Portland a.k.a I went to Oregon to eat a burger

Warning: This is a photo-heavy post.

So, the story goes that I went all the way to Portland, Oregon for a burger.

Honestly, it’s not all that far from the truth.

And here’s where our story starts . . . .

Once upon a time, I came across a post on one of my favourite websites, A Hamburger Today, that talked about a burger in Portland. The headline was: Gruner makes a burger worthy of obsession. The photo that went with it? Worth at least 1,000 words. In one: mouthwatering. (Go on, check it out. I’ll wait here.)

So, when my friend Suzi and I were talking about taking a trip together, I pitched Portland. I had been interested in the city for a while because other friends had visited and raved on about it, the food trucks, Powell’s Books and the Oregon coastline (which, granted, is about 90 minutes away, but stunning). And Suzi was game. Especially because I sent her a photo of the burger.

Let me get right to it: it was JUST as good as I hoped.

Behold, the beautiful Gruner burger:
The Gruner burger

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Even though I knew exactly what I wanted, I checked out the menu.
Gruner Menu
And they brought us some beet-stained devilled eggs.
Beet-pickled devilled eggs
Although the burger was the main attraction, check out these yummy pickles. (Pickles, it would turn out, would be sort of a theme for the trip.)

The Gruner burger II

But the best part?

When I took that first bite and squished the burger down slightly and it erupted in a volcano of hot, delicious meat juices.

The photo doesn’t really do it justice, so just trust me on this.
The Gruner Burger III

It went very well with my Arsenic and Old Lace drink (Monopolowa gin, Dolin Dry vermouth, Rothman & Winter crème de violette, Kübler absinthe) with a fantastic housemade maraschino cherry.
Arsenic & Old Lace

After that we pretty much had to roll ourselves out of Gruner. Luckily, we were just a couple of blocks away from Powell’s. Semi-conscious in a meat coma, we trawled the shelves and picked up a few books before walking back to the hotel. (The fabulous Jupiter Hotel, which was funky and clean and close to downtown — something that came in quite handy.)

The plan for Day 2 was to pick up our rental car (a Prius, of course!) and head to the coast. The Prius, I have to say, was a bit weird initially. I mean, it’s so damn quiet. But I loved that we drove to the coast and back and tootled around town the next day and still only used a 1/2 tank of gas.

Before we set off, we stopped at Pine State Biscuits.

I swear I was a southern belle in a past life. If only because I am completely obsessed with biscuits and sausage gravy. (On my Delicious right now, I have at least three recipes bookmarked for biscuits and gravy. This winter, it will be made. Stay tuned.) Also, fried chicken. So, the thought of fried chicken AND biscuits AND sausage gravy (not even mentioning cheese and a few slices of bacon) made this a priority stop for me.

We didn’t eat again for seven hours. You can see why:
Pine State Biscuits breakfast

I miss the ocean. A lot. If I don’t get a fix of that briny air and sharp coolness of the Pacific every few months, I start to feel a bit off. I was really looking forward to seeing the waves, smelling the salt air and checking out the rugged coastline I had seen in pictures.

Like the burger, I was not disappointed.
Cannon Beach

Windswept

That night we had dinner at Biwa, a Japanese restaurant known for its ramen. Like beaches and burgers, ramen has a special place in my heart. I ate a lot of it when I lived in Japan. In nice restaurants and little holes-in-the-wall. When I went back a few years after living there, I spent a few days in Kyoto and one fond memory really sticks out. I was eating ramen at a restaurant not much more than two meters wide — just enough space for a long counter, some bar stools and an aisle-wide kitchen. The one server had to scoot around the cook to serve steaming bowls of noodles, slurped up by a handful of men sitting hunched over the counter. While they concentrated on their ramen, I was reading Memoirs of a Geisha and trying hard not to get any of the rich broth on the book’s pages as I was engrossed in the scene when Sayuri meets the chairman in front of the Minamiza kabuki theatre. After I paid my bill, I walked outside to find I was standing across from the theatre itself.

