of russets on the windowsill of the bus, and as expected, the fries tasted fresh and remained crispy in spite of its gravy bath. We did find the gravy to be on the salty side, but it was still pretty tasty.

Rocky's Burger Bus

Poutine from Rocky’s Burger Bus

Bensonhurst Pizza

Open for about a month, Bensonhurst Pizza joins an already crowded club of Calgary pizza joints. However, Bensonhurst distinguishes itself by not specializing on one type of pie, but offering a variety of styles, including Neopolitan, Sicilian, Californian, New York and Chicago. Bensonhurst is named after one of the neighbourhood’s in Brooklyn’s Little Italy, so the menu is rounded out by other American-Italian favourites – meatballs, lasagnas and the like.

We were advised that a 9-inch Chicago-style pizza ($18)  would be enough for two, and warned that it would take 35 minutes to make. I’m not sure it was worth waiting for. I’m not one for overly greasy pizzas, but this one ran the other end of the spectrum, with a crust so dry it reminded us of bread. As a result, it could have used much more cheese, if only to provide a bit more fat for flavour.

Bensonhurst Pizza

Chi-Town Classic with pepperoni and mushrooms

While we liked the concept of offering multiple pizza varieties, Bensonhurst might have to make sure the execution is better to encourage repeat business. Hopefully this was just a blip attributed to their newly-open status.

Briggs Kitchen & Bar

Briggs Kitchen & Bar wasn’t our first choice for brunch, but being walking distance from our hotel and having the option of reserving a table was enough to sway us.

With Top Chef Canada alum Xavier Lacaze in the kitchen, I hear that dinner seats are hard to come by, but on that morning, the tables were few and far between. The industrial chic room, with buffed concrete floors and dark metal fixtures lent themselves more to an after-dark dining experience, but we expected as much. Their brunch menu is small and more sophisticated than most.

Case in point, my classic breakfast ($11) was comprised of ratatouille, prosciutto and fried eggs. I would have preferred the addition of some varying textures (crispy prosciutto, perhaps?), and likely should have waited several moments before diving in – the cast iron skillet kept the dish piping hot.

Briggs

Classic breakfast

Mack’s breakfast perogies ($13) was the better dish, if not only for its unique nature and, well, a generous sprinkling of crispy bacon.

Briggs

Breakfast perogies

Of note, our server was excellent, chipper and upbeat, and made sure our coffee was always topped up. It was a different kind of brunch than what we’re normally used to in Calgary, but one we’d return to, particularly if our group required reservations.

River Café

I’m a little embarrassed that it took us this long to finally get to River Café, a restaurant consistently regarded among Calgary’s best. And I’m happy to say it didn’t disappoint.

Tucked in Prince’s Island Park, requiring a five minute walk from the nearest parking lot (or for us, a half hour walk from our hotel), River Café should be one of the examples cited in conversations about Edmonton’s river valley development. I recognize that our river valley poses a gradient challenge Calgary doesn’t face, but I was more than a little surprised that a room full of people, many dressed in their weekend finery, were more than happy to brave the cold for a cozy dinner.

The room’s décor, lined with vintage cross-country skis, snowshoes and canoes, borders dangerously close to kitschy, but it somehow manages to remain on the charming side of cabin chic. Between the roaring wood hearth and the unseen forno oven in the kitchen, we smelled like campfire by the end of the night, cementing the concept of River Café as an urban getaway.

River Cafe

Mack at River Cafe

The food was memorable, starting with a white gold burrata ($15) – a made-in-Calgary item that seems to be appearing on menus all over the city. It featured a healthy serving of the fresh cheese, served with pickled cucumber and rye crisps.

River Cafe

White Gold burrata

Our server sold the night’s feature so well that Mack and I both decided to order it. Heralding spring, the al forno roasted halibut and fiddleheads ($39) was perfectly cooked and was such a joy to eat. It’s rare that we select the same entrée, and even more uncommon that we don’t regret it.

River Cafe

Roasted halibut and fiddleheads

I enjoyed the dessert of s’mores ($3), and in particular the buttery house-made graham cookie.

River Cafe

S’more

The service was fantastic – besides an initial delay in taking our order, ended on a note so warm and familiar we wanted to return for brunch in the morning. Needless to say, we’ve earmarked at least one of our next meals in Calgary already.

It was definitely another successful food-filled mini-break!

Culinary Highlights: 2013 Edition

This has been my most delinquent blogging year – I haven’t yet written about most of my travels. I had the chance to visit my sister twice in Toronto, explore Ottawa for the very first time, and most recently, enjoy New York at Christmastime.


Amanda and I had fun stomping around Toronto with Mum!


A monster of a breakfast sandwich at Toronto’s Beast


I also had the wonderful opportunity to meet Michael Pollan while in Toronto

Ottawa reminded me so much of home. Mid-size, government town, it felt like many embraced their star local businesses in the same way we celebrate ours.


The most amazing black pepper spaghetti at Supply and Demand

While planning our New York City itinerary, I was initially regretting our decision to revisit the grand old town in the same season as our previous trip. But I think I forgot that there’s nothing like NYC at Christmas.


At the Union Square Farmers’ Market


I loved the laid back, neighbourhood vibe at Red Rooster


Show stopping roast chicken for two at Nomad


The best pizza from the coal-fired ovens of Grimaldi’s

Closer to home, we also had some great food experiences in Calgary, and of course, in Edmonton.


