Random Order Pie Cafe

Random Order Pie Cafe, Portland, Oregon

Allow me to take a moment to tell you about a pie. It was a coconut cream pie with a salted graham cracker crust. It was pretty delicious, if I do say so myself. I hand-toasted coconut flakes for the top, whipped the cream topping into foamy peaks and pressed the crust into the pan. Then I packed it across town to the Portland Pie-Off and entered it into — unbeknownst to me — the most popular category.

There were coconut cream pies, banana cream pies, chocolate cream pies and a few less-than-traditional concoctions. The competition was intimidating. The day was also on the warm side, which made me nervous about my freshly whipped cream. But we laid in the grass on our picnic blanket and let the judges do their work. I did happen to notice quite a few of them huddling around my pie in particular. That’s how I had the feeling I might win.

Random Order Pie Cafe, Portland, Oregon

I did win — in my division, at least — and even if I hadn’t, it was one of my most fun Portland afternoons. I’d like to make this my official request to bring the Portland Pie-Off back! I would totally enter again.

Incidentally, I made my blue-ribbon pie again about a month later for a party and it didn’t set up right. It was coconut soup and no one ate it. Pie can be tricky!

Random Order Pie Cafe, Portland, Oregon

I make a mean pie, but the folks at Random Order coffeehouse and pie shop could run circles around my blue-ribbon coconut cream. That’s why I love them. I love their caramel apple pie and really, every pie they make, and I keep going back for more. Who doesn’t love pie? As a side note, they make a really yummy vegan panini with a white bean spread. Don’t miss it on the lunch hour.

Random Order Pie Cafe, Portland, Oregon

Random Order is at 1800 NE Alberta St. Stop in for pie, cocktails or the aforementioned sandwich. They’re all good. Find Random Order on Twitter too!

Boke Bowl

Boke Bowl, SE Portland, Oregon

I’m still totally unsure as to why they’d need to do this, but when I was in elementary school, they marketed school lunch to us with “cool” magnets featuring brightly colored flamingos and slogans like “It’s cool to eat at school!”

They didn’t have to sell me — most of the time, my mom didn’t let us eat hot lunch at school because it wasn’t very healthy. Instead, she’d pack up fresh fruit and veggies alongside sandwiches and skim milk for us. But on the rare occasion that we got to buy lunch at school, it was awesome — especially on chicken fried steak day. I find it weird that I’m an adult who has been vegetarian most of my life now, but I could not get enough chicken fried steak back in elementary school. Pair it with tater tots and over-boiled grayish green beans and you’ve got a classic early 90s school lunch.

Boke Bowl, SE Portland, Oregon

Absolutely nothing about Boke Bowl resembles school lunch, except for the long table running the length of the restaurant. Something about eating in the company of strangers takes me back to my cafeteria days. The food here is far more complex and wonderful than all that business. My favorites at Boke Bowl are the vegan rice bowl and the caramelized fennel ramen (try a side of rice tots!) Most days, this is exactly what I want for a complex and yummy lunch.

Boke Bowl, SE Portland, Oregon

Boke Bowl is at 1028 SE Water Ave. in SE Portland’s industrial district, just a short walk from the waterfront and Eastbank Esplanade. Stand in line — it’s worth it.

Grassa

Grassa, Portland, Oregon

In my high school days, I was a drama kid. As in, I acted in plays and musicals. And I both looked up to and feared one of my drama teachers, Jeff. I feared him because everyone feared that if you made him mad enough, he’d never cast you in a play again.

One time, I got asked to babysit his kids, which was essentially equivalent to being invited into the inner circle, I think. It meant he trusted you enough to trust you with his own children and thought you were responsible. In my 16-year-old brain, this translated directly into being considered responsible enough to play a leading role in some upcoming play.

I arrived at his house (getting to see where a teacher lived was always so weird and exciting), got my babysitting instructions and met the dog, and then he and Koleen headed out for the night. The kids were easy — a great age, pretty autonomous and I already knew them — and the job was going to be a slam dunk. I was convinced that if I could just be the best babysitter they’d ever had, I’d be his favorite student from then on. Lead roles straight through until graduation.

Job number one was to feed the kids. They had left me a blue box of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese — easy. But somehow (and I do not even know how this is possible) I burnt it. Ruined it. And then I panicked. The kids had to eat something! I couldn’t put his children to sleep with empty bellies! What was I going to do?!

