Fireside

Fireside Restaurant, Portland, Oregon

Have you ever tried to describe Portland cuisine to people who haven’t been here? Usually I end up saying things like, “Lots of pork belly,” “New American” or “Comfort food.” It’s hard to define sometimes, the places that we love here in Portland who aren’t serving a style of food, per se, but food that we like. It has fresh ingredients, it’s prepared with care and we often get to enjoy it in well-designed, cozy spaces with people we care about. We are lucky to live here, indeed.

Fireside Restaurant, Portland, Oregon

I was introduced to Fireside (in what used to the the Music Millenium building on NW 23rd) by some clients of mine. I had a bowl of their leek and potato soup, and I came back three days later for lunch because I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Fireside does that Portland thing well — comforting, well-prepared food from stellar ingredients, served in a cozy space. The people watching is good, the menu selections are delicious and varied and I’ll be back for more very soon.

Fireside Restaurant, Portland, Oregon

Fireside is at 801 NW 23rd Ave. Go for lunch, happy hour or dinner and for the love — have some of the daily soup.

Sammy’s Flowers

Sammy's Flowers, Portland, Oregon

To say that I was a boy-crazy adolescent would have been a pretty serious understatement. My parents were repeatedly called by youth group leaders and teachers because of my behavior around the boys. That’s just the way I rolled — and I started early.

I started “going out” with boys — my mom was constantly asking me, “What does that mean? Are you going somewhere?” from mid-elementary school. That just meant we’d sit together on the bus and not talk to each other, but I still thought I was pretty hot shit — with a 10-year-old “boyfriend” who was 8 inches shorter than me. Where I was most in my element was Skate World. How could you beat it? It had nachos, roller skating, partner skates and special requests and dedications from the DJ.

I realize now that the boys I was chasing were probably horrified, embarrassed and totally unsure of how to get away from me, but isn’t that what the game of chase is all about? I’d save up my allowance money and on the weekend, when it was time to skate, I’d dedicate songs to my main man of the moment and buy him a plastic flower that lit up. I’m such a romantic.

Sammy's Flowers, Portland, Oregon

The point is, who doesn’t like to get flowers? Even if those flowers are a trap set by a wild-eyed adolescent girl who wants to share the next partner skate with you?

Sammy's Flowers, Portland, Oregon

The flowers at Sammy’s Flowers are some of my favorite (just after light-up plastic roses, of course). Not only because their arrangements are fresh and dynamic and beautiful, but because the way they display them outside their two shops in NW Portland is enough to brighten up your day just driving or walking by. I’m so glad they do that — it really brightens up the neighborhood!

Sammy's Flowers, Portland, Oregon

Sammy’s Flowers is at 2280 NW Glisan St., and their other location is in the Pearl at 1124 NW Lovejoy. Check out their blog for even more fabulous floral inspiration.

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.

Kenny & Zuke’s Bagelworks

Kenny & Zuke's Bagelworks, Portland, Oregon

Two years ago, I volunteered with a local organization that brought empowering outdoor spots experiences to at-risk teenage girls. It was tremendously fun, as we’d learn to snowshoe and rock climb and mountain bike together. It hardly felt like volunteering, frankly.

One weekend, we packed up two buses full of teenagers and volunteer women and we headed over the hills to Central Oregon, where we spent two days learning to rock climb at Oregon’s gorgeous Smith Rock State Park. It couldn’t have been more perfect — our guides were earthy chicks who knew what they were doing and encouraged all of us as we scrambled up the huge hunks of rock. We all left the rock that day feeling great about ourselves because we’d accomplished something. It was easy to see the way this confidence boost was needed in some of the girls. Beyond tired, we drove the buses back to our camping spot and set up camp before someone lit a campfire and we settled down to prepare s’mores.

The type of adult woman who volunteered with this group was mostly affluent, educated, athletic and adventurous, and certainly had the best of intentions. And yet, somehow a woman was put in charge of buying chocolate for the s’mores and she thought she’d get fancy. She purchased expensive bars of artisan chocolate with different additives and cacao percentages. The problem was, no one knew that because it was pitch black outside as we prepared our s’mores. So the girls broke off chunks of this fancy artisan chocolate, and then around the fire, they all made weird faces as they tried to figure out what had gotten into our s’mores. Most of them had never tasted 88% cacao, and if you have, you know it’s no Hershey’s.

No one said anything at the time, but on our way home we passed out a survey to the girls and every single one mentioned the s’mores. “Those s’mores were nasty,” one said. Another: “Why didn’t those s’mores have normal chocolate in them?”

Kenny & Zuke's Bagelworks, Portland, Oregon

Sometimes it’s best to stick with a classic. At Kenny & Zuke’s Bagelworks, they have taken the classic, done it really well and made a fun neighborhood eatery at the same time. They offer some of the favorites from the original downtown deli (like the reuben and sliders), but mostly they focus on excellent fresh bagels. Try the garlic with chive cream cheese and you’ll be a happy camper, minus the weird s’mores.

Kenny & Zuke's Bagelworks, Portland, Oregon

Kenny & Zuke’s Bagelworks is one of three Kenny & Zuke’s locations. It’s the more casual neighborhood joint that’s all about the bagels. Located at 2376 NW Thurman St. The other locations are in the West End district and on N. Williams Ave.