Whole sea bream at Mercato in Calgary

Izakaya Tomo
Worth getting in the car for: the chicken kara-age at Izakaya Tomo

Cafe Amore
The pasta pescatore from Café Amore, one of our new favourites in 2013

Elm Cafe
Austrian dumplings at Elm Cafe

Jacek Chocolate Couture & Baseline Wines Tasting
Wine and Jacek chocolate tasting at Baseline Wines

It was also a busy year for us on the event front. We were fortunate to collaborate with some fantastic people this year on a number of projects, and looking forward to 2014, we don’t doubt that we will be just as lucky.

Eat Alberta
Perogy making at Eat Alberta 2013

97 Street Night Market
Sunset at the 97 Street Night Market

A big crowd stayed to watch the movie 'Grease' projected on the side of the building.

Grease is the word at Blink: Parkade Party (photo by Alistair Henning)

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Our season-ending What the Truck?! in Churchill Square (photo by Dave Feltham)

It was a special year for many of our friends, and Mack and I were thrilled that we could be a part of several wedding parties this year.


With May on her wedding day!

And perhaps the most memorable highlight for me this year, even if it had nothing to do with food – getting engaged to my sweetheart!


In Central Park

Here’s to a great 2014!

Weekend in Calgary: Borgo and Market

Back in March, Mack and I headed to Calgary for the weekend. Though I recapped some of our eats on that road trip, I haven’t yet posted about our suppers.

Borgo Trattoria

Borgo Trattoria is the latest offering from the chef behind Capo, the acclaimed Italian restaurant that has since closed. Though I never had the chance to visit Capo, from what I gather, Borgo would have been its younger, hipper sister, not only because of its atmosphere, but also because of a less traditional menu that emphasizes share plates.

Reservations are only permitted between 5-6:30pm, but we didn’t mind, as it guaranteed us a table. If you aren’t an early eater, be prepared for a wait! The crowd in the lobby started forming halfway through our meal.

The interior was somewhat puzzling, a mash-up between a warm, Italian kitchen (the heart of the dining room was a brightly lit bar) and a nightclub. The techno beats streaming from the speakers didn’t seem to match the décor, and neither did the unnecessary projection of Fashion Television episodes on the wall above our heads. We hoped the food would stand up for itself, as opposed to relying on the sights and sounds to enhance the experience.

Borgo

Mack at Borgo

We were pleasantly surprised. The arancini rivaled Corso 32’s version, paired with creamy cheese fonduto sauce. It was hot, crispy and simply delectable. The sauteed mushrooms paired with crostini were okay, but it seemed the flavour relied heavily on the truffle oil.

Borgo

Aranini

Borgo

Mushroom crostini

The orichette, with broccoletti and smoked bacon, was a bit of a let down. It was missing something, though we did enjoy coming across the pops of bacon.

Borgo

Orichette with borccoletti and smoked bacon

The highlight of our meal was undoubtedly the veal meatball. It was a dash salty, but all components, from the Sunday sauce, tender meat, and perfectly executed creamy polenta made up a dish that almost had us licking our plates clean.

Borgo

Veal meatball and polenta

Service was consistent all the way through (dishes arrived lightning fast), until the end, when we waited quite a while to settle our cheque. Our server was doing the best that he could though – it was a packed house by that time.

We enjoyed Borgo as a whole, and now have our go-to dishes if we decide to return in the future.

Market

The next night, we were lured to Market, just two weeks old at the time. It was all over the Calgary blogosphere, benefitting from Executive Chef Geoff Rogers’s debut on the third season of Top Chef Canada in a few weeks time (though it has since been announced that Chef Rogers will be moving to Vancouver to join another TCC alum, Trevor Bird, at Fable Kitchen).

When we arrived, the room was buzzing. We also realized we were the only diners not to receive the memo of the dress code for the evening: four inch heels and miniskirts for the women, and the sneaker-suit jacket combo for men. Needless to say, we felt more than a little out of place, but thankfully, our server put us at ease. Still, it’s worth saying that between the nightclub atmosphere and attire at Borgo and Market, we were glad Edmonton restaurants haven’t picked up on this trend.

Market prides itself not only on sourcing local ingredients, but also on making as much from scratch as possible, including breads, cheese and cured meats. They even have an Urban Cultivator which allows them to maintain an indoor garden  year-round.  This was mirrored in the décor, with glass terrariums suspended from the ceiling. The rest of the interior was plain, if stark, entirely black and white and devoid of any colour.

The menu, skewed towards small plates, changes often to reflect the seasons, but at that time, emphasized comfort food. As a result, Mack and I couldn’t decide between dishes and ended up with four, much too ambitious given the richness of the items.

For balance, we chose to start with their greens. It was a pretty standard salad, but Mack especially enjoyed the pickled beets, and I loved the inclusion of fresh watercress.

Market

Greens

We had to order the charcuterie board as well, given it would best showcase some of the kitchen’s from-scratch preparations. The air-dried bison, duck bacon and chorizo were great, and the pickled vegetables and house-made mustard were nice touches.

Market

Charcuterie

The potato and onion dish was Mack’s favourite, with melt-away gnocchi, caramelized onions, and pops of crispy fried onions.

Market

Gnocchi

The lamb tart put us over the top. Though I’m not usually a fan of lamb sausage, the Ewe-Nique sausage tasted almost like pork, bursting with flavour. We didn’t initially take to the buttery crust, thinking it didn’t pair quite well with the savoury toppings, but it grew on us.

