No, it’s not a directive about proper dental care.
Rather, FLOSS stands for Fresh Local Organic Seasonable Sustainable. That acronym is the sacred mantra of Portland’s vibrant cuisine scene, said Adam, our guide from Portland Walking Tours.
Adam was leading the six of us on a private tasting and sipping exploration of some of the standout artisan producers and vendors who have helped create Portland’s stellar reputation as a food-lovers destination.
The meeting point for our 3.5-hour, 1.5-mile urban walking tour had been the mezzanine library of the Heathman Hotel, a favorite of visiting authors on book tours. Several of us had already primed our taste buds and warmed up our walking shoes earlier that morning when we strolled through the burgeoning stalls of the Saturday farmers market on the campus of Portland State University. All in all, we were ready.
Adam fed us more background as we began our trek. The close proximity and abundance of farms, forests, and fisheries in this part of Oregon ensures that Portland chefs have the freshest ingredients at their fingertips from which to develop their seasonally inspired menus. The surrounding Willamette Valley boasts more farms today than in the 1970s, thanks to the interest in growing and eating locally. A symbiotic relationship exists among providers, places, patrons, and the vast variety of local foodstuffs – a veritable culinary coalition.
Our first stop was at Cacao for an intense dose of what Adam called “hot chocolate on steroids.”
We drank melted Rivoli 72% dark chocolate from Ecuador blended with cream and milk. “It tastes like love,” cooed Paisley, the proprietor. And how. Chocolate is actually quite complex. The cacao industry claims cacao beans have more flavor notes and profiles than wine.
Next, Benessere offered a tasting of artisan olive oils and balsamic vinegars. Bread, they said, should never be part of a tasting because its sugar impacts the integrity of the liquids’ flavor. Olive oil is all about freshness. The qualities that make it good for you — helps lower blood pressure, raises good cholesterol levels and lowers the bad, acts as a natural ibuprofen — start to decline a year after its pressing. Worse, they noted, after a time olive oil develops free radicals and becomes bad for you.
Balsamic vinegar, on the other hand, is all about age. Interestingly, the olive oil industry isn’t regulated, while the balsamic vinegar industry is very regulated. The best traditional balsamic vinegars come from Modena and Reggio-Emilia in Italy. Vinegar is said to be good for digestion, and they recommended blending white balsamic vinegar with fizzy water for a refreshing summer beverage.
We hung outside Elephants Delicatessen as Adam brought out cups of steaming tomato soup. A rich blend of tomatoes, thyme, cream, and a no-longer-secret ingredient – fresh orange juice – the deli ships the savory soup by the quarts to Portland’s homesick college students.
Adam clued us into Portland’s food cart phenomenon. Word of warning — don’t call them trucks. According to U.S. News and World Report, Adam cited, the city is both the food cart capital of the U.S. and the street food capital of the world. The carts tend to serve ethnic foods, and are inspected and regulated like restaurants. The owners take their food seriously, not themselves, and their carts often sport clever names like Give Pizza a Chance and The Frying Scotsman (fish and chips).
The Gaufre Gourmet food cart features Belgian liege-style waffles. They use a brioche-type dough for a dense, but not heavy, texture, knead in pearl sugar for sweetness and to form a caramelized coating, and dust it with powdered sugar. It’s like biting into a sweet pillow.
More fun facts from our guide. Portland’s true liquid asset is its drinking water sourced from the Bull Run Watershed off Mt. Hood. No filters, no fluoride. The water is chemically perfect for making beer, which speaks to the proliferation of high-quality microbreweries as well as coffee roasters. A stop at Courier Coffee Roasters for macchiatos helped underscore the depth of the coffee culture.
We crossed into the Pearl District, formerly filled with warehouses and now a ritzy area of high-priced condos, shops, arts, and restaurants. Passing the city-block-sized Powell’s Books, billed as the largest independent English-speaking bookseller on the planet, we entered Pearl Bakery and sat in the kitchen for a plate of their breads and pastries produced from small craft batches of flour. The tasting protocol went from lightest to darkest, from the baguette with the crisp, crunch of crust and interior air pockets, to pain au levain, croissant, gibassier (a French pastry flavored with orange and anise), and, my favorite, the chocolate bouchon.
We proceeded to the “Farmatherapy Bar” at Local Choice Produce Market for a refreshing smoothie concocted from cucumber, celery, and carrot juice. Sadly, I have since learned that the market has closed. Happily, I felt the swig of liquid vegies did give me a momentary health boost – which quickly went by the wayside when we downed slices of seasonal vegetarian and carnivore pies at Hotlips Pizza, and then concluded with a scoop of handmade buttermilk Marion berry ice cream at Cool Moon Ice Cream.
The two restaurants where we had dinner during our weekend were certainly standouts. Nostrana, with its wood-beamed ceiling and visible kitchen, boasts a regional Italian menu using local, simple ingredients. Chinook salmon with salsa verde, dry aged flat iron steak, straw and hay pasta with smoked salmon, lamb ragu, and traditional Italian-style pizzas were some of the selections. The centerpiece of Ox is its fiery grill with movable grates. The Argentine-inspired menu showcases local meats, fish, and seasonal produce, including grilled short ribs, skirt steak, sausages, and scallops.
Bill and I closed out our stay in Portland at another food cart – one with a family connection. Bill’s cousin, David, is co-owner of These Guys Brooklyn, a food cart parked outside of Brooklyn Park Pub, a neighborhood fixture where David’s wife Michelle tends bar on Sunday. Meat smoked over plum, cherry, and hazelnut woods is These Guys Brooklyn’s forte, and they also dish up chicken wings and tacos.
While we sat in the bar watching football, David made us two sandwiches, one with Piedmontese brisket and the other with Carlton pork shoulder topped with slaw and a peach bourbon sauce. We polished them off with heaping bowls of his homemade chili. Hearty, hit-the-spot food, the NFL, and, best of all, reconnecting with relatives. Now that’s how to spend a Sunday afternoon.