Continued from Portland (part 1 of 2)
I wake up early the next morning. After lounging in bed for a while I decide to head out and grab us some coffee from Stumptown Coffee Roasters, a local espresso chain located just a few blocks away. I pass O’Bryant Square, a small public park located between Stark and Washington, and observe a substantial group comprised of Portland’s homeless and transient who are waiting for free breakfast that’s being prepared by volunteers. One of the waiting men strums his acoustic guitar and sings Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” which cuts through the silence that dominates downtown at 7:30am on a Sunday morning.
Propelled by caffeine, E and I make our way toward Mother’s Bistro, an establishment we’d last visited more than a decade ago. I remember it being popular but maybe not quite as busy at it is today. The host takes my phone number so I can be texted when our table is available and informs me that wait is currently around thirty minutes, give or take. Seats are always opening up at the bar he offers, but please let him know if we find a spot so he can cross our names off the list. Easily enough, we find a spot at the marble bar after just a few minutes of waiting. It turns out to be an entertaining experience as we watch first-hand the bartender/barista/mixologists churn out beverage after beverage, each drink looking intoxicatingly delicious.
We finish our meal and then wander around this area of downtown adjacent to the river. We spot Voodoo Doughnuts, a shop that has apparently been featured on a few food and travel TV shows in recent years. There’s a line that snakes out the door, orderly and well maintained by the stanchions the shop has placed on the sidewalk. My cynical side snickers at the folks willing to wait so long to eat a doughnut that tastes so much like any other doughnut they’ve eaten in the past or will partake of in the future. Maybe the folks waiting in line could reproduce these fabled fried treats themselves by buying a doughnut from any old doughnut shop or grocery store and tossing on their own non-traditional topping such as a piece of cooked bacon or a handful of Cap’n Crunch. But then again, maybe I’m just being cynical.
We avoid that tourist trap and instead spend a few hours roaming around Powell’s. E and I both find a glut of treasures to take back home including handcrafted stationary and an assortment of books and magazines. A liquor store downtown that boasts an abundant amount of locally distilled spirits is next on the list.
Portland has a burgeoning number of distilleries, many with their own tasting rooms. Unfortunately, time constraints keep me from visiting too many in one visit and this is a great opportunity to pick up a variety to take back home. After looking at the offerings and asking for employee opinions, I leave with new spirits to taste when we get back to Seattle – bottles of House Spirit’s Aviation American Gin, New Deal Distillery’s Portland 88 Vodka and Clear Creek Distillery’s Oregon Brandy.
I swing by the downtown outpost of Bunk Sandwiches to grab a late lunch I can bring back to the hotel. A small team of hipsters is running the place and sort of quickly(things tend to move a little slower all throughout Portland) takes my order and expertly prepares the sandwiches. The Meatball Parmigiano hero is tasty but the Pork Belly Cubano with ham, swiss, pickles & mustard is really the standout.
A brief respite back in our hotel room re-energizes us and we head out for a drink and to enjoy the sunset. There are hills that border Portland to the west but the setting sun and its ensuing colors still enhance the eastern view. We head to Departure, a chic Pan-Asian bar/restaurant that features a large outside deck and is located on the 15th floor of the Nines, a hotel not far from where we’re staying. There’s an ultra-modern/futuristic theme to the restaurant that E and I don’t usually seek out, but the deck is amazing, with an unobstructed view of Mt. St. Helens and a unique way to survey the city.
We make our way toward Huber’s Cafe, the spot we’ve chosen for dinner. The restaurant claims to be Portland’s oldest and has resided in its current location since 1910. They’re known for their old school ambience, traditional turkey dinners and the tableside show that occurs when diners order Spanish coffee, which includes a combination of liqueurs poured from dizzying heights and then lit on fire. We finish our meal and head to an ice cream shop that predictably sources its milk and ingredients from as many local, sustainable, organic farms as possible. Our day finally over, we slowly meander back toward our hotel.
Again the next morning, I fail to sleep in terribly late. While E continues to sleep, I walk to Pazzoria, an espresso shop located just across the street from our hotel to pick us up a few pastries and some coffee. We take our time getting ready to leave, leisurely packing our belongings and purchased goods. In a short while, we check out and head to our car. Before leaving the city we plan to make a few stops in some of neighborhoods located away from the downtown.
An attempt to get breakfast at Pine State Biscuits, a small diner specializing in homemade biscuits in the Alberta neighborhood, is abandoned after surveying the long, slow moving line. A quick search on my phone helps me find Tails and Trotters, a butcher shop that’s located in an industrial section of Northeast Portland and specializes in hazelnut-finished pork. The shop has a sandwich counter where they serve their pork, which has been cured in a multitude of ways. We order two sandwiches for the road and peruse the display of locally produced specialty sauces and miscellaneous small batch pickled goods. E is elated to find a quart of leaf lard – a specific type of lard rendered from the fat around the pig’s kidneys and loin. Just a tablespoon added to the beans you’re cooking transforms the flavor and leaves you with a taste that’s hard to replicate with any substitute. I pay for our sandwiches, sauces and lard then leave to make our final stop at one last yarn shop – Twisted, before heading out on the familiar drive back home.
I feel a tinge of sadness as we drive toward the highway to begin the trip back to Seattle. Portland has so much to see and to do, and we barely scratched the surface this visit. I fantasize about what my house in Portland would look like. What neighborhood we’d live in. What restaurants and shops would be around the corner from where we lived. What our lives would look like if we lived in this City of Roses on the River instead of our Emerald City on the Sound.
Our car crosses north over the Columbia and in an instant we find ourselves back in Washington. Continuing the string of unusually sunny January days, Mt. Hood and Mt. St. Helens again sit clearly to the east as we leave the city. We reach a recognizable stopping point, roughly halfway home. The gas station, coffee shop and bathroom there are always a welcome sight and provide much needed commodities.
As we near Olympia, the Capitol building peeks out from amidst the surrounding trees. At Tacoma, the usual traffic greets us but also offers splendid views of Mt. Rainier as we sit in gridlock on the interstate. At exit 156 the highway crests a hill and we catch our first views of the Emerald City. Mountains and water; the Cascades and Lake Washington to east; Olympics and Puget Sound to the west, dominate the northern landscape.
There, on that hilly isthmus between those large bodies of water, Seattle welcomes us home. CenturyLink and Safeco Fields, just south of downtown. Smith Tower, which was once the tallest building in west when it was completed a hundred years ago in 1914. The Seattle Great Wheel, a new focal point which now dominates the waterfront and extends into the Sound on Pier 57. Tall hotels, residences and office buildings that densely dot the area. The iconic Space Needle with its futuristic retro kitsch. We enter the city limits and I think about how there are over one hundred unique neighborhoods in this city, each with their own restaurants, shops and personalities. I continue north on the highway, just a few more minutes until I reach my house. My mind begins to race with all sorts of ideas and plans and lists of things I need to explore and experience and revisit in this adopted city of Seattle that I love so much and feel so privileged to call home.