16 September 2014

India Oak

India Oak Grill is hidden on Oakland Park Avenue. The unassuming neighborhood pub makes delicious grilled submarine sandwiches declared, "The best in Clintonville."

For more than 40 years, India Oak has been located in the neighborhood in some form. It was originally called Hollies and found in the Huntington Bank spot on Indianola, Its current building used to be a car wash, and the take-out window is a relic from those days - it is not a drive-through.

The subs are made on toasted Auddino's sesame seed buns. They have a cheese sub and a veggie burger in addition to starters like the hummus platter.

The Cheesy Veggie Sub is topped with lettuce, tomato, onions, banana peppers, melted provolone and American cheese. The simple ingredients are simply perfect. It's a steal at $6.25.

The bar has a small selection of beer and liquor with some pretty reasonable happy hour rates. During happy hour, a beer and a sandwich cost about $10 or so, tip included. 

India-Oak Grill on Urbanspoon

11 September 2014

Vegetarian in Portland

There are cities where it is difficult to be a vegetarian. Portland, Oregon is not one of those cities. 

In many places, restaurants typically offer a few choices for vegetarian diners. There are a few restaurants that offer exclusively meatless or majority meatless menus. In Portland, most restaurants offer vegetarian and vegan diners an array of options, and exclusively vegetarian spots seem to be on just about every block.

There are options in different settings and price points, and there is something for just about everybody.

The destination dining options in Portland seem a little more affordable since there is no sales tax charged in the state of Oregon. It is an extra incentive to justify eating out at the highest rated spots - or any restaurant, really.

Some of the best high-end spots for vegetarians in Portland include:

- Ava Gene's: Portland's premiere Italian spot features a menu rooted in the Roman tradition with a focus on the local bounty of ingredients. The place is popular in Stumptown, but the national media have also caught on: Ava Gene's was named the No. 5 new restaurant of 2013 by Bon Appetit.

- Andina: The Peruvian tapas restaurant offers an excellent selection of authentic vegan and vegetarian dishes in the Pearl District. 

- The Veritable Quandary: This Downtown spot is Portland's dining Grande Dame. The menu is a nice mix of Pacific Northwest with an international flair.

- Toro Bravo: The top destination for tapas in Portland is the swinging Toro Bravo. It is Spanish in much the same way that Olive Garden is authentic Italian; however, the capable kitchen puts spins on dishes that make it easy to overlook the elements that merely share a framework with the country that inspires them.

Not every restaurant in Portland is priced to clean out your bank account. There are plenty of affordable locations that offer a lot of bang for the buck.

- Pine State Biscuits: The popular breakfast spot makes damn fine biscuits, of course, as well as many other items rooted in the Southern tradition. There are two restaurants, and they also offer their wares at the Portland Farmers Market.

- Whiskey Soda Lounge and Sen Yai: Sure, you have heard of Pok Pok. Andy Ricker's tribute to all things Thai has locations in other cities (one is in NYC,  and Ricker will soon open two in LA). Whiskey Soda Lounge, his Thai drinking food restaurant, and Sen Yai, his noodle shop, are also located in Portland. 

- Clyde Common: The modern gastropub is found in the sleek Ace Hotel Downtown. The hotel is an attraction in its own right, but Clyde Common seems to be the most exciting place to grab a bite there.

- ¿Por Que No?: The festive Mexico-by-way-of-Portland taqueria has lines down the street waiting to sample its wares. It's difficult to tell if they are there for the tacos or the margaritas, so you probably should order both. 

- Lardo: This Italian sandwich shop goes above and beyond your typical deli. There is lots of pig on the menu, but the veggie burger should keep the meatless crowd satisfied.

A city with a reputation for quality produce and hippie vibes is bound to be full of world class vegetarian restaurants. Here are a couple of the main attractions.

