Our 2-week experiment of living like locals in Portland, OR (cont’d)…
As we reluctantly approached the end of our 2-week “trial period” of living like local Portlanders, we experienced a wave of contrasting emotions — first, we felt the mounting pressure to see and do as much as humanly possible in our remaining three days…coupled with a nagging feeling of disappointment at the idea of soon leaving this beautifully odd place…yet, at the same time, thrilled at the prospect of being able to return again soon…and next time as official Oregon residents. People have many different ways of dealing with complex emotions. I’ve always found that eating and drinking are pretty good distractions, and we happened to be in the perfect place to drown our sorrows (or celebrate our good fortune, depending on how you look at it) with trendy cocktails and soothing ramen.
If you’ve recently searched for a new home, you know that Sunday afternoons = residential open houses. And in our effort to reconnoiter the entire Portland real estate market during our two-week stay, we spent both Sundays canvassing open houses. Anxious to get to know the market as deeply as possible, we endeavored to see everything in our target price range and our desired neighborhoods, but also homes above or below, near and far, just to supplement our mental data base of knowledge so that when the time comes to pounce, we’ll be ready. As a result of our extensive research, we discovered some interesting, new areas, saw some really dreadful houses and learned exactly how far out of town is too far for our liking. Bottom line: Mike is still very optimistic and fully convinced that we will eventually find our dream home…I am slightly less so. Not to be a pessimist, it’s just that it’s a dog-eat-dog world in the Portland real estate market — and I much prefer to call myself a realist.
As I mentioned in a previous post, the real estate market in Portland has exploded in the past five years due to the recent influx of tech companies moving to the area, as well as the flood of people, like us, who are relocating to PDX because of its many positive attributes. As a result, housing prices have become grossly inflated to a point that, in some cases, it’s almost offensive. But does that minor road bump dissuade us or veer us off course? Of course not. It just makes us even more resolute in finding that hidden diamond in the rough.
That evening, after a long and fairly discouraging day of house hunting, we decided to reward ourselves with a meal that would assuage our sorrows, and the logical solution was, naturally, ramen…the greatest comfort food of all. Portland is a ramen town, pure and simple. I mean, what’s better than tucking into a steaming bowl of slurping noodles on a drizzly day? You will find ramen shops on practically every block of every quadrant of the city. Is it a passing trend or does it have staying power? No one knows for sure. But at the same time, there’s no indication that Portlanders are losing interest. A majority of the ramen shops around town are situated in neighborhood store fronts, hole-in-the-wall carry-out restaurants or even food trucks, but there are three notable exceptions that have achieved critical recognition and are considered to be the best in Portland — Marukin, Noraneko and Afuri. We decided to try the latter based on its consistently superior reviews and close proximity to the house.
Located in what appears to have been a mechanics’ garage in the city’s east central district, we were initially struck by the enormity of the restaurant. This is definitely not your average mom-and-pop shop! Afuri (923 SE 7th Ave.) is a study of contrasts — from the industrial feel of the garage doors and the soaring exposed ceilings to the glimmering minimalist sake bar and the simple, unadorned tables and counters of the main dining area (below center). The open chef’s kitchen occupies the entire west side of the restaurant providing seating for a dozen or more patrons, and immediately we knew that’s where we wanted to be seated, so we could watch the action in the kitchen.
With no advance reservation, we took our chances that there would be a wait to be seated at the kitchen counter, and were prepared to hunker down at the bar (below) until seats opened up. It must have been our lucky night, however, as we had barely scanned the sake menu when we were informed that our seats were ready.
From the end of the counter, we had a panoramic view of the bustling kitchen and an up-close look at the final prep station, where they were turning out beautiful steaming bowls of ramen and putting the finishing touches on other enticing dishes.
The most ironic aspect of our visit to Afuri was that, despite our initial plan, we ended up not ordering the ramen for which they are so acclaimed. We had every intention of testing the validity of the critical claims, but when we spied the substantial portions of ramen coming out of the kitchen, we knew that we could either settle into a bowl of ramen or we could sample a variety of their other very tempting menu items. But before we could focus on our menu selections, we needed some libations to ease the process, and we were certain that a sake flight would help us make the most inspired decisions.