With the kids’ help, I started rummaging around in the pantry, looking for something else to feed them. I guess there wasn’t anything dinner-like that I knew how to cook, so somehow I settled on Pop-Tarts. Then I guiltily swore the kids to secrecy, knowing that my own mother would not approve of this as an acceptable dinner food. I feared I’d be watching every show from the wings if they found out I fed their kids Pop-Tarts for dinner. The burnt macaroni and cheese in the garbage can couldn’t possibly have given me up.

I put the kids to bed in the middle of a sugar high and spent roughly the next two months interpreting everything he said to me as a possible reaction to my poor babysitting skills. But they grew up pretty great, and Jeff is now my friend and not my scary teacher, so I’d say we made it through OK.

Grassa, Portland, Oregon

There is no sign of burnt macaroni at Grassa, in Portland’s West End district. The pasta here is creamy, delicious and handcrafted. We split an arugula salad with fresh ground hazelnuts, then enjoyed an order of the strozzapretti (anchovies, olives, capers and chilies) and the bucatini (with hazelnut pesto). It was a simple, lovely dinner and we’ll certainly be back again.

Grassa, Portland, Oregon

Grassa Handcrafted Pasta can be found at 1205 SW Washington Street in Portland’s West End district. All things handcrafted pasta on Twitter.

What’s the Scoop?

What's the Scoop?, North Portland, Oregon

When I was little, my dad had a BetaMax camera that he used for gathering family memories. He had a signature style — narrating from behind the camera, asking his kids lots of questions in order to illicit the most adorable responses and actions, and having long, drawn-out goodbyes at the end of each segment.

A few years ago, for Christmas, we had all the old BetaMax tapes updated and put on DVDs as a surprise for my mom. She loved them, and we sat around for hours that Christmas reliving all the hilarious (and sometimes monotonous) daily goings-on of the Gray household in the 1980s.

In one particularly cute interchange between my dad and I, I sit in just a diaper in an oversized high chair, hair in a very fashion-forward mullet style. My dad cues me with a call-and-response song:

Do you like ice cream? I said:

Yes, I do!

Do you love ice cream? I said:

Yes, I do!

Would you like some? I said:

Yes, I would!

Cause it’s good, good, good.

What's the Scoop?, North Portland, Oregon

Clearly my childhood was filled with lots of this frozen treat. It’s a good thing since I live in a city that values their ice cream so much. I recently found a new and absolutely delicious spot on N. Williams Ave. — What’s the Scoop? Their signature flavor is the brown butter almond brittle (every bit as delicious as it sounds). Pair it with a housemade, fresh-off-the-press “fortune cookie” cone and you’ve got a winning pair.

What's the Scoop?, North Portland, Oregon

Run, don’t walk, to What’s the Scoop?, located at 3540 N. Williams Ave. Follow them on Twitter for more of the sweet stuff.

Cupcake Jones

Cupcake Jones, NW Portland, Oregon

The way the story goes, my sister Emily was to be delivered via scheduled caesarean section. The doctor looked at his schedule and suggested September 13, 1985. The problem with that date, though, was that it was my second birthday. So even though the doctor had to move his Saturday tee time, she insisted that we have our own birthdays and my baby sister emerged on September 14.

The convenient solution to having your kids just one day apart is that you can combine their birthday parties! This was a revelation for my parents. Just one big mess, one huge herd of small children in the house, one day of chaos. They were sold.

This worked really well the first couple years. Until the year when we were 3 and 5. That year, we had each invited probably 8-10 friends and they all sat around us on the floor of the living room in their party dresses. The five-year-olds gathered around me, and the three-year-olds gathered around Emily. It was time to sing. The problem, of course, is that three-year-olds are such followers. They get confused easily; they’re little. So instead of doing the proper thing and singing to Emily, they followed the lead of the older kids and everyone in the room sang to me only. Emily burst into tears. Birthday ruined.

That was the last time we had a joint birthday party for awhile.

Cupcake Jones, NW Portland, Oregon

Everyone gets their own cake at Cupcake Jones — no sharing required. You can get a jumbo or a mini cupcake in flavors like peanut butter cup or chocolate mint. They even offer some vegan and gluten-free cupcakes so no one has to go without. My favorite is the vegan, gluten-free chocolate. Happy birthday to us, sister!

Cupcake Jones, NW Portland, Oregon

Cupcake Jones is in the Pearl District at 307 NW 10th Avenue. They tweet too!