Market

Lamb tart

I can’t speak to the food since Chef Rogers has moved on, but I’m hoping they retain the philosophy behind their menu, and the food quality that we experienced that night. I’m looking forward to returning to see what seasonal treats are now in store!

Portland: The Dinner Hour

There were an overwhelming number of eateries to choose from to fill our supper hours in Portland. While we were resigned to the fact that we wouldn’t be able to hit up every restaurant on our list, I think we managed to visit a good cross-section of establishments, from late-night lounges to supper clubs. Overall, we were impressed by the creativity and the quality exhibited by the chefs in PDX.

Saucebox

For a late-night bite, we wanted to stay close to our home base, so wandered over to Saucebox, a lounge a block away from our hotel.

It was absolutely hopping on a Thursday night, not a surprise when we realized, after flipping through five pages of cocktail options, that their specialty was drinks. Still, their Asian-inspired bites were intriguing enough for us to stay, and ordered several small plates to share.

Their beef potstickers were the star, pan-fried to a crackling crisp. The salted prawns were gorgeous, delivered on a slate board, heads on, over a bed of salt. The spring rolls (one of Mack’s favourite things), were unfortunately bland and forgettable.

Portland September 2012

Beef potstickers

Portland September 2012

Salted prawns

Simpatica Dining Hall

Primarily a catering outfit, Simpatica Dining Hall appealed to us because of their supper club concept offered on Fridays and Saturdays. With an ever-changing menu, a four-course meal could be had for under $40, and I liked the idea of communal dining.

I ended up confusing the Friday and Saturday dinner times, and we were a half hour late (it was a bit mortifying walking into the full dining room), but the staff were understanding. It was also great timing in the sense that we were seated just as the first course was being served!

The fried chicken appetizer was a strong way to start. We loved the curry flavour in the breading, and the side of cornmeal pancakes with a green tomato syrup was a fun alternative to the current trend of chicken and waffles.

Portland September 2012

Fried chicken and short stack

The salad with pickled grapes, shaved sheep’s milk cheese and a tomato vinaigrette was refreshing. The toasted pistachios were a nice touch.

Portland September 2012

Salad

The smoked pork chop with cider glaze was a mountain meant to be climbed – I don’t think I’ve ever encountered such  a large serving of pork before! It was well prepared, moist all the way through, but needless to say I wasn’t able to finish it. The wilted chard could also have been cooked down more.

Portland September 2012

Smoked pork chop

After such a heavy entrée, a lighter dessert would have been appreciated, but those around the table with bigger appetites than me murmured their approval for the decadent pecan pie.

Portland September 2012

Pecan pie

Although the food and service was great (the kitchen was amazingly efficient – the courses just clipped along), the best thing about Simpatica was the experience of communal dining. Everyone else around the table happened to be from Portland (one couple was being treated to the meal as Simpatica was a candidate to cater their wedding), and when they found out Mack and I were tourists, they were eager to provide us with dining recommendations. No doubt Portlanders are proud of their food scene!

Pok Pok

Pok Pok is easily Portland’s most famous restaurant. Focusing on serving authentic Thai food, Chef Andy Ricker has been recognized with numerous awards, and has successfully exported the concept to New York. No question, it was number one on my list of establishments we had to visit, just to see what all the hype was about.

When we arrived, we had to wonder whether or not the dining district immediately around the establishment was built up before or after Pok Pok opened (including a late-night food pod across the street, featuring live music and a beer-dispensing truck!). Given their policy of no reservations for parties less than five, it would seem quite lucrative for peripheral restaurants to snap up customers who weren’t willing or able to wait.

Our own wait time numbered fifty minutes, probably not uncommon. But we probably should have been more vocal with the hostess, who seated two small parties before us, and never bothered to offer vacant bar seats to us. It wasn’t the best way to start our Pok Pok experience, but we hoped the food would make up for it.

The menu was unapologetically Thai – from the dish names listed to encouraging diners to share plates with one another. We ordered three dishes (to share, of course). The fried egg salad was a dish recommended by the Globe & Mail – but after trying it, I wondered why. Besides being deceivingly spicy, there was nothing that stood out about it.

The pork belly and shoulder curry was complex and well-balanced, with a nice back heat. The meat was fork tender, and our only quibble was being served the wrong side of rice (jasmine instead of coconut). Our favourite dish was the curried noodle soup, with a delicate house-pressed coconut milk base. I loved the added texture from the crispy noodles.

Pok Pok

Dinner at Pok Pok

Service was okay, if a bit inconsistent and breezy. I can only imagine the pressure the servers are under, but everything about our meal felt perfunctory, and never hospitable. Although the food was enjoyable, the experience as a whole was underwhelming.

Produce Row Café

Too late we found out that Olympic Provisions was closed for dinner on Monday nights, so in desperation, we turned to our Frommers guide for a recommendation within walking distance. A few blocks away, we found Produce Row Café, a gastropub tucked in between light industrial buildings.

The interior was warm and inviting, and busier than we expected for such an unassuming storefront. We later discovered that we were right in the midst of happy hour, bursting with enticing drink and food specials. I can say that my fruity bramble (gin + blackberry syrup + lemon) was my favourite drink of the trip.

Portland September 2012

Mack relaxing at happy hour

Although the food wasn’t exceptional, the comforting dishes hit the spot, and our server was friendly and present. In the wake of the wavering experience at Pok Pok, it reminded us that it never is just about the food.

Portland September 2012

Corn dog with fries

Portland September 2012

French onion soup

Clyde Common

Clyde Common has a stellar reputation, and was recommended through a variety of channels, both personal and online. So it was a bit of a shock that it turned out to be our worst meal in recent memory.