No, Afuri is not just a ramen house, not by a long shot. Their extensive menu ranges from cold and hot appetizers to grilled skewers to sushi and sashimi, a small selection of entrees, and eight different ramen and tsukemen (in which noodles are served separate from the broth) dishes…and all of it looked incredible coming out of the kitchen. After much deliberation, we started with the char-grilled shishito peppers with bonito flakes and tamari which were perfectly grilled so as to be infused with the wonderful smoky char flavor yet still sufficiently crisp and tender…
…followed by two cold sashimi appetizers: the hamachi jalapeno carpaccio with yuzukosho viaigrette…
…and the albacore crudo with fried lotus root and tataki sauce. Both were outstanding and plentiful, well worth the $15 price point.
Additionally, we selected Afuri’s karaage (deep-fried chicken thigh) served with yuzukosho egg salad…
Karaage has long been a favorite of my children. Long before they had an appreciation for sushi (which, btw, was much gentler on my wallet), we were able to lure them to Japanese restaurants with the simple mention of karaage. I have seen it prepared in a variety of ways — bone-in, bone-out, lightly battered, tempura-style and so on — but this was one of the very best I have encountered. The coating was perfectly crispy and crunchy, and the use of boneless chicken allowed the batter to drizzle down into all the nooks and crannies. Yet the chicken was still juicy, tender and undeniably flavorful, just the way you would expect it to be.
Finally, the delicious spider roll was prepared in the traditional style but was elevated by the well-executed soft shell crab tempura and the house-made spicy aioli.
Without a doubt, it was an outstanding meal through and through, even without their celebrated ramen. And furthermore, we have something to look forward to upon our inevitable return.
A few months back, I read a Thrillist citing the best chicken wings in the United States, and Pok Pok’s Vietnamese fish sauce wings were included in that list, so we made it our mission to test their worthiness while in PDX. Located at 3226 SE Division, just a block from where we were staying, we had probably passed Pok Pok a dozen times, and each time there had been a line of eager patrons waiting to be seated. In fact, on Saturday night when we foolishly attempted to just pop in, we were informed the wait would be an hour-and-a-half to two hours. So, this time, we decided to go for lunch and to get there right as they were opening. This insightful strategy proved effective, as we were seated right away. Because it was a fairly chilly day, the hostess guided us past the bar and through the open-air restaurant to an inconspicuous interior dining room that we didn’t even know existed.
Pok Pok PDX at 3226 SE Division is the restaurant group’s original location, and its characteristic rustic, casual ambiance — with corrugated tin roof, simple wooden tables and dine-in counters — embodies the atmosphere of a typical southeast Asian restaurant.
The distinctive menu offers a variety of dishes inspired mainly by the cuisine of northern Thailand but also incorporating other southeast Asian items, as well. You won’t find your typical Americanized Thai dishes on this menu – no Pad Thai, no Pad Woon Sen, no noodles at all really – but what you will find are beautifully prepared, traditional Thai dishes that are truly outstanding. Pok Pok’s food is intended to be shared family style, so even though we were just two, we ordered a couple of items to share. We started with the Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings, of course (the whole reason we were there). While I’m not convinced that these belong on the list of the “best chicken wings in the country,” I will agree that they were very nicely done, and I’m certainly willing to give them a second try…in the name of research, of course. With a slightly crispy crust on the outside and tender, juicy chicken on the inside, they were definitely meaty and satisfying. I suppose I expected more of the fish sauce flavor to come through, and while they were quite tasty, they could have been even more pungent and flavorful.
Being careful not to overeat, as we had at so many other lunch destinations, we decided to order only one additional item, despite the inherent challenge that presented in narrowing down their vast menu to just one dish. I let Mike choose, and he selected the Tam Kai Yaang, a spicy roasted chicken salad with long beans, tomatoes, peanuts, Thai chiles and cilantro in a traditional garlic, lime juice and fish sauce dressing. Given the choice of three different rices, we opted for the fragrant jasmine rice, which I thought was the prefect complement to the abundant flavors of the chicken salad.