Smaaken

Smaaken, SW Portland, Oregon

Eric and I wandered the aisles in the Macy’s store at Washington Square with a large scanner device in one hand. We pointed to things we’d like for our wedding, and scanned them in. Food processor? Check. Hotel collection towels? Yes, please. We were going to be totally outfitted with all this registry swag.

Then we came to the waffle maker.

“Ooh, a waffle maker!” I said, approaching the shiny little workhorse with our scanner.

“Wait just a minute,” he said. “Do we really want a waffle maker?”

I’m sorry, what? Who doesn’t want a waffle maker?

“I just don’t really like waffles,” he said. My jaw dropped. I was about to agree to spend the rest of my life with someone who doesn’t really like waffles?

“I’ll eat enough for both of us,” I said. Must have been a really attractive sentence. So I registered for it. And someone bought it for me.

In six years of marriage, I’ve used it twice.

Smaaken, SW Portland, Oregon

I don’t usually need to make my own waffles since there are hot, delicious ones available at Smaaken, a food cart in SW Portland’s Hillsdale neighborhood. Topped with sweet or savory toppings (like veggie sausage — my favorite — or banana and nutella) and folded to go, they’re a favorite of lots of Wilson High School students, who congregate around these food carts.

Smaaken, SW Portland, Oregon

Smaaken is located in the Hillsdale Food Park, near Wilson High School at the intersection of SW Capitol Hwy. and SW Sunset Blvd. Stop in for a breakfast waffle with coffee or a lunch waffle piled high with savory fillings.

Bluebird Bakers Cookie Bar

Bluebird Bakers Cookie Bar, Portland, Oregon

The first time I discovered that my Spanish friends didn’t eat peanut butter, my mind was blown. How could anyone not eat peanut butter?! It was a time in my life when my eyes were opened to a new thing called a cultural difference. I was just sure that if they tried it, they wouldn’t be able to resist. So I tried feeding it to them.

First, I tried a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It was too sweet, then just too weird. I was disappointed, but I didn’t give up hope that easily. So we invited another pair of matched Spanish-American students over to Conchi’s house, and our goal was to bake peanut butter cookies.

They were certainly not the best peanut butter cookies, by the time we had calculated the correct recipe with foreign measures and found some reasonable peanut butter to work with. But they did taste a lot like home, and in the end, our Spanish friends humored us and tried a cookie, but it was us who ate them, late at night in a kitchen in Barcelona, because sometimes a cookie has the power to take you home.

Bluebird Bakers Cookie Bar, Portland, Oregon

They must know that everyone appreciates the taste of a delicious cookie at Bluebird Bakers Cookie Bar. This spot, on tree-lined Thurman St. in the Northwest District in Portland, is practically a time capsule. It’s a charming little place — a cookie bar — where you can walk in, order a really well-made cookie in flavors like dark chocolate with salted caramel or chocolate chunk, and enjoy a simple, well-made treat.

The bustle of the baking behind the counter is something to observe — all that bustle is preparing these lovely cookies to go out in shipments to local stores like New SeasonsZupan’s and Market of Choice. But the freshest ones are right there in the cookie bar, waiting to be eaten fresh out of the oven. Sit in the window seats and watch the bakers work for awhile — it will most definitely remind you of home, no matter how far away that is.

Bluebird Bakers Cookie Bar, Portland, Oregon

Bluebird Bakers Cookie Bar, 2390 NW Thurman St. in Northwest Portland. Buy a dozen and share them with your friends.

Tell me you’ve tried them — and if you have, which is your favorite? For me, it’s definitely a toss-up between the chocolate chunk with sea salt and the vegan peanut butter banana.

Bread & Broth

Bread & Broth, Portland, Oregon

We were just on the tails of a trip to Scandinavia to see our friends get married and we were short on money. Plus, I was sure we’d be exhausted after our wedding and that we’d just want to relax. So that’s why I suggested that we go to Arizona on our honeymoon. It was a short flight, it would be warm in October and we could just lay by the pool for a week. Foolproof plan. Right?

I was right in the beginning — for at least 36 hours, we were exhausted. But then, after we slept, we came out into the hot desert sun looking for something to do. And we weren’t coming up with much. We don’t golf, we didn’t have any money, we got bored after an hour of laying by the pool. We thought about going to the Grand Canyon, but I wasn’t old enough to drive the rental car and people drove so fast that making the drive freaked us out. We walked through antique shop after antique shop — we don’t like antiques. We bought visors and aviators as a joke. We drank margaritas. We kicked around the idea of driving our rental car over state lines and heading for Vegas. Then we decided it wasn’t a good idea.