- Tin Shed Garden Cafe: This is not a completely vegetarian restaurant, but the organic menu is about two-thirds vegetarian and features many vegan dishes. This restaurant is much of the classic throwback wholesome West Coast variety, and it's open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

- Harlow: Harlow is Portland's haute vegan/vegetarian spot, featuring dishes with local ingredients for meatless/animal product-free diners, as well as a nice selection of gluten free items. The cafe, Prasad, is more inexpensive and less formal.  

- The Sudra: This new vegan spot prepares international takes on Indian fare with some great happy hour specials to boot. It might not be the most authentic Indian restaurant, but luckily the kitchen kicks out food so flavorful that nobody will miss the animal products.

Portland is also a city on the cutting edge of mobile cuisine. Food trucks are incorporated into large blocks of the city, whipping up cuisine from all corner of the globe. An interesting vacation could be planned simply eating food served from wheeled kitchens. These are some interesting stops.

- Big Ass Sandwiches: These sandwiches, served on fresh-baked local bread and piled high with French fries and bechamel sauce, were featured on Man vs. Food and Best Sandwich in America on the Travel Channel. Why simply order fries when you can cover them in creamy sauce and eat them between two slices of bread?

- Koi Fusion: This truck fleet is riding the wave of Korean-Mexican fusion, putting Korean spins on tacos, burritos, quesadillas, sliders and rice bowls. The kimchi contains fish sauce, but there are still enough dishes made with spicy tofu to create an authentic vegetarian dish rooted in the culinary tradition of two continents.

- PBJ's: The gourmet spins on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches don't look anything like the brown bag lunch staple of school lunch rooms. There are menu selections built on challah, Oregon nut butters, house made jellies and other local ingredients as well as a build-your-own sandwich option. 

- Potato Champion: There are plenty of things you can put on fries, and Potato Champion does. Hand cut, twice fried Belgian fries come with a variety of sauces. There is vegetarian and vegan poutine, as well as fries topped with satay and palak paneer. 

Kargi Gogo: Georgia is a country at the crossroads of Europe and Asia. Dishes share characteristics with Eastern Europe, but are rooted in Asian tradition. The khachapuri, soft, layered, pita-like bread stuffed with a tart, mild melted cheese, can and should be eaten by the truckload.

- Emame's Ethiopian Cuisine: Ethiopian cuisine has lots of options for vegetarians, many of which can be scooped up with the pancake-like injera bread. The mesir wat is red lentils cooked with spices including garlic, ginger, paprika and cardamom, as well as tomatoes and onions. The sambusas, the cousin of the Indian samosa, is a good buy because it's about the size of a softball.

04 September 2014

Portland sweets

Portland is a city full of world class dining options. But its reputation is built on the backs of the artists that produce sweets in the Rose City as much as it on their savory counterparts.

Donuts may be the sweet that gets Portland the most attention. Almost everybody has heard of Voodoo Doughnut, the quirky shop that whips up breakfast pastries adorned with a Willy Wonka avalanche of candy and breakfast cereal. If you haven't, Google Kenneth "Cat Daddy" Pogson and Tres Shannon's shop - just about everybody has been there.

The house donut is the Voodoo Doughnut, a vegan anthropomorphic jelly-filled pastry complete with a pretzel pin to jab into its heart. About one third of the donuts are vegan, and they are marked on the shelves and on the menu boards.

A pink box of donuts is a great conversation starter. The $110 coffin full of donuts is even better.

Voodoo Doughnut Too on Urbanspoon

Those who find Voodoo Doughnut too whimsical might find Blue Star Donuts more up their alley. Blue Star is haute where Voodoo is hilarious.

These donuts, which also have received a great deal of media coverage, are made for grown ups, with bourbon and Cointreau as two of the boozier ingredients. Blue Star features coffee from local stalwart Stumptown Coffee Roasters.

The can't-miss choice is the blueberry bourbon basil glazed donut. It is sweet, smoky and mildly herbaceous in the most addictive way possible.

