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Category Archives: Portland

Doughnut Believe the Hype

Doughnut. Donut. Do-nut. However you spell it, it’s a ring of delicious that you can essentially enjoy any time of day. (Well, ok, maybe not later on in the day once they start getting kind of stale. Unless the place is making em 24/7.) You’ve got your chain donut shops: Dunkin Donuts, Twin Donut, Krispy Kreme – and then you’ve got a bunch of awesome regional places that you see on Food Network or the Travel Channel like Voodoo Doughnuts, Top Pot, Doughnut Plant, and even Philadelphia’s own Federal Donuts. Just like everything else in life, there are the good, the bad and the downright awful when it comes to donuts. Plus, the age old battle between Cake vs. Yeast. (I’m partial to yeast donuts myself.) Here’s a recap of some recent treats I’ve indulged in.

First up, Seattle’s Top Pot Doughnuts, which touts a menu of “hand forged”, primarily cake donuts and a few yeasty bars as well. We got a little over-zealous and just grabbed anything that looked good which included 3 different glazed old fashions and a chocolate covered with sprinkles (a classic fav!)

Maple glazed, original glazed & chocolate glazed.

I honestly found them to be way too sweet for my taste. Plus, there’s just something about cake donuts that leaves a bad taste in my mouth. They feel too dry, even with all the glaze on top. The maple one was almost tooth decaying, that’s how sugary it was. And while the chocolate one had the sweetness of the glaze, the chocolate cake part itself was kind of bland and un-chocolate like.

Then you’ve got Portland’s infamous Voodoo Doughnuts. Yes, there will be a line but if you’re not willing to wait with the crowds, they’re open 24/7. They’ve got a huge menu board plus some rotating displays if you need a more visual way to decide.

They’re most famous for the maple bacon bar (because DUH, bacon on a doughnut. HELLO ULTIMATE BREAKFAST), but I didn’t find it to be appetizing at all. The bacon just tasted bland and soggy and didn’t really add anything to the overall flavor of the doughnut. Then there was the little raspberry jelly stuffed voodoo guy doughnut. WAYYYYY too sweet. Like, disgustingly sweet to the point where I just spit it out. The doughnut that looks like a Bob-om from Super Mario was filled with a Bavarian Cream; not so bad but I’m not a big fan of cream filled donuts. The fruit loops one would probably have been better if the cereal didn’t taste super soft and stale. And the chocolate rice krispy one with the peanut butter drizzle was the best out of all 5. If I hadn’t already taken bites out of 4 other donuts, I would have just eaten that one alone and been satisfied. (Because let’s face it – anything with chocolate & peanut butter is amazing.)

I also recently wrote about an amazing Cafe Au Lait doughnut from Dough in Brooklyn that was out of this world. And I’ve been less than impressed with Federal Donuts since they only do cake donuts and the good ones are always out by the time I get there. However, I do love the fact that they do hot, fresh donuts all day long – and that they have a donut called the Apollonia! (Hello, Purple Rain!)

Long story short: I don’t need all the fancy toppings and fillings; just give me a plain old chocolate frosted with sprinkles any day.

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SEA/PDX Burger Throwndown: The Final Round

Wild Card Round: Katsu Burger (SEA) vs Slow Bar (PDX)

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I’m not even sure if this is a fair fight. I’m such a Japanophile that the minute I heard there was a place called Katsu Burger, I knew I had to run and eat there immediately. While quite off the beaten path of downtown Seattle, located in an industrial park in the Georgetown neighborhood, I promise that when you make the trek you won’t be disappointed. The walls are adorned with kawaii illustrations, whacky Japanese burger signage and other Anime lover/Otaku favorites. The burgers are named awesome things like the Tokyo Tower, Gozilla Attack and the Ohayu Gozaimasu. Their fries can be topped with Japanese curry or Nori flakes. They even have a black sesame milkshake (my fav!). The burgers are all served “tonkatsu” style (tonkatsu is traditionally a breaded & fried pork culet) but you can also order your burger with beef, chicken or tofu.

I opted for the traditional beef Ohayo Gozaimasu burger, while Brian chose pork. Since “Ohayo Gozaimasu” means “Good Morning” in Japanese, the burger was topped with a fried egg, bacon, cheddar, Japanese mayo (the Kewpie kind) and Tonkatsu sauce (yum!).  It was love and first bite. Despite all the toppings, the presentation under the bun was perfect – definitely up to other Japanese food standards I have experienced. I wish there was an East Coast equivalent to this burger; I want it again soooooooo bad! It was all the things I love in a burger but on a burger that was deep fried! If that doesn’t scream AMERICAN, then I don’t know what does. Katsu Burger was hands down the winner before I even ate the next.

