Living like locals in Portland – Our 2-week Experiment
Our families and friends don’t understand why we want to move to Oregon. Why would we want to give up all the comforts of the Midwest to pack up and move halfway across the country? To that I say, why wouldn’t we?
Well, to all the naysayers, maybe this will change their minds…
So on this, the second of our investigative, fact-finding missions to Portland, I will keep an ongoing account of our explorations, so all can see the reasons why we’re so enamored with this weird and wonderful place.
First of all, the fun begins before you even land at PDX. If you’re heading east to west, you will want to reserve a window seat on the left side of the plane, so you can take full advantage of the awe-inspiring views of Mt. Hood and its snow-capped peak, regardless of the season. At 11,250 feet of elevation, it sits almost eye level as you make your final descent into PDX.
But don’t worry if you can’t secure a seat on the left side — the views of the winding Columbia river from the right aren’t too bad either.
Another benefit of flying into Portland is the proximity of the airport to town. To be honest, that was one of the features, among many others, that originally attracted us to Portland…we wanted to have easy access to an international airport. And in Portland, depending on where you live or where you’re staying, you can be there in 15-25 minutes.
As soon as we arrived at our destination, our home base for the next two weeks (a million thank yous, HM!), we bee-lined for a late lunch at the brick-and-mortar outpost of Op Wurst Sausage Bar on SE Division St. (they also have a stand at Pine Street Market). Owned and operated by the meat-centric brains behind Portland’s acclaimed Olympia Provisions, I knew their butchery expertise would shine through in their encased meats (i.e. sausages). I opted for their Daily Dog special, a “BLT,” and a local amber ale. Turns out, the so-called Daily Dog wasn’t a dog at all; it was, in fact, a BLT sandwich — and a very good one at that. With plenty of excellent quality bacon and homemade garlic aoli that was so good I wanted to take a bath in it, it was definitely a winner…even if it wasn’t the sausage I was expecting (and I was awfully curious to see how they were going to stuff bacon, lettuce and tomato into a sausage casing).
Sticking to his roots, Mike ordered the house made Italian sausage with grilled peppers and onions. He gave it high marks for its respectable fennel-spiked flavor (any Italian sausage worth its weight must be long on the fennel), and that’s saying a lot from a guy who has sampled quite a few Italian sausages in his lifetime! And please don’t overlook their fries which are quite good, especially with a side of the aforementioned garlic aoli for dipping.
After lunch, we decided to check out the local Fred Meyer grocery store to pick up a few staples for the kitchen. I don’t have a lot to say about Fred Meyer except that I don’t need to go back any time soon. A cross between a meh grocery, a pharmacy and a Target, it offers a bit of this and a bit of that and specializes in absolutely nothing. It’s like one of those restaurants that advertises that they have gyros, pizza, fried chicken and sushi. Really? Why don’t you stick to one thing and do it well.
Returning back to the house, we unloaded the groceries. Still full from lunch, we realized that we probably wouldn’t want or need dinner after all. We both agreed it would be a wine and cheese night in our pajamas instead.
Up at a reasonable hour (which is never a guarantee when traveling from east to west and factoring in the backward time change), we were anxious to hit one of Portland’s innumerable coffee establishments. And since it was just up the street, we started with Stumptown’s flagship coffee shop on SE Division. Set in a small, unassuming storefront on a mostly residential block, its hard to comprehend that that is where it all began for the now nationally recognized coffee roaster. But we all know that size doesn’t matter, and there was no doubt that they know their way around a cup of java. I ordered the decaf mocha (as always) and Mike the latte. Completely sublime. Enough said.
Refueled and ready to go, we spent the morning scouting neighborhoods and feeling our way around the city, until it was time to make the daunting decision of where we would choose for lunch. Based on proximity to where we were at the time, we opted for Lardo on SW 12th Ave. and Washington. In case you didn’t know, there’s a sandwich war going on in Portland, and it’s dog eat dog. Many name the front runners as Lardo, Bunk and Meat Cheese Bread. We plan to try all three while we’re here and make our own assessment, so we started with Lardo. It wasn’t an easy task to select just two items from their inspired menu, but we finally agreed on splitting the Italian Cubano and the Korean Pork Shoulder sandwich. Regardless of which you choose, I don’t think you could possibly go wrong here (the chicken meatball bahn mi is rumored to be unreal). Both our choices were flavor-packed stacks of goodness, but we both agreed that the Korean pork number stole the show. The tender and tasty pork paired with crunchy, not overly spicy kimchi and Sriracha mayo got a double thumbs up. And the magic doesn’t end with the ‘wiches — don’t miss their garlic parmesan fries sprinkled with sea salt and rosemary!
The afternoon consisted of more house-hunting and a trip to Blue Star Doughnuts (recommended by the more discerning critics over the more well-known Voodoo Doughnuts — but personally I’m still, and always will be, a Krispy Kreme devotee). Then, being just close enough to cocktail hour (it’s 5:00 somewhere!), we decided to head back to our neighborhood and to The Woodsman Tavern which happens to be next door to Stumptown Coffee, where we started our day eight hours earlier. Full circle.
Over cocktails — an expertly prepared Manhattan for Mike and a delicious local rose for me — we devised a plan for the following day. After consulting the weather chart, Mike said smugly, “Hey, you wanna go to the coast tomorrow?” And, of course I replied, “Absolutely!” Because, why not?
