Review: Portland Epicurean Walking Tour
So I thought it only fitting that my first blog entry (outside of my welcome) should be one that hits on all kinds of food - salty, sweet, bitter, savory - all the points.
About three months ago I went on an Epicurean Walking Tour with my coworkers as a staff development and team building exercise. (I'm lucky to work in an office full of foodies and food enthusiasts.) Portland Walking Tours has a number of tours (including a Chocolate Decadence Tour I'll write about later) and as a staff we figured what better way to bond than to eat together!
The tour started off at the historic Heathman Hotel in Downtown Portland; we met upstairs on the mezzanine level, in the library, where we met our tour guide Brad and headed downstairs. The first stop on our Epicurean Tour was to be Cacao - famous for their drinking chocolate.
Yes. Drinking Chocolate.
We're not talking instant Swiss Miss hot chocolate mix....we're talking a thick, milk fatty enriched, creamy shot of heaven. Sure they have truffles and chocolate bars lining the walls but everyone who goes in there goes for the drinking chocolate. (In fact if any of my staff finds themselves in downtown during the work day, we often stop by and pick up a round of drinking chocolate for each other). They have a dark chocolate, milk chocolate and a spicy chocolate (think Mexican Hot Chocolate). I've only tried the dark and milk and prefer the dark chocolate...but boy do I want to try the Spicy next time I'm there.
We listened to some history of cacao, the process of chocolate making and how the purity percentage is determined. After our tour group (comprised of my 5-member staff, a young couple from New York, two older couples from the Mid-west somewhere and a Mom who was visiting Portland to see her son off to college) had finished drinking, lapping and savoring every drop of our hot drinking chocolate we took off to our next stop.
Brad, who we learned during the trip has a degree in Anthropology and is an improv actor, led our group through the streets of downtown stopping and giving tidbits of history along the way.
After strolling through the Park Blocks we ended up at Jaimeson Square Fountain and at the door of Flying Elephants Deli. We were given a sample cup of an orange soup and asked to guess what it was. The group started tasting and guessing aloud what might or might not be in it. In the end we were told it was a tomato orange soup - one of Flying Elephants most popular soups.
From there we traveled up and down, side to side, all around downtown Portland....
...We stopped at Public Domain and sampled a variety of high-quality (and $30/lb) coffee where we tasted the bitterness of the beans but the floral sensation in the back of our throats depending on the brew...We did a salt tasting at Tea and Spice Exchange where I learned you could infuse salt with flavor (omg the smoked black salt!? to die for!)... Sampled a wide aray of beers at Bailey's Taproom...and had a Reuben Sandwich with fresh homemade potato chips from The Peoples' Sandwich of Portland
There were two stops along our Tasting Tour that challenged me and allowed me to cross an item off my Portland Bucket List! The location(s)....FOOD CARTS!!
I shamefully admit that I had the prejudicial view that food carts = Roach-Coach. Although I've watched Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations and Andrew Zimmeran's Bizzare Foods and have from foodie after foodie that food carts often have the best food - I just couldn't bring myself to do it prior to this tour.
Something about having my food prepared in the back of a tin storage shed on wheels....BUT on my tour I learned how the city of Portland hold's their food carts to the same standards that any regular restaurant is expected to uphold and that often times the food carts get better reviews/ratings.
So when we approached Zita's Pitas and I was handed a börek and (after a photo op to prove I did it) I dived in. Now I'm not a huge fan of spinach and egg but I ate it anyway. And I have to admit it wasn't that bad.
Portland has a number of Food Cart Pods and eventually I found myself at another cart being expected to look past the bad reputation and stereotypes and dig into (one of my favorite dishes) a warm delicious falafel that just rocked my world!! It was warm and fluffy and just melted in my mouth. My falafel's never get that delicate and I could have eaten every last one if they'd let me.
This tour was wonderful for knocking items off my bucket list - including things I never thought to have on my list...liking eating a raw oyster.
After the Peoples' Sandwich of Portland we wondered further into Old Town and ended up at Dan & Louis Oyster Bar Restaurant. We toured the building, talked about being Shanghaied and then were offered a plate of oysters on the half shell.
Now I'm not afraid of eating raw oysters but the only other experience I had was when a roommate in college ate HUGE oysters out of a jar with hot sauce...not an appetizing first encounter.
I did as the others before me did. I squired a little lemon on it and used the tiny cocktail fork to put it in my mouth. Boy was I glad when my boss (who was taking pictures of me during this) quickly warned "don't chew!"....so I swallowed it hole. It tasted like the lemon juice I had put on it. She then said how typically when you chew a raw oyster you get sand and grainy dirt in your mouth and ruins the experience. So what's the point of eating the oyster? I'm still not sure. But I can say I did it.
The last stop on our tour was a place I'd gone many times before. Voodoo Doughnuts.
They've been featured on a number of Food Network shows and Travel Channel programs. They're famous for their unique and peculiar doughnut concoctions. How about Oreo's or Fruity Pebbles on top of your doughnut? How about a maple bar topped with bacon strips? They once even had Pepto-Bismol and NyQuil shots in the center of a doughnut (until the FDA told them they weren't allowed to do that). It's a staple food stop for tourists and locals alike. (just get their early before the line goes out the door and around the block).
I ended my Epicurean Walking Tour with the Oreo covered yeast doughnut. Luckily the tour was 2 1/2 hours long and we nibbled as we went so ending with a heavy and (too) sweet pastry didn't put me into a coma. It was 2 1/2 hours of delicious (and some not so much) food and better yet - wonderful company.