Pok Pok is southeast Asian street food at its very finest. The atmosphere is fun and unique, and the food is equally as distinctive and interesting. With so many other tempting dishes to try, I can’t wait to return. Next time, maybe I’ll try their iced hibiscus drink or, if I’m feeling particularly adventurous, their “drinking vinegars,” which don’t sound particularly appealing to me, but they are definitely a thing. Available in a variety of flavors, they’re rumored to aid digestion and have other health benefits. Pok Pok’s chef owner, Andy Ricker, discovered these drinking vinegars, called Som, in Asian markets and felt that their inherently tart-sweet flavor was a perfect complement for his spicy, salty entrees. He began experimenting with different flavors and now has a rotating menu of exotic tinctures, such as pomegranate, pineapple, ginger, apple, basil, tamarind and honey. Ricker likes to serve them on ice with soda water, or you can add a shot of liquor (gin is best, I hear) for an even bigger “punch.”
Our delicious and exotic meal at Pok Pok inspired us to go in search of some interesting international food markets. With all of the incredible chefs in Portland, certainly there are some wonderful ethnic markets from which they source their ingredients, right? Seeking out new and noteworthy markets is one of our favorite pastimes, and we had yet to find a respectable grocery, so we were off to do some hands-on research.
And since we were already in the SE quadrant, we started with an Asian supermarket that I had seen in Portland Magazine. Fubonn, located at 2850 SE 82nd Ave., is advertised as the largest Asian shopping center in Oregon. Upon entering the “mall,” you will find a random selection of small booths selling everything from stereo equipment to mattresses and very oddly expensive statuary. But by far the most prominent tenant is the massive supermarket which comprises a majority of the mall space. If you have never been to a sprawling Asian grocery before, you will find the assortment of merchandise to be particularly unusual, such as this…
But once you get past the cookware, kitchen implements, plastic figurines and 50-pound bags of rice, you will likely find some curious and fascinating food items as well, like salted jellyfish, shredded squid and fish sausages (pictured below):
The meat department of Asian grocery stores is always of particular interest to us, as you can often discover some unique and hard-to-find items, like paper thin slices of beef and pork to simmer in hot pots. Fubonn was no exception and featured a couple of unusual items I actually had not seen anywhere before, and that’s saying quite a lot. Our favorite grocery back home, Fresh Farms, is a veritable feast for the eyes, the stomach and the imagination. Although predominantly Eastern European in scope, it offers just about everything in one very impressive store. The meat department at our Fresh Farms has at least a dozen butchers on any given day busily slicing, dicing and portioning meat products for customers. Beef tripe, stomach casings and whole pig heads are commonplace. So, the fact that Fubonn was displaying chicken feet, pig ears and pig hooves was not an unusual sight for us. But whole duck heads? That was a new one. And to think that their short lives were only worth $.99 per pound. 😦
My objection with Fubonn is the fact that their prices across the board are no better than those at, say, Safeway or Fred Meyer. Typically, I find that prices at large Asian markets tend to be significantly lower than average, providing a really great value. But not in this case. Additionally, I was unimpressed by the quality of their vegetables and other “fresh” produce — again, an area in which Asian markets traditionally excel. For those two reasons, coupled with its fairly remote location, it’s unlikely that we will be returning to Fubonn. But I’m still hopeful that we can find a market with greater selection, lower prices and better quality closer to home. So, off we go…
Since we were already on the far southeast side of town, we decided to check out Portland Mercado which Mike had discovered on a list of markets recommended by another food blogger. Located at 7238 SE Foster, it wasn’t difficult to find — just look for the colorful, multi-hued building and the gathering of food trucks on the south side of the street near SE 72nd Ave. (you will find ample parking around the back).