We had to wonder if the couple seated next to us knew something we didn’t – they abruptly left after looking at the menu. But everything seemed promising – the beautiful room was anchored by a bar to one side, and a glowing open kitchen on the other. Communal tables made up most of the dining seats.

Portland September 2012

Interior

Service was brisk and indifferent, but unfortunately, that wasn’t the worst part. The appetizer was okay, but it would have been challenging for any chef to mess up a simple seasonal combination of grilled peaches and marinated tomatoes.

Portland September 2012

Marinated tomatoes and grilled peaches

My pig’s head ravioli was delivered a good five minutes before Mack’s – neither of us were sure why it wasn’t served alongside his dish. The pasta itself could have used that cooking time – it was tough, rubbery and difficult to eat. The filling was another story, with shards of cartilage sprinkled throughout. Although I recognize the nature of the dish I ordered, being very much a textural eater, the undercooked pasta and cartilage pieces were difficult to handle.

Portland September 2012

Pig’s head ravioli

Mack’s stuffed trout was also a pretty spectacular failure. The fish itself was cooked well, but that was the end of the accolades. We couldn’t figure out why a stuffed fish wasn’t deboned, as it was impossible to eat. Moreover, the already salty fish was made even more so with a layer of bacon.

Portland September 2012

Stuffed trout

We don’t have an explanation for why both dishes were so poorly executed, and a scan of reviews indicates an overwhelmingly positive response to Clyde Common. So although we have to assume our experience was an anomaly, we would never return.

Olympic Provisions

Our penultimate dinner brought us back to Olympic Provisions. We had first tasted their salami at a food festival, and knew from that sample that we had to visit the restaurant for a full charcuterie board (one of the “iconic” items on Easter’s list of must-have Portland dishes).

Portland September 2012

Interior

We loved the glow of the “meat” sign above the open kitchen. The adjacent dining space was dimly lit, but lined with shelves of wine and spirits, felt intimate and comfortable, like we were seated in a cozy den. The vibe was relaxed, but it was clear Olympic Provisions is serious about their meat.

Portland September 2012

MEAT!

Mack and I shared some cheeses and a chef’s choice board, featuring capicola, a pork and pistachio terrine, pork liver mousse, loukanika and finocchiona. The salami is the best I’ve ever tasted, with the Greek loukanika being my favourite. It had the perfect amount of salt, a great mouth feel, and I loved the cumin flavour. We ended up taking some salami home with us, probably rationing the precious meat for a little too long. I know what I’m filling my bag with the next time we’re down in Portland!

Portland September 2012

Chef’s choice board

Portland September 2012

Cheeses

Our server was pleasant and knowledgeable, and we never felt rushed, even as we were approaching their closing hour. I would definitely recommend Olympic Provisions to those visiting Portland.

Portland: On the Road

Though we spent the majority of our vacation in Portland in the city proper, we did rent a vehicle one day to explore the area immediately outside PDX.

St. John’s

This first stop is a bit misleading, as St. John’s is a neighbourhood in Portland, and we took the bus to get there. However, it was the furthest outside of the city centre that we reached during that vacation, and truth be told, St. John’s seemed more like a separate town as opposed to a suburb.

The lure to St. John’s was the second annual River Fest, which I spotted on a tourism website that same week. It seemed like a good excuse to check out an area of Portland we hadn’t heard much about before. It took us an hour to reach St. John’s via public transportation, and when we did, it wasn’t entirely evident where the festivities were located.

We eventually made our way to the banks of the river (after passing by numerous film trailers parked in preparation for the shooting of a Grimm episode), and found not a rousing festival scene, but a small collection of tents. River Fest turned out to be geared mostly towards families with small children (based upon the entertainers that were seeking an audience).

Portland September 2012

River Fest

Regardless, it was still a good opportunity to walk along the shores of the Willamette. It was more industrial than picturesque, with numerous factories dotting both sides of the water, but the best discovery was St. John’s Bridge.

Portland September 2012

St. John’s Bridge

The only suspension bridge in the Willamette Valley, the Cathedral-like appearance of the towers made it easily my favourite of Portland’s bridges.

Portland September 2012

From Cathedral Park

A note of caution for pedestrians, however – the bridge is much better viewed from below than it is from above – we crossed it and found it a rather dangerous walk, given the narrow sidewalk, 35 mile an hour traffic and four lanes of traffic. Guardrails would be highly recommended for city officials to look into!

St. John's Bridge

On the bridge

Before returning to downtown Portland, we did some shopping in St. John’s main street. The stores were charming, and included antique and vintage shops, gift stores, and a specialty food shop.

If you have some extra time in Portland, I would highly recommend spending a half day in this neighbourhood!

Vista House

With the vehicle, our first stop was Vista House. Located on the Colombia River gorge, it feels like it is on the edge of the world.

Portland September 2012

Vista House

The placement of Vista House (intended to be a rest stop for those making their way down the Colombia River Highway), takes full advantage of the valley and waterway views.

Portland September 2012

View of the Gorge

Wahkeena and Multnomah Falls

Down the tree-lined Oregon byway, scenic with views of the Colombia River, we first stopped at Wahkeena Falls. It was a good build up for the waterfall to come, smaller but refreshingly misty.

Portland September 2012

Wahkeena Falls

Further down the road, the picturesque Multnomah Falls awaited us. The highest year-round waterfall in North America, it was especially striking because of a bridge spanning the lower section of the falls.