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Our runner-up here is Slow Bar in Portland, one of the staples on their “best burger in the city” list. In an innocuous bar on the other side of the Willamette from Downtown Portland you’ll find Slow Bar, which is I’m sure a comfy hipster bar at night but we were there at 2 in the afternoon. I ordered up their Summer Slowburger (since it was nearly 100 degrees out) which is 1/2lb. Painted Hills natural beef, Grafton white cheddar, heirloom tomato, iceberg lettuce, dill pickle.

I ordered it medium and it came out more on the well side, which was a disappointment (a disappointment I seem to be having far too frequently, sadly). It was on one of those cute seeded buns again, made of nicely toasted, soft challah bread. I loved the heirloom tomato and the pickles; presentation was great. And it wasn’t heavy tasting thanks to the natural beef! (They need to get on that trend out here.) If it had been cooked the way I asked, this could have made the race much closer. Still, it was a decent burger that I’d love to try again.
That makes the final burger score: SEA, 2 – PDX, 1.

Sorry Portland, you’ll just have to try harder next time! (Or at least seem like you’re trying less hard since that’s the ironic, hipster thing to do, right?)

SEA/PDX Burger Throwdown, Part 2

2nd Category: Fast Casual

Contenders: Red Mill Burgers (SEA) vs Little Big Burger (PDX)

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Red Mill was another one of those “Can’t leave town without eating there” burger places. Slightly outside downtown Seattle limits in North Queen Anne, we took a 15 minute bus ride to this little roadside delight which is a reincarnation of the 1937 original that was located in Capitol Hill. They serve up flame broiled 1/4 lb patties and are cash-only, so bring your friends Abraham Lincoln and George Washington along for the trip.

I went with the Red Mill deluxe with cheese, which is topped with American Cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickle, red onion, and their signature Mill sauce. Guys, this thing tasted like a Whopper. And not like a gross, 3 AM Whopper that you pick up on your way home from the bar, or something just slapped together and oozing out from under the bun on some wrapped BK printed paper; it was like a gourmet Whopper. That classic, flame broiled taste you remember as a kid (before you realized fast food was the devil), the pickles, the soft seeded bun – it was all in here. Originally I promised that I would share with Brian since he got the Red Onion Jam burger, but then I remembered I hate a ton of onions and that this was too fucking good for me to not eat it all. (Sorry! #fatkidproblems)

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Down the coast, we headed to Little Big Burger in Downtown Portland, where they’re serving up 1/4 lb. of cascade natural beef, local cheeses, organic veggies and Camden’s catsup on tiny brioche buns.

I got mine with Tillamook cheddar, mostly just because it’s fun to say ‘Tillamook”. It was cooked to order and had a nice, pink center – and looked totally cute! (I love when my food looks cute.) They also had truffle fries, which reminded me of 500 degrees here in Philly – but they were definitely not hand cut and probably frozen, which gave them a strange taste when mixed with the truffle oil.

Winner of Round 2: Red Mill Burgers for sure. The classic, Whopper-esque taste definitely gave it the edge over Little Big Burger.

Point count: Currently tied with SEA, 1 – PDX, 1

SEA/PDX Burger Throwdown, Part 1

Two Pacific Northwest cities. Three burgers in three categories. Only one can be victorious!
First round: Diners, Drive-Ins and Divers – Dick’s Drive-In (SEA) vs Red Coach Restaurant (PDX)

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Dick’s Drive-In – Capitol Hill neighborhood

Back in November, I had the pleasure of visiting Seattle for the first time. I was told I couldn’t leave the city without eating at Dick’s Drive-In, a burger institution since 1954. With their simple menu of 100% fresh burgers hamburgers, cheeseburgers, a special (lettuce, mayo & chopped pickles) and the deluxe (a 1/4 lb version of the special with cheese), it seemed like the logical choice. Further motivation was the fact that it was right around the corner from my hotel. Catering to the hungry and drunk alike, Dick’s prepared all their burgers and wraps them in advance to stave off long lines and crowds. They also have fresh, hand-cut fries and, as both a nod to environmental friendliness and taste satisfaction, charges 5 cents a cup per condiment; reason being that everything tastes better dipping into a cup instead of out of a foil packet. I grabbed a Deluxe and fries and was not disappointed.

On this trip I knew we’d be stopping at Dick’s no matter what. That “no matter what” happened to be at 11:30 AM right after eating brunch and fro-yo. I opted for the Special this time since I wasn’t sure if I could fit any more food inside me. Despite being stuff, the first bite brought back all the nostalgia of my first Seattle trip. It was just a simple, no-nonsense burger – and it certainly wasn’t hyped up to be the “best burger you’ve ever had” – but it was 100x better then any other fast food burger you could think of. (And at $1.80, you’re not breaking the bank either.)

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Just a 2 & 1/2 hour train ride away from Seattle was Portland, “the Rose City”. Their long standing burger institution is the Red Coach Restaurant, family owned for over 50 years and through three generations. While this isn’t their original location, they still manage to channel 50’s diner vibes with vinyl booth seats and a dining counter in their current space in Downtown Portland, location inside the lobby of the Historic Charles F. Berg Building. A “blink & you’ll miss it” sandwich board out front indicates their presence and a neon sign above the doorway warmly welcomes you inside. All their burgers are made with free-range beef from Montana with no hormones added (How ‘Portlandia’, right?) and served on a soft, kaiser bun.

(Photo credit: http://redcoach.biz/)

I opted for the Classic Karl’s special: cheese burger, fries and a drink. The burger had that perfect little bit of grease without being too heavy, but a sign that it came off a well-seasoned grill. And you could just tell that the meat was very fresh and not just some ground chuck blend from your typical greasy spoon.

So who’s the winner in this round?

Hands down, Red Coach takes the gold medal! It was just leaps & bounds above Dick’s slightly overcooked, dried out fast food patties. (A result of leaving them laying around ready-to-go) There’s a reason people go to Dick’s when they’re drunk; it’s the perfect food to shove in your face at 2 AM when you’re looking to soak up alcohol. But if you’re looking to satisfy your appetite, then Red Coach is the place to go.

Oh, you fancy huh?

Now that I have awakened from my Seattle/PDX food coma, the time has come to share all the delicious bites with you in various installments. I figure I’ll get the biggest and best part of the trip out of the way: a seven-course tasting menu that we enjoyed at Le Pigeon in Portland. (We originally went in foolishly thinking we would only do the five-course tasting, but the motto of this trip was go big or go home, so we went for the full seven.) Manned by James Beard award winning chef, Gabriel Rucker, this bistro requires reservations made well in advance for table seating, but also boasts a chef’s counter for walk-ins – if you’re lucky enough to snag one. The menu changes weekly, but also features a lot of dishes that are in regular rotation like Beef Cheek Bourguignon and their signature Pigeon with liver toast, grapes and white anchovies.

I apologize in advance for the low quality of some of the pictures; we didn’t want to distract from the other patrons around us with flashes and crazy camera angles.

Course 1: course one: rabbit & eel terrine (peaches, avocado, foie-miso vinaigrette)

Course 2: course two: pork tongue (refried lentils, poblano cream, radish)

Course 3: course three: pigeon (liver toast, grapes, white anchovies)

Course 4: course four: sturgeon au poive (bacon, roasted cipollini, dates, port mustard)

Course 5: course five: beef cheek bourguignon
(atop some kind of mashed potato thing with a side of cold roasted potatoes dusted in rosemary & thyme)
Course 6: course six: lou bergier pichin toma (raw cow’s milk) (blackberry scone, cardamom, creme fraiche)

 Final course: Dessert! – foie gras profiteroles (caramel sauce, sea salt) & honey, bacon, apricot cornbread (maple ice cream)
[Thank you, Oregon for not banning Foie! This was out of this world!]

I paired my dinner with a Riesling flight from one of the Willamette Valley’s oldest vineyards, Brooks, featuring an ’07, ’08 and an ’09, as well as a Pinot & Auxerrois Blanc from the Walter Scott vineyard. I’m not a wine connoisseur by any means, but they were all beautiful and crisp. Plus, they were local! (I was afraid the Portlandia Gods would shame me for not doing the whole local/organic thing)

Le Pigeon was well worth the trip, and the tasting menu price tag was nearly half of anything you would get here on the East Coast and just as beautiful and well-conceived. I would go back in a heartbeat! Definitely make it a priority if you’re planning a trip to the PDX.
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