It turns out that Portland Mercado is less of a market and more of a Mexican food pod. In the modest interior space, you will find a small meat shop, some prepared foods and a bakery, as well as a few shelves of packaged products. There’s also a convenience store of sorts. But the real draw, I suspect, is the outdoor plaza where several food trucks offer a selection of Mexican and Cuban dishes, fruit smoothies, coffees and churros. A cluster of picnic tables provides plenty of seating for patrons to enjoy a meal and some live music. We happened to be there in the middle of the afternoon, so there were only a few customers milling about, but I’m sure it’s hopping during the lunch and dinner hours on a nice day. It’s very likely a great place to have lunch and pick up a few specialty items, but its limited inventory precludes it from being anything other than a dining destination for us in the future. So, we keep looking…
Next on the agenda was ABC Seafood which also was included in the list of food purveyors recommended by another blogger. Eager to discover a good, reasonably priced fishmonger, we were hopeful that ABC would be a real find. A small and unobtrusive storefront located at 6509 SE Powell Blvd., we actually passed right by on our first attempt to locate it. This is a no-frills seafood supplier. There’s nothing fancy about it, and I say that in only the nicest way. The front room showcases a variety of freshly caught fish, shellfish and mollusks, while the back room houses the large live lobster and fish tanks.
I must admit that I was underwhelmed by the minimal selection, but what they did offer appeared to be very fresh, likely caught locally or flown in that morning. And while there were some bargains to be found, like the Manila clams at $3.59/doz. (vs. $.50/ea. that I’m used to paying), other items, such as the lobsters for $13.99/lb, weren’t particularly good bargains worth going out of your way for. And since we were only window shopping on this visit, I can’t attest to the actual quality of the seafood; however, if their 4 1/2 star rating on Yelp is any indication, they must run a very respectable business. I look forward to going back to ABC when we are residing in Portland full time. Now I know where to go to find our annual New Year’s Eve lobsters.
If ABC Seafood skewed towards modest and unpretentious, our next stop was the complete antithesis. Stunningly beautiful Providore Fine Foods (2340 NE Sandy Blvd) is absolute eye candy and a foodie’s fantasyland. Both a shopping and a dining destination, PFF offers an impressive array of produce, meats, seafood, fresh pastas, baked goods and rotisserie items. Come to shop, but stay for a glass of wine and a dozen freshly shucked oysters.
As I have mentioned many times before, Portland is a town that embraces locals and locally made products. From the community-owned neighborhood co-op groceries to the abundance of locally sourced ingredients in many of the restaurants, Portland is all about supporting local purveyors. And nowhere is it more apparent than at Providore Fine Foods — the flowers, cheeses, fruits and veg, ice creams and butters, meats and alluring sundries lining the shelves, most everything in the store comes from the state of Oregon and is marked with the name of the farm, dairy or producer that created it. Take, for example, the “Three Little Figs” line of jams pictured below left. Made right in Portland, they blend locally grown figs with other regional ingredients to create sweet and savory spreads such as Sparkling Nectarine Jam, French Onion Confit, and Tomato Tapas Jam.
Similarly, the “Bee Local” line of artisan honeys (pictured below) is made in the farmland areas surrounding Portland. Stumptown Coffee Roasters offers Bee Local honey syrup as an alternative to sugar for their coffee drinks, and Pok Pok uses Bee Local honey for its honey-flavored Som drinking vinegars. All examples of local businesses supporting other local businesses.
One would naturally think that locally sourced foods would come at a more affordable price point, seeing as though they didn’t have to travel far to get there. But that’s typically not the case (although we did find some good values at the Portland farmers’ market). Since they’re produced in much smaller quantities than mass distributed items, such as what you might find at a Safeway or Walmart, their prices typically reflect their small-batch, artisan nature. In fact, pretty much everything at PFF is very high-end and high-priced, but it’s all so tempting and beautifully displayed that you almost don’t care.
Additionally, PFF carries some very unique and hard-to-find items, like the Haku line of shoyu (traditional Japanese soy sauce), available in a variety of flavors including cherry blossom, smoked, and whiskey bottle fermented. For years, I have struggled to find a convenient source for fino sherry and champagne vinegars, but here I found a whole selection of them.
My husband excitedly found his beloved Tuscan pici pasta, and I found Japanese shiso leaves in the produce department, a product that has been frustratingly elusive…until now. If nothing else, that will keep me coming back.
Providore Fine Foods should have been our logical stopping point, the final act in our ongoing drama to find Portland’s best markets. But, alas, there was something still missing…something vitally important that we had yet to locate…sausages. So, we aimed the car for SE 12th Avenue and Edelweiss Sausage Shop. A tiny German-owned butcher and deli, Edelweiss is an authentic old-world market with a vast selection of meats, wursts, sausages and plenty of weiners. If you love sausages like we do, you owe it to yourself to check this place out. From braunschweiger, bier sausage and mettwurst to salami, pepperoni, liverwurst and andouille, these guys know a thing or two about encased meats. Almost all are handcrafted on-site by the Baier brothers who learned the trade from their father who emigrated from Bavaria to Portland in 1959. Additionally, the market stocks an impressive selection of German beers and European specialty foods, such as imported chocolates, German breads and an array of mustards.
Edelweiss also doubles as a sandwich shop, so go hungry. The hard part is deciding what to order — a Black Forest ham sandwich on rye? Bologna, possibly? Or a grilled sausage with sauerkraut and potato salad? Grab a bottle of Hoffbrau beer to help you make your decision. And on your way out, stock up on some Maultaschen (German-style ravioli stuffed with bratwurst) for when you’re hungry again later.
So, at the end of the day, we uncovered some highly interesting and distinctive specialty food stores — some of which we will return to, others that we likely won’t. But one thing I’m certain of — Edelweiss and Providore Fine Foods will be in the regular rotation. What we still didn’t uncover, however, was a full-service international grocery to replace our beloved Fresh Farms back home — one that offers an extensive selection of high-quality, reasonably-priced produce, meat and seafood, along with an expansive deli and assortment of packaged foods from around the world. Normally, I would say that finding all of that in one place would sound too good to be true, but believe me, it’s alive and well in Chicago, and the one thing we will surely miss. But we haven’t completely lost hope, so the search will continues. [If you’re reading this post and you know of a worthy international grocery in Portland, please drop me a line!]
After a long afternoon of research, we returned to the house for a little R&R. And although still slightly full from lunch at Pok Pok, we didn’t want to miss the opportunity for yet another Portland food experience, so we decided that a light meal of charcuterie was in order (or possibly we were inspired by our visit to Edelweiss). We walked a dozen blocks west on SE Division to a little corner wine bar that we had passed several times. As it turns out, Bar Avignon, 2138 SE Division, is the most quintessentially perfect, little wine bar you can possibly imagine. It was a quiet night, so we grabbed two seats at the bar to capture a view of the action behind the counter where the chefs and the bartenders share fairly tight quarters.
When in Rome, do as the Romans, they say…and when at a wine bar, drink wine…so I solicited the bartender for a recommendation for a yummy Willamette rose, while Mike chose a gibson martini spiked with pickle and brine. Due to the compact nature of the kitchen work space, Bar Avignon does not offer an extensive menu, but they have cleverly devised a well-balanced selection of charcuterie and sharing dishes, as well as a half dozen entrees. We started with Freddy Guy’s hazelnuts roasted with rosemary, sea salt and paprika (right). Who’s Freddy Guy you might ask? Well, like many other restaurants in Portland, Bar Avignon sources most of its ingredients from local vendors, like ‘Charles the Mushroom Man’ (below), and apparently Freddy Guy is their go-to nut purveyor.
Next, with guidance from our helpful server, we picked five selections from the charcuterie menu: 3 cheeses, chicken liver mousse and rabbit terrine.
Each was accompanied by a different spread carefully procured to complement the flavor of that particular item, like a house-made quince jam for the rabbit terrine and a local honey for the gorgonzola dolce. And each was absolutely delicious in its own right, particularly the little pot of silky chicken liver mousse which honestly I just wanted to bathe in.
After relishing in the breads and spreads, we weren’t particularly hungry, so we opted to share a bowl of their French onion soup which seemed like the perfect choice for a cool fall evening. Unfortunately, it turned out to be the only misstep in an otherwise wonderful meal. The chefs took some liberties with the traditional French-inspired recipe and the result was a cloying adaptation that was too thick, too rich and too sweet to be a satisfactory substitute in my opinion…and I missed the customary crown of gooey gruyere on top. But despite that minor gaffe, the evening was memorable, and I look forward to returning to Bar Avignon for Happy Hour and the opportunity to throw back some of their $2 oysters and another bottle of that delicious rose.