Portland September 2012

Multnomah Falls

Portland September 2012

Multnomah in miniature

Multnomah must be one of the most photographed sites in all of Oregon. We even saw one tourist recording a video on his iPad of all things as he hiked the trail up to the bridge.

Portland September 2012

At the Falls

Hood River

Our next stop was the town of Hood River, just in time for a late lunch.

Portland September 2012

Hood River

We chose the pub run by Full Sail Brewery, an independent business that celebrated 25 years of operation in 2012. It was a gorgeous patio day, so we sat outside, basking in a view of the River.

Portland September 2012

Patio day!

Instead of the usual cod, haddock or even halibut, the pub used salmon for their fish and chips and fish sandwiches. We opted for an order of each. Their portions were beyond generous (neither of us were able to finish our plates), though the fish and chips were the better choice – it was difficult to eat the sandwich topped with such a watery slaw.

Portland September 2012

Fish and chips

Portland September 2012

Fish sandwich

Cascade Cliffs and Cathedral Ridge Wineries

One of the reasons we wanted to get outside of Portland was to visit some wineries. Cascade Cliffs was identified as a winery located in downtown Hood River, so we were initially confused as to where this urban winery could be found. It turned out not to be field of vines, but a tasting room operated by the winery.

Portland September 2012

The Cascade Cliffs line-up

The map as such was a bit misleading (as was my understanding between that a “winery” is not synonymous with “vineyard”), but Mack commented that this establishment was a good option for those who couldn’t make it out to the winery itself.

We took home a bottle of blended reds, and left Hood River in search of an actual winery. As it was early in the evening, many of the wineries we passed on our way back to Portland were already closed for the day. We managed to find one that was still open – Cathedral Ridge.

Cathedral Ridge proudly identified an award they were recognized with in 2007, which may not have been a good sign for more recent achievements. It was quiet inside the tasting room/ shop, but the clerk was nice enough, if seemingly rote in her interactions.

She told us that the majority of the vines actually weren’t planted at that location, but were situated near The Dalles, further east. It was a bit of a letdown, though we still took the opportunity to pick up a souvenir bottle and wander what vines were located on-site. The moral of the story: make sure you plan out a sure-fire route, with enough time to explore!

Portland September 2012

Some of the vines at Cathedral Ridge

Although time is a luxury on any vacation, I was glad we took the better part of a day to see what was outside Portland.

Portland: Morning Meals

Most mornings in Portland, Mack and I did not indulge in full meals. This isn’t unlike our usual breakfasts while at home – we opt to have more substantial plates at lunch and dinner. This allowed us to explore some of Portland’s best coffee houses, many which were located within walking distance of our hotel. Of course, on the weekend, we did also manage to fit in a few brunches!

Public Domain

Just down the street from our hotel, Public Domain was our first coffee stop. Sleek and modern, I really liked their open concept that emphasized the coffee bar. Seating wasn’t abundant, but it seemed like most took their drinks elsewhere.

Portland September 2012

Interior

Public Domain roasts their own coffee, which we enjoyed alongside a delicious cheddar bacon scone. We also took home a bag of their coffee for at-home consumption – always a great takeaway souvenir!

Portland September 2012

Counter seating

Barista

Barista’s downtown location was even smaller than Public Domain. And instead of offering their own line of coffee, they served several varieties roasted by different companies, the majority also based in Portland, including Stumptown, Counter Culture and Heart.

Portland September 2012

Interior

Barista only offered espresso and brewed coffee, and of the latter, one could choose the preparation method: French press, pour over or iced, with a different bean used in each (talk about attention to detail!). We ended up with a pour-over sourced from Kenya, roasted by San Francisco-based Sight Glass.

Portland September 2012

Beans!

Stumptown Coffee Roasters

Of all the coffee houses, we expected the most from Stumptown. It is easily the most well-known, and many of Portland’s restaurants serve their line of roasted coffees. We ended up in their Old Town location towards the end of our trip.

I haven’t seen Portlandia, but I would be shocked if the show didn’t poke fun at the masses of Mac users who set up for the day in Stumptown. It was a bit comical that the first image we were confronted with was a single row of thirty-somethings all typing away.

Portland September 2012

Interior

The cafe is equipped with a great up-to-date collection of specialty magazines, with multiple copies of each. We spent a bit of time unwinding there with our iced coffees (brewed to perfection), but we have to mention that the shop could have used a bit more care. Dust bunnies were rampant, and their bathrooms were in desperate need of attention. Given their reputation, our experience as a whole didn’t live up to expectations – it never is just about the food alone!

Portland September 2012

Window seat

Mother’s Bistro

Mother’s Bistro seemed to be a Portland institution. With a cookbook of recipes, and nary a time of day where they aren’t packed, it seemed like a good brunch choice.

Though the dining room seemed to be full to the brim, we were surprisingly seated within five minutes. I loved the chandelier light fixtures and the elegantly framed mirrors that added a touch of class to the room. But it wasn’t all glamour – the message on the back of the mugs reminded us to “call your mother”.

Portland September 2012

Interior

That said, my lasting memory of Mother’s isn’t of the decor or the service (which was friendly, but brisk) – instead, I have stomach pains when I think back to the portion sizes. Each plate, priced at under $10, could have easily fed two people! My apple-sausage scramble and Mack’s stuffed fritatta utterly defeated each of us.

Portland September 2012

Apple-sausage scramble

Portland September 2012

Stuffed frittata (the size of a dinner plate!)

