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A Day Filled With Bacon

Monday 13 September 2010

Saturday will be remembered as Bacon Day, not in memory of the philosopher Sir Francis Bacon but rather because every eating opportunity had bacon in some form.

I remembered seeing a television show, somewhere, about a place that made biscuits. Not just biscuits, those hard, crusty things that need a solid soaking in gravy to make them palatable, but excellent, fluffy, buttery biscuits. As we do not usually get really good biscuits, this was something worth chasing down.

It turns out the place is Pine State Biscuits, and was featured on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. The Mothership is located out at 37th and SE Belmont, and is legendary for its long waits and lack of seating (“plan on sitting on the curb” writes one Yelper). That didn’t sound like a good plan for a Saturday morning after a late night of dining and drinking. There’s a slightly closer location, on NE Alberta, but again, longish bus ride and walks. Meh.

Turns out that Pine State makes a regular appearance at the PSU Saturday Farmer’s Market . This event takes place at the south end of the South Parks Blocks. Great location for the event.

This is the line for the Pine State booth around 11AM:

Well, part of the line anyway; it goes another ten prospective diners to the right, towards their tent, and a bunch more to the left. It’s about a 30 minute wait. Herself and I agree that all lines need Disney-style “Your wait from this point will be about minutes” signs. There was one order taker/cashier, and five (or six) guys doing the cooking and serving. This turns out to be the right division of labor for them, avoiding bottlenecks.

What we were waiting for (okay, what I was waiting for–Herself had gone for crepes) was the famous Reggie, a sandwich (sort of) made of:

  • Sausage gravy
  • Biscuit half
  • Bacon
  • Cheese
  • Fried chicken breast
  • Biscuit half

from top to bottom. They also serve sweet tea, the perfect accompaniment. Herself tried to eat it as a sandwich; while I was totally into licking gravy off my fingers, a knife and fork worked better for me.

Was it up to the hype? Yes, very much so. The chicken was as good as it could get, the breading maintaining its adherence to the chicken despite the best efforts of cheese and gravy, but moist and tender inside. The bacon was crisp enough to bite cleanly, but did not shatter.

Oh, and the biscuit. It’s almost a shame to use this biscuit as a bun, because it is so soft, flaky, tender, buttery, and generally possessing all the characteristics desirable in a biscuit. It is the essence of all that is good in biscuits.

A Reggie runs $7, or $8 for a Deluxe, with an egg on top. Other options of biscuit and <foo> are available, mostly for less.

The crepes herself got were no slouches. I especially liked the Don Juan, a savory crepe of mushrooms and cheese. The Nutella crepe was also very good.

There were many other prepared food choices. The PSU Saturday Farmer’s Market is definitely recommended, especially if the weather is as nice as it was when we were there (mid-70s, mostly sunny). Much of it is organic, free-trade, cruelty-free, or some combination of these. Be aware–no water is available in plastic bottles; bring your own vessel. All of the serving materials seemed to be compostable.

That was Bacon Event #1.

After Bacon Event #1 we headed uptown to Powell’s Books, the main one at 1005 W. Burnside. Yes, it is huge inside. Yes, they have lots of books in almost every category. Yes, I quickly wound up with a basket full of books. It is quite easy to quickly exceed one’s carry-on baggage limit at Powell’s; fortunately, they will ship just about any amount of books (“10 to 1000!” the signs proclaim) anywhere in the U.S. for $12.95.

However.

They had many fewer used books than I expected. Much of what was on the shelves was new; there were trolleys in some areas with loads of one new book (e.g., The Girl Who Played With Fire in Mysteries). I have a sneaky suspicion that most of the walk-in traffic is tourists, and the entrance area suggests that, crammed with souvenirs that might be purchased once but would not be useful to a local. There was even a free “have your picture taken at Powell’s” stand, where they blue-screen a digital photo of you over a digital backdrop of the front of the store.

I did go into the rare book room. It’s a separate room, closed off from the rest of the store and much better air-conditioned, on the top retail level. It’s fairly small, maybe 20′ x 30′, with only a few hundred volumes (maybe) and some sets. Aside from a signed limited edition of The Little Prince, there wasn’t much that caught my eye–it was largely art books, some historical documents, and a number of sets (e.g., a set of 1910 Britannicas).

We still wound up shipping a large box (18 pounds) of books back home.

On the way out of Powell’s we wandered into a small shop called Billy Galaxy, on the other side of Burnside and down a block toward the river. It’s a cool little shop, packed with representatives of just about any collectible toy, plus a lot of comic books and movie posters. I scored a signed photo of Phil Brown (Uncle Owen) from Star Wars, with a bunch of Jawas, in front of the big crawler. Happy camper!

Portland has a reputation for being…odd. Even the locals ascribe to this:

And yes, another line, this time for Voodoo Doughnut, home of the Bacon Maple Bar. This line was even longer than the one for Pine State; we waited about 45 minutes to get to the head of the line. We thought about going to their other location, across the bridge and about 15 blocks away, but we were there so we waited. This is one of the places that Anthony Bourdain visited on his Portland trip (“maple and bacon, what’s not to like?”) It is unusual inside; one wall is covered in newspaper obituaries of various celebrities; the ATM is even decorated in theme.

The bar is a generic but good risen bar. The maple frosting is very thick, and forms a substantial layer between the bacon and bar. It’s very sweet–complaints about excessive sweetness are somewhat justified, but it’s a good kind of sweet.

The bacon was quite good, a little chewier than I liked for the application but still on the right side of the chewy-crisp boundary. The maple and bacon worked well together. I could see doing a cake this way, or maybe cupcakes.

Herself also got a plain raised chocolate, which she pronounced very good. I tried a thing called an Old Dirty Bastard, a raised cake donut with peanuts, peanut butter (I think), and melted chocolate on top and running (hardened, as around a candy) down the sides. Very good, very rich.

The Bacon Maple Bar was $2.25; the plain chocolate was $0.90.

Would we do it again? I might try the alternate location for a somewhat shorter line. I wouldn’t try it late at night, when the line is reported to dip to only 15 minutes or so. There are signs inside about not giving anything to encourage the local transients, as there apparently have been problems with violence to patrons and staff.

That was Bacon Event #2.

Last up, dinner. We went more uptown and upscale from our brunch in the park and our high tea, and dined at Park Kitchen.

When I was looking online for recommendations, I saw many, many recommendations for Park Kitchen as a foodie Mecca. But then I looked online at the sample menus, and saw a dearth of things often regarded as “foodie”. Where is the molecular gastronomy? On the other end, where are the truffles and foie gras? I booked, and hoped for the best.

So we get there, 6:30, ready to eat. “Inside or out?” asked the hostess/waitress who greeted us. “Out” I foolishly replied, underestimating how quickly the warm fall night would blow away with a crisp, bracing wind. The tables outside are fancy park tables, all wrought metal and polished wood, with matching backless stools. The “outside” opens right into the “inside” through a large roll-up door, much like a commercial garage door. I managed to lean back into the doorway as the table behind me vacated it, and herself was more appropriately dressed for the weather. Just before dessert they moved us to the bar–full dinner service is available at the bar, from what we saw of the menus offered other, late-arriving diners.

Service was generally excellent. We had a rotation of servers; from what I could see of the service inside, it’s a catch-as-catch-can act with everyone in front of house, including the barman, acting as waiter, bartender, and busser. Dishes were explained with sufficient detail but not to excess.

The menu offers à la carté and two levels of tasting: small plates only, or small and large plates. We went for the small and large plates (hey, we’d been eating light all day). The “tasting menu” here really means chef’s choice of a number of plates, served as the normal portions. I assume with a larger party more plates of the same would have been brought. On the service we ordered there were three small plates and two large, plus dessert. This is one of those places where the menu changes frequently, so don’t be surprised if nothing I report on is there later.

The first plate was a salad of green and waxy beans, melon, and greens. It was very simple, but very flavorful. The next was cold marinated razor clams with roasted peppers. Now, I regard the perfect razor clam as lightly floured and fried, but these were quite good. The final plate was tempura green beans and tempura bacon strips, served with an aioli. These were excellent, a very light tempura batter not at all greasy. I would have labelled the bacon more as ham, as it had that very salty, chewy texture, but they called it bacon so I’m counting it.

The first large plate was sliced duck breast over greens and duck confit. Duck and duck confit–how can one go wrong with that? One can’t, and they didn’t; sublimely delicious. The second large plate was halibut over artichoke leaf ends and Cannellini beans, with a pork broth (more bacon!). The broth really made the  dish, adding a juiciness that is often missing in white fish dishes.

Dessert was a pastry of various layers of chocolate cake and something between a ganache and a frosting. The whole was not quite a cake, not quite a torte, but very good, and served with a glass of vin santo.

I was wrong. This definitely is foodie food, and very good foodie food at that. Definite return trip.

That was Bacon Event #3, and concluded our bacon activities for the day.

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