With only a couple of days left in our journey, we were anxious to get another hike under our belts, and we were ecstatic to wake to a beautiful, cool but sunny October morning. With his handy and invaluable ‘All Trails’ app on his phone, Mike plotted an in-town hike up Wildwood Trail through Forest Park to historic Pittock Mansion.
Forest Park comprises over 5,000 acres of hiking, biking and equestrian trails on the eastern slope of Portland’s northwest hills, which Native Americans originally called the Tualatin Mountains. The 30-mile Wildwood Trail within Forest Park is part of the region’s 40-Mile Loop system that links pedestrian routes along the Columbia River, through southeast Portland, along the Willamette Greenway, and back to the Marquam Trail in southwest Portland (which you may recall from Part III of my earlier blog post).
Unable to allocate enough time to complete the entire loop, we decided to pop in midway along the Wildwood Trail at the Macleay trailhead, located just east of the Audubon Society on NW Cornell Rd. The lower portion of Macleay Trail was closed for maintenance and erosion control when we were there, but we were primarily interested in the upper portion which leads to Pittock Mansion. We crossed the street from the designated parking area and accessed the clearly marked path.
Although rated as a moderate hike, there are some fairly steep uphill portions of the climb of about a mile or mile and a quarter, but it’s a nice, wide, well-groomed trail and very doable if you have a remote level of fitness. For the least amount of foot traffic, both on the trail and in the mansion, plan to leave around 9-9:15 a.m. (the mansion ticket office opens at 10:00 a.m.). You will know when you’ve reached the top of the hiking path when you ascend into a parking lot. Look to your left, and you will see the entrance to the Pittock Mansion compound.
Completed in 1914, the 46-room mansion was built by Henry and Georgiana Pittock. Henry, a born Englishman, had traveled to Oregon in 1853 and began work at the Weekly Oregonian, a paper he took ownership of only seven years later. Georgiana was dedicated to improving the lives of local women and children, helping to found the Ladies’ Relief Society in 1867.
The French Renaissance-style chateau on 46 acres was, and still is, a stunning example of architectural excellence. The interiors were modeled on an eclectic collection of styles, including Jacobean, Edwardian, Turkish (below left) and French Renaissance, all based on the couple’s extensive travels abroad.
The mansion also featured an elevator, two telephone systems, a walk-in refrigerator, a central vacuum system and multi-jet surround showers, among other newfangled innovations that only the wealthiest could afford at the time.
Henry and his children, including his two daughters, were all avid hikers who loved the property’s enviable position on top of the Tualatin Mountain range. From this vantage point, they enjoyed views overlooking town and of Mt. Hood in the distance.
Georgiana, recognized for originating the tradition of Portland’s annual Rose Festival, enjoyed the extensive panoramic gardens surrounding the property. The mansion served as the couple’s home for only five years. Georgiana died in 1918; Henry a year later. The city of Portland purchased the estate in 1964, and it is now a beloved local landmark.
Plan on approximately one hour to see the mansion, the Gate Lodge and the surrounding gardens. Afterwards, you can make your way back down the Wildwood Trail, the same way you came up. Round trip hike with tour – 3 hours. If you’re not able to or interested in making the hike to the mansion, you can access it by road at 3229 NW Pittock Drive.
After emerging from Forest Park’s canopy of trees, we were slightly chilled and mighty hungry. This was the perfect time for a comforting bowl of steaming ramen! We headed straight for Marukin Ramen at Pine Street Market, 126 SW 2nd Ave. Arriving just slightly before noon, we were able to acquire two seats at the counter, where we could peer into the kitchen as they prepared the beautiful bowls of ramen. Unlike the extensive menu at Afuri, Marukin pretty much only offers ramen dishes, so we weren’t tempted to order anything other than their specialty. I opted for the tonkotsu red with pork, spinach, mushrooms and bamboo shoots in a spicy pork bone broth (left). Mike ordered the paitan red, a similar dish but in a spicy rich chicken broth (right). Both are also available in a non-spicy variation, but don’t be afraid to try the ‘red’ option, as they are not too spicy to be enjoyable.