A bowl of ramen was definitely in order, but so was a dish of pickles (adorable) and barbecued garlic (beautiful and the sharp flavour was mellowed by heat) and chicken karaage (essentially, fried chicken — and one of my favourite bar snacks in Japan).

Mini pickled vegetables
Barbecued Garlic
Chicken karaage
Ramen

It was like being back in Japan, but I got to drink bourbon sours the entire time, so that was a bonus.

To follow the theme of the night before, we went to the Portland Japanese Gardens the next day (after a less-than noteworthy breakfast not worth discussing).

The Pavilion

And then it was time for ice cream sandwiches from Ruby Jewel. I must give Suzi full credit for finding this gem. Soft housemade cookies sandwiched around soft and luscious ice cream. In this case, chocolate chip cookies with salted caramel ice cream. You get to pick the cookies and filling.
Ruby Jewel ice cream sandwich

By sheer coincidence, the weekend we were in Portland was just after the James Beard awards had been announced. One of the winners was Andy Ricker of Pok Pok, who claimed the title of Best Chef Northwest for 2011. Pok Pok had popped up a number of times when I was searching for good restaurants in Portland, so it was already on the list. When we caught wind of the award, we knew there was going to be a lot of interest and possibly a long wait. Luckily, Ricker is also behind Whiskey Soda Lounge, a more casual, bar-like drinks-and-snacks establishment just about kitty-corner from Pok Pok. You can put your name on the Pok Pok list, then head over to WSL for snacks and drinks. When your table comes up at Pok Pok, they come and find you, allowing you to settle the tab and wander across the street for round 2.

I started with a Tamarind Whiskey Sour (sours also being sort of a theme for the weekend), followed by another. And possibly another.
Tamarind Whiskey Sour

Then we dove in to some of Chef Chew’s Khai Luuk Khoei: deep-fried eggs with sweet-spicy tamarind sauce and fried shallots. Incredibly tasty, but one of them was so spicy, I drained my drink and ate all the vegetables on the table to try to quench the fire.

Chef Chew's Khai Luuk Khoei

One of the things I really love about Thai food is that the cuisine is all about complex flavours that come together in a fresh and light way. Salty, spicy, sweet, sour. These Miang Kham embodied all of that. Chilies, ginger, peanuts, dried shrimp, lime, shallot and coconut with a ginger sauce, all wrapped up in a betel leaf.

These were amazingly fresh and light, yet had complex flavours. I’m pretty sure if I’d had enough room, I could have downed another round of these. (And, as I write this, my mouth has started watering again.)
Miang Kham

For Ike’s Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings, the menu simply says, “Yes, these are the wings you have been looking for.” And it is right.

See above re: eating a second plate.
Ike's Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings

By the time we had eaten all of that, our server came over to say our table was ready at Pok Pok. We were pretty full, but went over anyway for some pork sate and a green mango salad. After all, it’s not every day you get a chance to eat at a James Beard-award winning restaurant.

Our plan for breakfast on Sunday was to go to one place. In the cab, the driver mentioned the Screen Door and how popular it is. At that point he may have also mentioned chicken and waffles. (You may remember I’m a fan.) We actually had him turn the taxi around. This place had a long line, despite the drizzle. But that first glimpse of their version of chicken and waffles was enough confirmation the decision was the right one.

This was an insane amount of food. Three fried chicken breasts atop a fluffy, tall sweet potato waffle. I barely appeared to make a dent in it. For scale, that is indeed a large steak knife buried to the hilt.

Chicken and sweet potato waffles

So, perhaps it’s surprising I was hungry in time for dinner. Or not.
Just across the street from our hotel was Le Pigeon, a small and much loved restaurant whose chef, Gabriel Rucker, had also just received kudos from the James Beard Foundation; he was named the 2011 Rising Star Chef. Le Pigeon is also known for its burgers. They only make five a night (the other restaurant, Little Bird, does not limit the amount) and Suzi and I nabbed no. 3 and 4. First, though, there was a glass of gorgeous sparkling rose.
Rose at Le Pigeon
And a quick glance at the menu to determine what to start with.
Le Pigeon menu
Eventually I decide on an arugula salad with duck egg and apricot.
Le Pigeon - first course
Before diving into the burger.
Le Pigeon burger

It was very juicy, and very tall with some lovely coleslaw-like topping. The crispy potatoes were also a nice switch from the standard fries.