Once again too full and too lazy to make dinner, we ordered a small pizza and called it a night, excited to get an early start the next day.
Bright and early, we were on our way to get our first glimpse of the Oregon coast. Undaunted by overcast skies, we grabbed a coffee to go (even the Starbucks cups are cooler out here!) and set the GPS for the town of Tillamook. As we headed west on Route 6 with Portland in the rear view mirror, the clouds began to dissipate and the sun broke through, just as the forecast had promised.
The first thing I noticed was that we were out of Portland proper in no time and with relative ease. Within minutes, the shopping malls and local commerce were replaced by hilly terrain and ridiculously scenic rolling farmlands. We’re definitely not in flatland Illinois any more! We wound through the verdant Tillamook Mountains, awed by the mischievous clouds playing hide and seek between the dips and crevices of the hills.
In just over an hour, we arrived in Tillamook. Most notable for its cheese production, Tillamook also enjoys an enviable position on the Tillamook Bay.
As we descended out of the mountains and approached the town, we noticed one consistent and overiding theme — dairy farms. And where there are dairy farms, there are cows. Brown ones, tawny ones, black-and-white ones — all lazily munching on grass in the picture-perfect valley with the mountains providing shelter on all sides. There must be no better place to be a cow, I think.
We passed through the town of Tillamook and skirted around the bay to the tiny oceanfront hamlet of Cape Meares, where we parked the car and headed straight to the beach for our first glimpse of the Oregon coast.
And, no, it did not disappoint. My first impression, aside from its obvious natural beauty was that you truly feel as if you’re at the end of the earth. (And if the ominous tsunami evacuation signs are any indication, maybe you are.)
Also, I was expecting a rockier coastline, so the exceptionally wide, sandy beach was a bit of a surprise. Strewn with the sculptural carcasses of enormous petrified trees that had washed ashore in one storm or another, it was truly a thing of incomparable beauty.
I easily could have stayed all day, breathing in the fresh sea air and walking the beach, but our stomachs had other plans and lunch was calling. So, we returned to the car reluctantly, but knowing that we would return again very soon…next time as Oregon residents.
Heading back through the town of Tillamook, we arrived at The Fish Peddler in Bayside, a casual restaurant, market and oyster processing facility that prepares hundreds of oysters a day for their local clientele and for shipment all over the country.
Unfortunately, the restaurant doesn’t offer an outside patio or a view of the bay — which is a shame since we were lucky to be there on a gorgeous day — but the food more than makes up for that minor deficit. (Our car, on the other hand, had a lovely view of the bay from the parking lot – pictured below.)
We started with a cup of their clam chowder – always a good way to assess the real worth of a seafood restaurant. They passed with flying colors. It was properly thick and creamy without being pasty or cloying. With an unexpected hint of bacon, it was truly outstanding.
We followed the soup with a half dozen of their raw oyster shooters – my first Pacific oysters. They were nice-sized and very fresh, but too cold for my preference. I suggest removing them from the bed of shaved ice, allowing them sit for a few minutes to come to room temp. I also prefer mine still in the shell. Served in plastic cups, I missed the “liquor” that typically collects in the shells and provides the delicious briny flavor.
Their baked oysters, which are available in a half dozen different preparations, were truly inspired. We chose their Kilchis variation, named for a neighboring cove a half mile away, which exploded with flavor from the pesto, Parmesan and hot sauce. Outstanding!
The tuna melt was one of the best I’ve ever had. Upon arrival, it didn’t look like much, but the flavor made up for anything lost in its presentation. Let’s be honest, on paper, a tuna melt doesn’t make any sense anyway — warm mayo-based tuna salad and cheese. Who pairs fish and cheese? It sounds terrible by any estimation. But somehow it works. And this one excelled in every sense. Made with locally caught and smoked tuna and Tilamook cheddar from around he corner, it was sublime.
Mike’s oyster po’boy was equally outstanding. The plump oysters were lightly dredged in flavorful herb breadcrumbs and quick fried. And the homemade tartar sauce was flecked with minced dill pickle, just the way it should be.
After lunch, we headed back through Tillamook, briefly stopping in at the cheese factory, of course — an impressive facility indeed. Milk from the local dairy farms is turned into cheese or ice cream within 24 hours. And every day they churn out 170,000 pounds of cheese, keeping the cows and the factory very busy!
Then, we were off to the town of Oceanside and the coastal lighthouse at Cape Meares State Park. Built in the late 1800s, the lighthouse has since been decommissioned and its once vital function replaced by satellite navigation. But it remains a worthy tourist draw. (The free guided tour of the lighthouse was very informative and worth the time.)
If not for the lighthouse itself, then certainly go for the massive views of the Oregon coastline…
…and a visit to the odd 8-armed Octopus Tree. With a 46-foot circumference and more than 105 feet in height, the 250+-year-old tree remains a mystery. Was it shaped by Mother Nature or by Indian hands? We’ll probably never know, but it’s a thing of beauty and a curiosity nonetheless.
Seeing that it was nearly 4:00 pm, we decided to begin our return trip to Portland. Retracing our steps past the bay and back through the Tillamook Mountains, we made the trip in about an hour and a half, not bad for Friday at rush hour. Back at the house, we decided to kick back with some cocktails and a jigsaw puzzle. Later, we prepared some cavatelli with fresh tomato and basil sauce and watched Narcos. Maybe tomorrow we’ll actually venture out for dinner. Maybe.
Highlight of the day…