You think you’ve had ramen before, but then you try this and realize that what you’ve had before was only a sad imitation. Marukin is renowned for their hand-pulled noodles and rich bone broths, both made fresh, in-house every day. Mike and I agreed that my broth was slightly more complex than his, but both were utterly delicious and exploding with flavor. Afterwards, we felt as if we had been rejuvenated by a restorative soup for the soul.
Once revitalized, we were confronted with the dilemma of which adventure we would tackle in the remaining afternoon hours. Then, it came to us…the one thing we had yet to do in Portland…SHOP! It takes a miracle to get Mike into a clothing or home goods store, but one mention of hardware, and he’s ready to go. I’d seen an article in Portland Magazine about a funky place called Hippo Hardware (1040 E. Burnside), so we set off to see what interesting odds and ends they might have.
You know you’ve arrived when you spy the Grecian-clad hippos adorning the columns out front. I’ve been to all sorts of quirky and eclectic hardware stores in my day, but this one broadens the scope. It’s actually not a hardware store per se, not in the modern sense of the word anyway, meaning that they don’t carry tools or paint or cleaning supplies. Hippo Hardware is more of museum — three levels of relics salvaged from derelict or delinquent properties displayed in an amusing sort of organized chaos. From vintage doorknobs and knockers to bathtubs, odd parts and old windows, there’s almost too much to see, if that’s possible. Imagine an entire floor of light fixtures from every imaginable era, displayed haphazardly this way and that…
…and check out the antique porcelain sink with peculiar brass fittings and the old zinc tub with attached water tank that’s heated by a butane burner…
But by far, our favorite item was the 1963 Electro-Sink Center, a handy all-in-one appliance that combines sink, mixer, blender, juicer, ice cream maker, and more all into one mind-boggling unit. It’s rumored that that perhaps Laura Petrie had this in her kitchen in one of the early episodes of the “Dick Van Dyke Show.” I’m tempted to watch all of the episodes just to see it in use.
The owner of Hippo Hardware is a quirky gent with plenty of stories to tell about his various merchandise, and he had plenty of fun telling us how he had acquired seven of these peculiarly intriguing Electro-Sink units. Some might call him a curator, and some might call him a hoarder who conveniently created a store to hide his addiction. But whatever you choose to call Hippo Hardware, it’s definitely a highly entertaining way to spend an hour or so. And, who knows, we might just need some of that stuff when we finally find our house!
After the curious Hippo experience, it was difficult to select a subsequent destination that would be half as compelling, but then we remembered the string of vintage shops we had often passed on SE Hawthorne and headed the car in that direction. We started with the most obvious, and the most visible, Vintage Pink, located at 2500 SE Hawthorne Blvd. Painted a conspicuous shade of bubblegum pink, you simply can’t miss it, and we had been vowing to go inside for nearly two weeks.
The vast 6,000+ square-foot showroom houses an impressive collection of mid-century modern, vintage, Danish, and retro furnishings and accessories compiled by some of Portland’s best vintage dealers. Each booth varies in scope, but everything is carefully selected and in excellent condition.
From Vintage Pink, we headed 10 blocks west to Lounge Lizard, 1310 SE Hawthorne Blvd., which surprisingly turned out to be even more impressive in the quality of merchandise, as well as pricing. The bright and welcoming warehouse was brimming with premium vintage furniture and home accessories, kitschy lamps made of old toasters and other interesting finds. Right off the bat, I found two pieces that sparked my interest — an Asian sideboard and a vintage Lane lowboy dresser, both in near perfect condition. If only I had a house in Portland.
Next door to Lounge Lizard, we couldn’t help but notice a kooky collectibles shop, curiously called Really Good Stuff, and their odd array of wares arbitrarily displayed on the sidewalk. Mike is always willing to browse any shop that might offer items of historic or cultural interest, and this one showed some potential. Once inside the cluttered and disorderly shop, we quickly realized that Really Good Stuff is not a misnomer. If you don’t mind some dust and are willing to dig, you can find some pretty cool stuff here. Each room is filled to the ceiling with an array of old antiquities and oddities, such as an 1890s butter churn, a functioning railroad crossing sign, a selection of accordions (not just one), film reels, an Indian headdress, old stereo equipment, vintage albums, and much, much more — it’s a veritable rabbit warren of fascinating finds.