Bijou Cafe

On our last day in Portland, we elected to stick close to our hotel, to make sure we wouldn’t be late for our departure. Bijou Cafe fit the bill, located only a few blocks away from our hotel, and had a reputation for a solid brunch featuring locally-sourced ingredients.

The interior was pretty basic, but was without pretention. And after the charming but cramped quarters of Mother’s, we appreciated the room to breathe.

Portland September 2012

Interior

My French toast was a bit too eggy for my taste, and after a bite of Mack’s chanterelle and gruyere-laced omlette, we knew his plate won the dish wars at our table.

Portland September 2012

French toast

Portland September 2012

Seasonal omelette (we loved that baguette was a bread option)

Service was personable and friendly, and the coffee refills kept coming. For a chill brunch, I would have no qualms recommending Bijou Cafe to visitors.

Portland: Tourist Trappings

Food trucks were a must-visit for us, but so were a few other things while we were in Portland – I’m sure the following destinations are on the list for most tourists in the city!

Hotel Vintage Plaza

Though this wasn’t exactly a “destination”, it was our first vacation accommodation that constituted a splurge, so it might be worth noting for those planning a trip down.

A few years ago, an acquaintance recommended the Kimpton chain to us when they found out we would be travelling to San Francisco. We loved the hotel so much that we looked forward to our next opportunity to stay at a Kimpton property. That chance came up in Portland, and we chose the Hotel Vintage Plaza (the most inexpensive of their three Portland hotels). We decided to book one of their special Starlight rooms on top of that, the only time we’ve ever gone above a standard room.

Portland September 2012

Starlight room

The room had a lovely bank of windows, and made our restful evenings easy to fall into. Though of course true starlight was out of our reach, being situated in the downtown core and all, we were able to leave the blinds up for views of the surrounding buildings and nearby bridges.

Kimpton is also known for their hosted wine hours, where wine and nibbles are available to guests and encourage them to mix and mingle in the lobby. Although we didn’t take part every evening, it was a particularly welcome sight on our first night in Portland.

Portland September 2012

Wine hour

Secrets of Portlandia

We love learning about the cities we visit from locals themselves, and find that walking tours are not only a means to do that, but they also help us situate ourselves towards the beginning of our trip. We found Erik’s Secrets of Portlandia free walking tour advertised online, and joined it on our second day in Portland.

Portland September 2012

Portlandia

It was a pleasant introduction to the city, and can be best described as part history and part entertainment, with Erik’s penchant for cheesy jokes a common thread throughout.

Portland September 2012

Our tour guide Erik

We were told how Portland was nearly called Boston, Oregon instead, as the name was ultimately decided by the flip of a coin by the two founding friends. Another highlight was also learning the background behind the Benson Bubblers, the ubiquitous bronze fountains that can be found all over downtown. It turns out they were installed as a means of dissuading lumber workers from imbibing at local pubs over the lunch hour. The water is constantly recycled, so yes, it was safe to take a drink!

Portland September 2012

Mack drinks from a Benson Bubbler

We also learned about the Shanghai Tunnels that ran underneath some of the bars in Old Town, used to drop workers from the pub to the tunnels below. These unfortunate men were then kidnapped for the journey over the Pacific. I recall reading about other tours that explore parts of the tunnels, but just hearing about it was enough for me!

Portland September 2012

Don’t get Shanghai’d

I’d highly recommend Erik’s tour – it was a great way to get to know the city, and have fun in the process.

Voodoo Doughnuts

The Secrets of Portlandia tour ended at the doorstep of a Portland institution, Voodoo Doughnuts. Unlike Tim Horton’s (though they are also open 24 hours a day), Voodoo bakes their doughnuts fresh every day, though what they are famous for are their unique varieties, from cereal to Tang to (we were told) Pepto Bismol. We wanted to find out what the hype was about.

Portland September 2012

The line-up

Portland September 2012

The crazy menu

A colourful cake doughnut could have been a rather plain treat, but turned out to be one of the best cake doughnuts I’d ever had. Mack enjoyed his Portland Cream as well. The namesake Voodoo Doll, baked in the shape of a voodoo doll, came complete with several pretzel sticks to – you guessed it – stab the jelly-filled doughnut to your heart’s content. One would be hard pressed to find a more creatively designed doughnut!

Portland September 2012

Doughnuts

Though I’m not sure I’d wait any more than ten to fifteen minutes for a doughnut, we could see why Voodoo is consistently touted as a tourist magnet.

Powell’s Books

Another Portland institution, Powell’s Books, was a reminder than in some places, independent bookstores are alive and thriving.

Portland September 2012

Rooms by colour

We visited several of their shops over the course of a week, but their main location, Powell’s City of Books, occupies a full city block. Their selection is second to none, as they claim to be the world’s largest new and independent bookstore, though it was overwhelming to browse every colour-coded floor in one visit.

Portland September 2012

More books than one could ever explore

We made sure to come back more than once, easy for us given our hotel was in easy walking distance!

Portland September 2012

Loved this urban homesteading end display

Ground Kontrol Classic Arcade

In Old Town/Chinatown, we played to our heart’s content at the Ground Kontrol Classic Arcade. Most games were just 25 or 50 cents, so it was a fun and inexpensive way to relieve some of our favourite childhood video game characters.

Portland September 2012

Mario Brothers!

They had a great selection of pinball machines too!

Portland September 2012

Mack takes his games seriously

Pittock Mansion

Google Maps is deceiving sometimes. Though it indicated that the nearest bus stop was relatively close to Pittock Mansion, our destination, it turned out to be at the bottom of a very steep road that wound its way up the hill.