We had snagged spots at the bar (because we didn’t have reservations, we took what we could get. And we only managed to grab those by waiting by the front door as the restaurant opened for the night at 5 p.m. I mentioned it’s a popular place, didn’t I?) and had the chance to watch the kitchen in action.

Le Pigeon kitchen

And for dessert — vegetarians, avert your eyes and skip ahead — I could not resist the foie gras profiteroles. When I ordered them, I assumed simply they were filled with foie gras mousse. But overhearing a conversation between one of the chefs and another patron, it became clear there was more to it than that. I asked the chef for clarification. It’s actually foie gras three ways: fat from the foie is used to make the choux pastry, foie is used as a mousse-like filling and then more fat is used in the caramel sauce.

Dear god.

Foie gras truffles

And then we were down to our final morning.

Packed suitcases in hand, we went to Blueplate. It’s a little diner-like establishment downtown that features old-school fountain drinks (like egg creams!) and comfort food like grilled cheese sandwiches and, ahem, burgers. (Yes, I have a problem. I know it.) I had heard about Blueplate on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives and had mentally added it to my should-try-if-ever-in-Portland list.

I love old-fashioned soda fountain drinks and the egg cream (containing no actual eggs nor cream, but milk, soda water and chocolate syrup) is one of my favourites. It went well with my wee burgers and mashed potatoes.

Egg cream at Blueplate

Blueplate burgers

Stuffed, we carried on to the airport where we went our separate ways.

It’s possible, I’m already planning a return trip.

  14 comments for “Portland a.k.a I went to Oregon to eat a burger

  1. Val B.
    September 15, 2011 at 7:50 pm

    I’m drooling, even though I just ate dinner!

  2. Byn
    September 15, 2011 at 8:08 pm

    i was totally a southern belle in a past life TOO! i love all parts of this post, especially the chicken and waffles. looks like a great trip!

  3. September 15, 2011 at 10:19 pm

    Oh dear god. I need to get to there.

  4. September 16, 2011 at 12:22 am

    Holy crap. Now I need to go to Portland.

  5. September 16, 2011 at 12:30 am

    OMG, you were in town!!! I live in Oregon City (born in Portland) and I think it’s so neat you wanted to come to our City of Roses. I’m ashamed to admit though that I never have heard of most of these places to eat. We don’t get to Portland much to eat out. But Powell’s my family is a big fan of and we love the beautiful Japanese Gardens and we practically live at the coast! Next time you are here, you must check out the Chinese Gardens and our delightful Thai Orchid for Thai food :) So glad you had a wonderful trip :)

    • patentandthepantry
      September 16, 2011 at 4:35 pm

      Thanks for the tips, Chelsia! I will definitely be back . . . hopefully soon!

  6. September 16, 2011 at 8:55 am

    Oh Holy Hell… I need to go to Portland

  7. September 16, 2011 at 10:39 am

    Stunning photos, fabulous foodie descriptions and a just plain good read, darn it! My mom lives in Oregon and I am marking down these eateries now so that I may drag her to them. :) Gina

  8. kitchenscraps
    September 16, 2011 at 10:48 am

    Good lord have mercy.

  9. September 16, 2011 at 11:35 am

    A great post but a bad idea reading it before lunch – especially if yours is leftovers as mine is.

  10. September 17, 2011 at 10:46 pm

    Oh. My. My stomach is grumbling! what amazing photos! we had fried chicken and waffles in Vegas a couple years ago, and wow.

  11. February 13, 2012 at 8:41 am

    Holy shemoly, your pictures are awesome! Happy Monday! towe.

  12. Maureen
    May 2, 2012 at 7:10 pm

    Heading to Portland next week (via Seattle and Cannon Beach) largely because of this post. Thanks! Can’t wait.

    • May 3, 2012 at 7:00 pm

      Have a fabulous time and happy eating!

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