Two other must-see destinations for home interiors are located across the street from each other in the east central industrial district:
- Rejuvenation Home, 1100 SE Grand Ave., offers a blend of new and salvaged home decor. For those of you unfamiliar with Rejuvenation (as I was), it’s basically a spin-off of Restoration Hardware with similar styles of furniture, lighting, bath fixtures and hardware, but with an interesting and eclectic mix of vintage/antique furnishings thrown in. Prices are relatively high compared with the other businesses on this list, but it’s definitely worth a visit.
- Grand Marketplace, 1005 SE Grand Ave., houses dozens of vendors specializing primarily in carefully curated antiques, industrial items, and unique architectural items, although you will find much, much more in this treasure trove of home furnishings. Prices vary by vendor, but overall prices are quite reasonable.
Day 15 — our sad farewell:
Despite our attempts to fend off the inevitable, the culmination of our two-week stay had regrettably arrived. We spent the morning packing and tidying the house, and then there was one final decision to be made – where to go for our last meal. I was thinking we might grab a sandwich at Meat, Cheese, Bread, but Mike had a different idea — he wanted to return for another meal at Pok Pok…and I couldn’t disagree with that logic. So, we strolled down SE Division one more time, arriving at Pok Pok PDX just as they opened for lunch service.
Despite a slight chill in the air, we asked to be seated in the open-air front portion of the restaurant under one of their many heat lamps. I sincerely debated about trying one of the drinking vinegars, I really did, but ultimately I chickened out and instead ordered the Naam Manao, a fresh squeezed fizzy Thai limeade. A little sweet and a lot sour, it was simply delicious and a very good choice.
While snacking on their addictive spicy peanuts, we both spent a good twenty minutes reading over the in-depth menu before finally making our decisions. After much deliberation, I settled on the Yam Makheua Yao, a charcoal grilled eggplant salad topped with pork, prawns, shallots and crispy garlic, finished with a spicy dressing of Thai chiles, lime, and fish sauce. The smoky flavor of the charred eggplants was reminiscent of Middle Eastern babaganoush, which happens to be one of my very favorite dishes when done right. And this was done very right! The crumbled egg was an interesting, clearly regional, addition, as was the dried shrimp which somehow seems to find its way onto several of their dishes despite being inherently strange and difficult to chew. But the overall blend of flavors, completed by the pungent cilantro, was a winning combination and resulted in one of the better dishes I’ve ever had.
Mike selected the Neua Naam Tok, a spicy flank steak “salad” with shallots, lemongrass, mint, cilantro and toasted rice powder (whatever that is), a dish that I also had had my eye on. Our server warned him that it is, as it states, very spicy, but never one to shy away from a challenge, he wasn’t deterred. She recommended the sticky rice as a soothing accompaniment, and we heeded her advice. But when she arrived with a plate of mustard greens tucked into a bed of ice and explained that chewing on the chilled stems is helpful in lessening the burn, he knew he might be in trouble.
After the first couple of bites, his forehead began to perspire, and then the coughing ensued. But he valiantly rose to the occasion and powered through to the end. I braved one small bite, which I can truthfully confirm was extremely hot. But, at the same time, the flank steak was very tender and tasty…if you can get beyond the heat factor. I, for one, was happy retreating to the comfort of my smoky eggplant.
Following lunch, we slowly strolled back to the house, past the restaurants, bars and coffee shops that had become our temporary neighborhood. After two weeks away, you would think we would be anxious to return home, but conversely Portland was starting to feel like our home. We had fully accomplished our intended goal of living like locals, and what we learned is that we absolutely can and will be able to assimilate in this funky town. We were sad to be leaving, but soon we will return as legitimate locals…real Portlanders-in-training, trying to blend in in a city of misfits just like us.
As we boarded the plane back to Chicago, we were high-fiving ourselves for having the foresight to book seats on the right side of the plane so that we could once again be rewarded with the tremendous view of Mt. Hood. It just never gets old. Maybe, if we are really, really, really lucky, we’ll find a house that affords us that amazing view every day. Only time will tell.
So long, Portland. Until we meet again…
If you missed the first installments of my Portland blog and want to read more about things to do, see and eat in the City of Roses, please visit the following links:
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