OR Day 6 - Farmer's Markets, Forests, and Food Trucks
Today Dana and I started about exploring Portland’s Park Avenue Farmer’s Market. It should be unsurprising given that the city is known for its hippy-ness that this was one of the largest and best Farmer’s Markets I’ve ever seen. There were at least at 100 vendors, selling all manner of fresh locally grown wares, and everything was super delicious. Plus there was live music from different bands, so it just had a really fun community focused vibe to it.
It was great getting to go there with Dana, because, even more so than Renaissance Art, food is really her passion. She’s worked with professional chefs, and on different sustainable farms, so watching her talk to all the vendors and really be in her element was a real treat. She also thought to ask much more meaningful and interesting questions about where all the food came from than I would have thought to do. If I’m being honest, I probably would have just gone around eating things if I’d been by myself without ever stopping to ask anything, which would have been a very fun use of a morning but a much less insightful one.
That being said, stopping to hear about each vendor’s process and farming practices didn’t exactly get in the way of Dana and I brunching hardcore on all sorts of tasty treats. Some highlights for me included: a weirdly delicious Lavender caramel sauce for dipping chips; some rich dark chocolate with real cherry mixed in; locally farmed Walnuts (these were probably the farmers we talked to the most because it was two older ladies with a ton of personality and a really sweet approach to paying livable wages to their seasonal workers); some meat Pates from a local butcher, something I’ve never had before and was pretty skeptical of, but turned out to be a pleasantly flavorful surprise; some Amazing roasted tomato salsa with big chunks of perfectly roasted tomatoes; a traditional Scandinavian Spirt that was like a lighter absinthe called Aquavit; super Fresh feta cheese; nice warm Tamales; Black Dakota kettle corn; and lots of fresh local sourdough breads which Dana was particularly excited about.
My personal favorite items to sample were unsurprisingly the chocolates and booze. On the Chocolate Side, I was blown away by a local place called Honey Mama’s flavorful creation called a Lavender Red Rose Bar made up of raw local honey, shredded Organic coconut, unrefined Organic coconut oil, Organic Dutch alkalized cocoa powder, Himalayan pink salt, red rose petals, and lavender oil. I would never have imagined that all those floral flavors would go so well with chocolate and coconut but it was absolutely mindblowing. On the boozy end, I really liked this place called Stone Barn Brandy Works. They had some really unique spirits I’d never had before my favorites being a liqueur called Nocino, a blend of rye whiskey, fresh picked Green walnuts, and spices that make for a really rich sweet spirit and something called a tawny duet which is brandy aged in Port barrels and then blended with Pinot noir for a sweet velvety dessert spirit.
Somehow after all that snacking, I was still hungry for something a bit more lunch-y (we spent a good long time at the market) so I got a slice of delicious Chicago style deep dish pizza from a place fittingly called Via Chicago. Some people are vehemently opposed to deep dish pizza, but they are fools and should not be trusted because it is one of America’s finest contributions to world gastronomy and I will defend that statement to my grave.
After all that farming and marketing, I had gone about as long as I could go without a coffee so we stopped at a fancy coffee shop called Caffe Umbria (you can tell it’s fancy from the extra “F”). I got a tasty cold brew that helped fuel the next leg our journey.
Our main goal for the day was to go on a hike, but we decided to take the most leisurely and scenic route we could to make the most of a beautiful day. We decided to drive along the Historic Columbia River Highway, which took us along the Columbia river and also up through the green hills and mountains for some absolutely gorgeous driving.
Our free-wheeling approach ended up paying some pleasantly surprising dividends as we came across some cool sites that hadn’t been on either of our radars. I think the best surprise we encountered was while we were looking for a bathroom and came across a historic rest stop known as the Vista House. The house looks out over the Columbia from a vantage point 733 ft up, and it cuts a pretty striking figure with it’s unusual hexagonal shape and it’s gray sandstone construction. It’s easily the most impressive and beautiful highway rest stop I’ve ever seen (not that the competition was particularly high). Even better the name of the architect was Edgar M. Lazarus which is a perfect mad-scientist name if I’ve ever heard one.
The striking exterior was complemented by an even grander interior made almost entirely out of beautiful marble, with bronze along the dome and stunning colored glass windows giving the whole space a rosy gentle hue. I was expecting to be impressed by the castle-y outside, but the gorgeously modernist interior was an incredible surprise.
Inside, it was still very much a rest stop with toilets, snacks, and gift shops, but I did like the emphasis on local arts and crafts with the highlights to me being how much the tourism board seems to lean into using Bigfoot in marketing despite that being the sort of thing that could potential ward of campers. The hand carved wooden salmon on the benches were also a really nice Oregonian touch.
Looking at the Map, in the rest stop I was impressed to see that there’s a town in Washington State named after what I suffered from in Middle and High School:
And of course if you call a place the Vista House, you gotta expect the location to give some pretty stellar views and we were not disappointed. The house gave 360 degrees of magnificent vistas and we were lucky to have a really perfect day for taking it all in.