Portland September 2012

Deceiving sign

The mansion originally belonged to Henry Pittock, a newspaper publisher, and was built in 1909. With 22 rooms and a vantage point that including views of the Willamette and Columbia Rivers, the Pittock Mansion was a testament to their wealth and luxury.

Portland September 2012

Pittock Mansion

It was neat to see an elaborate shower of the day, with knobs that lined three sides, and a walk-in cold room with double-glazed windows a thick door.

Portland September 2012

Shower

Portland September 2012

Gorgeous library

Portland September 2012

Loved that there was a toy sausage maker!

Portland September 2012

In the fisheye mirror

As a tourist destination though, I have to say we enjoyed the walk from Pittock Mansion through Forest and Washington Parks more than visiting the house itself. So unless you have a lot of time to kill, I’d recommend skipping Pittock in favour of wandering the trails nearby.

Bridgeport Brewpub

Portland has over 30 microbreweries, so it seemed necessary to visit at least one of them. We chose the BridgePort Brewpub, which claims to be the oldest craft brewery in Oregon, stopping by for a late lunch one afternoon.

Portland September 2012

BridgePort Brewpub

The pub was divided into several rooms, including what looked to be a more polished wine bar-type space. More unique than that, however, was that a live streetcar ticker had actually been installed inside the bar – talk about making it seamless for those who’ve imbibed to use public transit!

Portland September 2012

To transit, to transit

Mack enjoyed their beer, but the food was nothing particularly special. The tomato bisque was all right, albeit a bit chunky for my taste, while the mac and cheese (topped with kettle chips!) could have used a bit more béchamel sauce.

Portland September 2012

Cheers!

Portland September 2012

Tomato bisque

Portland September 2012

Mac and cheese

Portland By Bike – Mississippi Avenue

As riding the subway in New York or London is a must, so is exploring Portland by bicycles. It was rated America’s most bicycle-friendly city by Bicycling magazine, and 6% of all trips to work are done by bike.

The bicycle infrastructure was visible as soon as we arrived. At their airport, there were signs directing arrival traffic to a bike assembly station. Bike lanes are visible all over the city (especially on main arterial roads – the same paths that major transit routes travel), and bike racks were omnipresent.

Portland September 2012

Indoor bike rack

And then there were the cyclists themselves. A critical mass is important, not only for drivers to take note of cyclists, but also for me, a novel cyclist, to feel safe. Although we do encounter cyclists in Edmonton, in Portland, they were whizzing by us at all times of day.

Portland September 2012

Critical mass

Towards the end of our trip, we rented bikes so we could experience the bike culture first hand. Pedal Bike Tours offered bicycle rentals for $35 per day (including a bike lock and helmet). It was on the pricey side, but allowed us to explore the city on two wheels, at least for the day. The company also had a great map of bike lanes crossed with their tour guides’ favourite spots in the city.

Portland September 2012

Scrutinizing another map

Earlier in the week, we had passed what looked to be a cool neighbourhood while on the bus, so chose to head back to the Mississippi Avenue, which was a 25 minute bike ride from downtown. Mack had been ribbing me a bit for being afraid to ride on the roads, but I have to say that cycling in a dedicated bike lane made a huge difference for my confidence level. I still had to be cognizant of vehicles turning right, or cars entering the lane from being parked at the curb, but it did feel like drivers knew to watch for cyclists. Other more experienced cyclists we encountered were also quite patient with me, calling out “to your left” prior to passing me in the lane.

Portland September 2012

Getting used to my wheels

The advantage of a bike, of course, is that one can cover more ground in less time than as a pedestrian, and without being at the mercy of an unknown bus schedule. It also allowed us to explore parts of the city at our leisure. Case in point – we locked up in an area a few blocks away from Mississippi Avenue, lured by unique independent shops (including a vintage dress shop in a converted double decker bus) – and ended up stumbling across Tasty N Sons, one of the most talked about restaurants at that time. We stayed for lunch, and it ended up being my favourite restaurant experience in Portland.

Portland September 2012

Double decker clothing shop

I loved the worldly brunch menu, and the vibe of the open kitchen and friendly staff. We sat at the bar, which was a great vantage point to watch the cooks at work.

Portland September 2012

At the counter

My Burmese pork stew was delicious, a lovely combination of spicy and sweet flavours, with tender pork and a fried egg served over short grain rice. Mack similarly loved his barbecue chicken hash, ablaze with Southern spices to awake the palate.

Portland September 2012

Burmese pork stew

Portland September 2012

Barbecue chicken hash

I know part of the reason the meal was memorable was due to the fact that it felt like we “earned it” through physical activity, as well as because we stumbled upon it, all because we were on a bicycle.

Portland September 2012

Waterfront cycling

Over on Mississippi Avenue, we did some window shopping. The neighbourhood offered a great mix of retail and food and drink establishments, including a food cart pod. A few of the highlights included an amazing taxidermy shop, a store that sold nothing but light bulbs, a garden centre with its own outdoor chicken coop, and The Meadow, salt expert Mark Bitterman’s exquisite shop that peddles salt, fine chocolates, and even farm fresh eggs at 45cents a pop!

Portland September 2012

Light bulbs galore

Portland September 2012

Chicken coop!