After a week, we saw maybe three interesting things and we’ve never been so glad to be home. Sorry Arizona, but you’re not my jam.

Bread & Broth, Portland, Oregon

Even though the food is better, I always imagine that vacationing in Portland might be a little on the boring side. We don’t have huge tourist infrastructure (although, admittedly, it’s growing a lot now). I love living here, but would I vacation here?

If you’ve been downtown this summer, you know that people are legitimately on vacation in Portland. I usually spot them unsurely pedaling their way through our downtown bike lanes, not sure which direction they’re heading, or standing in front of the food carts at 9th & Washington.

The cart Bread & Broth makes a killer tofu sandwich: Tofu steaks with vegenaise, avocado and red onion on a perfectly soft baguette. This place is highly recommended — if you can fight your way through the tangles of tourists crowding the sidewalks.

Bread & Broth, Portland, Oregon

Bread & Broth is a food cart in the immensely popular pod at 9th & Washington, downtown. Find these sandwich-making dudes on Twitter and Facebook.

Have you eaten at Bread & Broth? Which sandwich/soup combo is your favorite?

Local Choice Market

Local Choice Market, NW Portland, Oregon

I decided it was finally time to take Eric to Madrid. I studied abroad there — and he’d patiently take my calls at all hours because of the time difference — but he’d never walked the streets I loved, tasted the tapas, drank the wine and strolled through the Puerta del Sol.

For a week, we wandered. I walked him past the apartment I lived in, the school I attended and the spots where I used to meet my friends for dinner and drinks. And then, once the trip down memory lane concluded, we went off in a new direction, looking for a spot we could call our own. We found it in Chueca — a large, four-story gourmet grocery store with a restaurant on the top floor. We walked past fresher-than-fresh seafood onto an entire floor lined with small stalls. One sold hamburgers, another traditional tapas. Twice we ate dinner there, relishing the food, the view and the experience.

Local Choice Market, NW Portland, Oregon

I hadn’t seen anything quite like this grocery store in Portland until I happened on Local Choice Market. They offer seasonal veggies and high-quality meats, then have a special area for wines and beer (pull up a stool and taste something!) a deli section and an area with an espresso bar and fresh-squeezed juice selections. Pull up a chair and make some new Portland memories.

Local Choice Market, NW Portland, Oregon

Local Choice Market is located at 830 NW Everett St. in Portland’s Pearl District. Do your shopping, or stop in for a juice, lunch, coffee or wine tasting. Follow their blog for more.

Sip Juice Cart

Sip Juice Cart, Portland, Oregon

We set up shop with a card table, a piece of recycled cardboard and some Country Time lemonade. There were at least four of us, between my sister Emily and the neighbor girls. We went three blocks away to the nearest intersection in our Beaverton suburb, to maximize traffic and therefore, profits. Then we used our impressive marketing acumen and I crossed the street from our awesome lemonade stand to lure in customers.

A big moving truck pulled up to the stop sign, and the man in the passenger seat rolled down his window and asked how much lemonade cost.

“25 cents!” I said, in my most salesmanlike tone. He seemed impressed with the value, and asked me to come closer to the truck so he could hand me his quarter.

Freshly primed on stranger danger videos, I panicked. Absolutely convinced that he was about to abduct me and out of sight from my friends and sister across the street from the massive truck, I froze for a second and then I went into fight-or-flight mode. I dropped my sign and I ran as fast as I could toward home. I turned the corner just as the truck moved, and my friends and sister saw, where I had been standing, just my sign on the ground. No sign of me.

So much for summer fun.

Sip Juice Cart, Portland, Oregon

It’s tough work selling juice from a stand, but that’s what they do at Sip Juice Cart.

On a very friendly personalized recommendation, I ordered the Sweet Greens juice, which has four kinds of greens plus apple juice for sweetness and ginger for a nice kick. It was delicately flavored and the satisfying color of the flesh of a perfectly ripe avocado. They also offer smoothies and vegan milkshakes, which looked pretty decadent. I think my favorite part about grabbing a quick afternoon juice here is the design of the place — in the back window of the trailer, you can see piles of fresh oranges, pineapples and other fruit just waiting to be juiced. You can sit on the picnic table and enjoy a moment of zen and it’s lovely.

Sip Juice Cart, Portland, Oregon

Sip, located at 2210 NE Alberta St. in NE Portland’s Alberta Arts District, is actually the second location of this fine cart. You can find the first one at 3029 SE 21st Ave. Follow them on Twitter, too!