After the Vista House, the other fun thing we just stumbled upon was an insanely named bridge over the Columbia River called the the Bridge of the Gods. With a name like that we had to go over it, but I don’t think it could be anything other than anticlimatic barring any muscled Gods of Thunder greeting us at the tollbooths.
After fiddling around with Gods and Vistas, we made our way to Mt. Hood National Forest to get our exercise for the day. Dana’s goal when looking up hiking trails was to see a waterfall, and my goal was to not die so we settled on the Little Zig Zag Falls trail which was supposed to be as easy as it was scenic. The trail was just under a mile long, with a gentle but steady elevation leading up to the namesake falls 108 feet up, and the views along the way, especially of the semi-defrosted lake running alongside us, were not too shabby.
The titular falls were really a pretty great reward at the end of our hike living up to their name by being both adorably little and impressively zig-zagging. I was particularly impressed by how much rushing was generated from what seemed to be a pretty mild drop. Likely since Mt. Hood is that tallest mountain in the entire state, the actual origin of the river is quite a bit higher.
After hiking back, I got a nice picture of Dana very fairly marveling at the truly tremendous height that the trees reach in that forest, though it might have been more useful if I just got a picture of the trees. It wasn’t as funny to me in the moment though.
After our adventures in the woods, we started making our way back to Portland. We stopped for some coffee at a cute coffee shack called Mt. Hood Roasters. It was very rustic and nestled into the forest, and I’m pretty sure we were the last customers of the day before they closed, but they had some great coffee and the woman working there was super funny and chill so we ended up chatting with her for close to 40 minutes about what it’s like to live out here vs. Boston and sharing funny stories. After we left, Dana was like “oh that must be such a cool part of your trip to just have so many random conversations and hear people’s stories”. I think in fact that it’s the best part, maybe second to all the food.
Speaking of food, after our hike and an hour drive back to the city we were feeling pretty hungry, so we stopped at an amazing food cart run by my friend Hank’s sister and her boyfriend called Jurassic Cart. The food cart serves creative paleo dishes with a fun dinosaur themed aesthetic that makes their cart really stand out from the crowd.
I had a really nice time chatting with Hank’s sister, and clearly being super cool and kind runs in their family. It’s so sweet to see her and her partner following a dream and running their own business, and it was definitely a bad ass reminder that these things are possible. Of course it helps a ton when you’ve got the talent to back up a creative dream, and that they had in spades. Their food was freaking fantastic. They have a lot of mix and match small dishes so you can get a really impressive amount of variety and flavor. I got a large Tricera-Box which comes with one kabob skewer, a half dinosaur egg (a Grilled avocado filled with cauliflower sticky rice, topped with mango and cilantro) and three sides. For my kabob, I went with their beautifully seasoned local sirloin and for my sides I got a sweet potato mash, a Jurassic roll (grain free dinner rolls baked fresh in house daily, with roasted garlic spread and whipped herb goat cheese), and a savory bone broth which was perfect as the weather got decidedly chillier and rainier as the day progressed. Everything was amazing, though I have to say the dinosaur egg was the star of the show for me, because I never would have thought to combine those flavors but they were so complimentary with the carby heft of the rice beautifully cut by the freshness of the mango and avocado. It was really a treat, and a fantastic addition to an already pretty amazing meal.
In the same food cart pod, I was also very happy to see that a BBQ truck just decided to use Police Chief Wiggum from the Simpsons as their logo because who even cares about copyright law when it works so well.
After dinner, we decided to check out one of our friend Chris’ favorite breweries in the city, Upright Brewing. They have an incredibly homey vibe despite being in a pretty industrial looking basement, aided by cool art and a beautifully classic walnut wood bar. I didn’t think to take any photos, but the photo of their tasting room from the website was pretty classy.
Upright had lots of different beers, but their specialty is sour saisons and barrel aged beers with complex flavor profiles. I tried a tasting room exclusive called the Four Play (because I thought it was funny) which is a wheat based saison that spends 18 months in casks with tart cherries and a variety of yeasts and bacteria, and a cherry wood smoked stout. The stout was definitely more up my alley with the cherry flavor and smokiness being understated but really nice complements to the malty dark beer. The Four Play was probably a teensy bit too tart for my tastes (say that 10 times fast) but once you adjusted to the sourness it did actually have a pretty well rounded and balanced mix of fruitiness, oakiness, and wheat.
After our little night cap, Dana and I realized all our adventuring had caught up with us and we were pretty exhausted. We had a busy day planned for tomorrow as we were gonna head for Seattle, so we just turned in early. I think the tiredness was a sign of a day well spent.
Favorite Random Sightings: Great Tang; Starvation Creek (how welcoming); Mikes Frontier Taxidermy (also super welcoming)
Regional Observation: It’s amazing how quickly the weather can turn on a dime from sunny and beautiful to dour and overcast and back again.
Albums Listened To: I just let Dana DJ, but we did go through a bit of a Harry Nilsson kick which was more my doing.
People’s Favorite Jokes:
One from the Internet:
Today at the bank, an old lady asked me to help check her balance. So I pushed her over.
Song of the Day: