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Portland, Day 3: Mass Transit Mania

Thursday 30 September 2010

Portland, if you’ve never been there, has a great transit system, especially compared to the San Francisco Bay Area. It reminds me of the DC transit system–trains for the spokes, a hub at downtown, and busses filling in. The busses and trains were always busy, even on a holiday weekend, and quite clean and modern–huge picture windows that make for a really open,anti-claustrophobic environment.

Portland is also very much a walking town. On Bacon Day, we mostly walked, and a most pleasant walk it is along the Park Blocks. We dipped our transit toes into the deep waters of Portland’s transit system–it covers something like 176 square miles of territory, from Gresham to Hillsboro–by taking the free train from the Saturday Market (meh, go to the PSU market instead) back to our hotel after Voodoo Doughnut. All of the trains are free within an area that covers all of downtown. All of the busses and trains we rode had curb-level entries; no clambering up or down stairs getting on and off.

This day we spent quite a bit of time on the transit system, as we were headed deeper into SE Portland. But first, to stoke the fires, we headed to The Original for a late breakfast (okay, early lunch). This is a curious and interesting mix of hip, urban design and food with underpinnings of classic diner food. From the outside and the seats along the windows, and with the Art Deco signage and overhang at the entrance, it has that classic 1930’s diner feel–long, narrow, lots of light, lots of chrome.

So, the food. The brunch menu was up, and they had chicken fried steak on the menu, so that’s what I ordered; it’s one of my litmus tests for diners (corned beef hash is the other). Herself had her usual eggs over medium, bacon, toast.

Now, I wasn’t paying close attention to the details of what I ordered. I saw “chicken fried steak, potatoes” and ordered based on that. The server gave me a choice of gravies; I chose country. Chicken fried steak is usually a slice of cube steak, punctured to tenderize, breaded and pan-fried. So I was a little confused when the waiter delivered this:

Notice how thick and narrow the CFS is. It turns out that the meat in this is really a very nicely cooked (perfect medium-rare) flat-iron steak, very tender and juicy. The breading was a solid, stick-to-the-meat coating that did not wilt under the gravy. The potatoes were that medium dice, fried variant that is a little stiff on the outside but melt-like-butter soft inside. With a Mexican Coke, this may be the perfect brunch; I’d even take this over the brunch we had at the Willard a while back, and that involved just about any kind of shellfish or meat you can imagine. But this…this is diner heaven, the no-holds-barred realization of a classic dish.

So, after this we pulled on our packs, summoned the Sherpas, loaded the mules, and headed out into the wilds of suburban Portland.

Okay, okay, really, we went out to the bus stop in front of The Original and caught the 12 bus out to Hippo Hardware and Trading Company. We were headed there because it is the epicenter of building hardware that is not what one finds at Home Depot (a.k.a. Home Despot). It’s almost all “pulls”; that is, hardware that was in use before and is now available, through someone else’s poor choice in remodeling, for enjoyment by others. A lot of it is pre-war; most of the rest is 1940s or 1950s. We were looking for plumbing supplies for a greenhouse project we have going, and found some great old taps, amazingly well cleaned-up (mechanically–surface patina intact). A few new washers and we will be good to go. We also found a cabinet knob made of clear plastic and filled with unshelled sunflower seeds; for She Who Inhales Sunflower Seeds, this was clearly the find of the trip.

Sadly, we neglected to get proper period doorknobs for the greenhouse door. Aw, shucks. Looks like we will have to go back. Aw, phooey. Have to eat more of that chicken fried steak. Tragedy!

After Hippo, She Who Indulges In Perfume wanted to go to a perfume shop somewhere out in S.E. Okay, we start walking that way; we were up on Burnside, and this place is way down on Hawthorne. PDXBus, an iPhone app that uses real-time data from TriMet to find the best transit routing to use for a trip, said to take the 70 to Hawthorne and then the 14 to the shop, or walk down to Belmont and take the 15 bus. Okay, the 70 isn’t due for a while, it’s a nice day, so we start walking down 12th.

And smack into the Vegan Ghetto of Portland, at SE 12th and SE Stark. There a single building that has a vegan bakery, a vegan clothing shop, and a vegan grocery store. While we didn’t try the bakery or grocery, we have a friend who is vegan and thought of getting her a souvenir of the trip from the warm, beating heart of Vegan-country. So we found this shirt, “Bacon Had A Mom” , and got it for her (we even bought it from the cute brunette modeling it in the photo). The sign that this is a True Vegan Shrine was the P.E.T.A. donation tin by the register where a tip jar might be.

Hmm. It’s the Sunday before Labor Day. Before we schlep all the way out to SE 33rd and SE Hawthorne, maybe we should call first. Ah. Closed. Okay, PDXBus, how do we get back to downtown? Magic 8 ball says: Walk south to Morrison. Board 15 bus. Get off near hotel. Cool, we can do that.

Did I mention that every bus stop–every transit stop, really–has a stop number? So instead of typing in “SE 12th & SE Morrison”, I can type in “4014”, the stop nearest there? Very cool.

So back to the hotel for a bit. Not as long as you might expect; after Hippo, and the walk, and Vegan Ghetto, it’s getting on to 3.