Portland September 2012

Inside The Meadow

Portland September 2012

The salt wall at The Meadow

We’d heard many good things about Por Que No? a popular taqueria. Most of its seating could be considered al fresco dining – some covered, but most occupied sidewalk territory. Mack was a little peeved that they ID’d us, but I suppose we should have taken that as a compliment.

Portland September 2012

Por Que No?

We snacked on two small tacos, and could see what the hype was all about. At $2.50 a taco, the food was dirt cheap, but didn’t taste like that – the meat was falling apart tender, set upon house-made tortillas. Alongside the sangria, it was a lovely way to enjoy the sunshine on a beautiful day.

Portland September 2012

Cool drink for a hot day

Portland September 2012

Tacos

For dessert, we tried ice cream from Ruby Jewel. Their seasonal Oregon strawberry and honey lavender flavours were delectable.

Portland September 2012

Ice cream!

Portland September 2012

Mack enjoys his ice cream

Although I am still hesitant about cycling in Edmonton (beyond leisure purposes), I really enjoyed the opportunity to explore what it is like in a bike-friendly city. I would encourage anyone heading to Portland to plan for some time on two wheels!

Portland: To Market, To Market

Whenever we’re travelling, we make it a point to visit the city’s markets – they are not only great places to shop for memorable souvenirs (edible or otherwise), but it is also a wonderful opportunity to learn about the range of produce that can be grown, and the unique artisans and artists that call that city home. Things were no different when we vacationed in Portland.

Farmers’ Market @ Portland State University

I had been looking forward to visiting the Portland Farmers’ Market located at Portland State University since we arrived. It was easily among the first things to go on our itinerary, and with over 200 food vendors, we knew we would need a bit of time to explore the grounds.

Portland Farmers' Market

Portland Farmers’ Market

Portland Farmers' Market

Tempting

It was a beautiful location to start with, the paths lined with mature trees. Vehicle access was limited (as it is on our own campus), so it made the shopping experience even more pleasant.

Portland Farmers' Market

I loved the trees

Portland Farmers' Market

Mack enjoyed the didgeridoo

Portland Farmers' Market

Peppers being roasted on site

We started our visit off with breakfast at Pine State Biscuits, an institution in Portland (I remember Filistix’s first What the Truck?! menu featured a Pine State-inspired dish). They had quite the set-up for a food vendor, complete with a griddle and an oven (they had to keep those biscuits warm somehow!).

Portland Farmers' Market

Pine State Biscuits

Each oversized biscuit was a buttery indulgence, flaky and perfectly soft on the inside. The additional cheese and bacon was probably overkill at that point, but I can’t say we didn’t enjoy every calorie.

Portland Farmers' Market

Bacon and cheese biscuit sandwich

Satiated, we joined the throngs in exploring aisle after aisle of harvest goodness. Mack got a little sick of me fawning over all of the produce, but it seemed around every corner, there was another gorgeous display of heirloom tomatoes, greens, or fruit.

Portland Farmers' Market

Fresh collard greens!

Portland Farmers' Market

Gorgeous squash

Portland Farmers' Market

Artichokes

Portland Farmers' Market

Many varieties of apples I’ve never encountered before (including a sweet red-fleshed one)

Portland Farmers' Market

Ginger

Portland Farmers' Market

I heart heirloom tomatoes

Given the vast majority of vendors seemed to offer fresh produce (instead of prepared food), aesthetics were even more important, as a means to lure customers in and away from the competition. As a result, vendors used quantities and colours to their advantage, and I have to say, it was even harder for me to look and not buy everything around me!

Portland Farmers' Market

More greens than we could handle

Portland Farmers' Market

Tomatoes

Portland Farmers' Market

So much colour

Portland Farmers' Market

More tomatoes

In addition to the vendors, the Farmers’ Market had organized cooking demos, spread throughout the day, and had a “veggie valet” as an option (something that has been employed by the City Market for the last few years).

Portland Farmers' Market

Chef in the market

If you’re visiting Portland, the PSU market is a must!

Portland Saturday Market

The farmers’ market at PSU did not feature any non-food vendors, so for our arts and crafts fix, we headed over to the Portland Saturday Market immediately after.

Portland Saturday Market

Portland Saturday Market

Located under the Burnside Bridge in Old Town, the market looked like tourist central, with attention-grabbing buskers and summer fair food stands vying for our attention in and amongst the great variety of jewellery, paintings and other handicrafts available for sale.

Portland Saturday Market

Busy place

It was certainly a festive atmosphere, and a great place to browse. I ended up with a beautiful acid-etched necklace from Heartstrings Studio.

Portland Farmers’ Market @ Pioneer Courthouse Square

Unlike Edmonton’s farmers’ markets, which are all individually-run, the Portland Farmers’ Market runs six different markets that take place in the urban core (not all of the area’s markets, but a significant number). We had the chance to visit a smaller collection of vendors run by the Portland Farmers’ Market at Pioneer Courthouse Square on Mondays from June to September.

Portland September 2012

Monday farmers’ market

The hours of 10am-2pm seemed a bit unusual to us, as only those who worked in the immediate area would be able to partake, but perhaps that was their target demographic after all.

Portland September 2012

Vendors

It was a modest market to be sure, but with several produce and meat vendors on hand, staples were well covered. We were also happy to see Olympic Provisions on hand again – we would never turn down an opportunity to sample their salumi!

Portland September 2012

“Meat Here”

There were also quite a few hot food vendors, so later that day, we were certain the business crowd would be descending to take advantage of the al fresco lunch possibility.

The markets all provided a peek into Portland’s agricultural and creative wealth. Make sure to check them out if you have a chance!