Oh, we did stop at a chocolate shop downstairs from the hotel called (ta da!) Cacao. It’s a tiny shop–I understand there is another one further uptown that is larger. Drinking chocolate: the regular was just okay, but the shots are much like we can find at Enchanted Florist in Ashland, good, thick, melted chocolate with just enough something to keep it from solidifying in the cup. Selection of chocolates was excellent, lots of European and local chocolates. Definitely worth a look, or better still go to the uptown store.

Okay, off to dinner. Tonight is Apizza Scholls, featured in Anthony Bourdain’s series No Reservations. We were going early (5PM!) because we’d heard about the long lines for a table (no reservations!) So we hopped the 15 bus again and trundled out to stop 2633 (SE 47th and Hawthorne).

From the outside, there was no line: an auspicious omen.

We get inside. 45 minutes for a table; could be worse. Outside table? Sorry, that’s been gone for a few years. Hmmph. Sitting inside on a nice day is no where as good as sitting outside, and the decoration in the main room (the one with the bar) is decidedly spartan–rectangular four-tops, end-to-end, maybe 6 of them.

Okay, get a couple of drinks (the barman seems slightly flummoxed by an order of a soft drink, and has to go to the other room to fill it). The wait turns out to be about 25 minutes; it sounds from the call-outs from the waiting list that some have chosen not to wait.

Table, more drinks, order. We order a Caesar salad with anchovies to start, and a half-and-half of their “Margo”rita (hey, they did it, not me) and sausage and pepperoni.

The Caesar was huge, easily enough even for me as a main. Split, it was merely large. Good Romaine, good anchovies, good cheese. Not a game-changer, but a good rendition.

Pizza: We had had a huge build-up for this. First, the outdoor seating, which was scratched. Second, the handmade crust. Not just hand-made, hand-kneaded, which is almost unknown anymore in commercial pizza production. When they run out of dough, that’s it for the night.

The pizza was good, possibly very good, but not up to the hype. The Margherita had that problem that too-fresh ingredients often do: too watery. Not actually dripping, but the water in the tomatoes kept them from having a strong enough taste. The mozzarella was very good, nice and salty. The sausage and pepperoni were good, fresh, and meaty, just right. The crust was very good, but not detectably better or worse than an otherwise good commercial pizza crust.

Did Apizza Scholls live up to the hype? No. Undoubtedly they do more business with all indoor seating now, but it’s just not the same as a picnic table under a tree on a warm day. The pizza was good, but not worth a trip to Portland just for that (unlike the CFS at The Original, for which I would travel to Portland). If you want to calibrate your tastes, I prefer (in Ashland) the pepperoni or combo pies at Martolli’s to any other pizza in town; in the Bay Area, it’s the Big Sur at Pizza My Heart that hits the right notes.

Dinner done, we headed back on the 15 bus to downtown. On the way we passed the garden book division of Powell’s Books and decided to stop off. Good selection of gardening books and cookbooks. Definitely worth a stop if you are in the neighborhood. We found a bunch of used cookbooks and celebrity chef books; I would say a higher proportion of used to new than at their main store.

As a night-cap we took in Inception at the Regal Cinema Broadway, across from the hotel. Nice, smallish theater underground. Definite attempt to theme the lobby as a street in the 30s or 40s, with lots of lighted outdoor-style signs up above the lobby interior. Good seating, but not arena-style, so those at the front are tilted way up and those at the back are looking across a sea of heads. I’ll write about the film on my other blog.

That was day 3. Departure day next, but still lots to do!

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. cynthia permalink
    Thursday 30 September 2010 6:54 PM

    i’ve eaten at apizza scholls and agree, its good, but its just pizza and who wants to wait for that?

    there is another place with wood stove pizzas and appetizers that i will get the name for your next visit… its my favorite pizza i’ve ever had and worth the long lines, unless by this time it has gone downhill like apizza scholls has.

    • Thursday 30 September 2010 11:19 PM

      “Just pizza”? Heresy! Heck, I’ll probably go to Eugene just to have Cozmic Pizza again–the Orion with pesto instead of tomato sauce. Heavenly! And only three blocks to the Voodoo Doughnut in Eugene…sounds like ROAD TRIP!

  2. Kai Jones permalink
    Friday 1 October 2010 8:08 AM

    The Perfume House is well worth a visit for your partner. It’s amazing in there.

    I’m so shocked by your repeated good reviews for The Original that I haven’t commented. Some of my cow-orkers went there when it first opened and thought it was awful. Must have settled into a higher level of diner food since then.

    I haven’t eaten at Apizza Scholls, the attitude is distasteful. Hipster exclusivity is not my thing.

    There’s a full service, if not full size, version of Powell’s (not just cooking/gardening books) either on the same block or a block west of the one you were at, too.

    • Friday 1 October 2010 9:38 AM

      /shrug. The Original worked exceedingly well for me. Maybe it’s a “know what to order” sort of place. Repeated? One here, essentially copied to other forums.

      No hipsters at Apizza Scholls, mostly families with kids at that day/time. An older couple next to us.

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