Blue Star Donuts on Urbanspoon

If you are more in the mood for frozen dessert, Salt and Straw is worth a stop. There are multiple locations of the shop throughout the city.

Columbus residents are familiar with adventurous ice cream flavors from local star Jeni's. Salt and Straw takes the modern approach into the next gear with choices including bone marrow, green fennel with maple and pear with blue cheese.

The off kilter combos work. The honey balsamic strawberry with cracked pepper sounds like a salad, but tastes like a revelation. The sweetness of the fruit is brightened by the acidity of the vinegar, and the pepper adds a subtle spice that fades delicately on the finish.

Some of the flavors might be too bizarre for a full scoop. But samples allow you the chance to try any ice cream, no matter what crazy ingredients are used. You might even like it.

Salt & Straw on Urbanspoon

I only visited Portland for a short time. There were more great looking places to satisfy a sweet tooth than there were hours in the day.

Some other spots for sweets: Quin Candy Company. fancy candy with local ingredients. It looks good for all ages.

Cacao was a cool looking spot with artisan hot chocolate. Chocolates come from local producers and are sourced from international markets. It must draw people like a magnet when the temperature drops.

There were more fantastic bakeries than I could possible name. Highlights included Sweedeedee, St. Honore, The Sugar Cube and Roman Candle.

02 September 2014

Apizza Scholls

Apizza Scholls is the place that put pizza in Portland on the map. Featured on No Reservations and named to best-of lists like Food & Wine Magazine's best pizza places in the U.S., the wood-fired pies from Brian Spangler's shop are worthy of the hype.

There are plenty of seats in Apizza Scholls, which occupies two storefronts, but reservations are still a good idea. Business at the restaurant stops when they run out of the dough that was made for the day.

The pizza is a little bit of a hybrid between New York thin crust and New Haven style. The 900-degree oven deliciously scorches the exterior of the crust, but it gives the interior a delightful chew. 

The menu offers up many classics, rooted in the bounty of local ingredients. Service was friendly and evenly paced.

 The Dirty Pizza was a special. It is a plain cheese pizza dusted with fresh parmesan and herbs including oregano, basil, rosemary and sage. It was topped with heirloom tomatoes after the bake. The fresh ingredients delivered on a soft, almost buttery crust were a perfect expression of the summer.

The Margherita added mozzarella to the cheese base, and ribbons of fresh basil and slivers of roasted garlic were sliced across the surface of the pie. It was an understated, nearly flawless take on the original.

It is a good idea to grab a few appetizers to make waiting for pizza go by with fewer hunger pangs. The salads and antipasti are popular choices.

The wine and beer lists rely heavily on Oregon producers. With pizza this artful, it's a tough call which beverage would be the better pairing.

Apizza Scholls on Urbanspoon

27 August 2014

Pok Pok

Pok Pok is one of the most interesting Thai restaurants in the United States. With locations in Portland and New York City, James Beard Award-winning chef Andy Ricker scours the Thai countryside for explosively flavorful dishes that are deeply authentic.

Ricker has a high profile. Recent media appearances include being a judge on Beat Bobby Flay and a full length documentary from Vice. His passion for the cuisine of Thailand is evident in every plate he serves.

A place with this much publicity obviously can generate a little bit of a wait for diners. Reservations are not accepted for parties smaller than 6. Luckily, the Whiskey Soda Lounge, Ricker's Thai bar food spot, is located across the street. It is a great place to grab a cocktail during the inevitable wait. The reservation systems were connected, and the bartenders are able to tell you when your reservation has been called from across the street. The text message system can also alert you via phone. Try not to fill up on the delicious looking menu at Whiskey Soda Lounge before venturing back for the main attraction.

The atmosphere of the restaurant changes depending on your location. Some areas are vibrant, while others seemed more restrained. Service was excellent. The menu is marked for vegetarians, but staff can make additional recommendations when needed.

If the menu lists an item as spicy, believe it. The heat on the papaya salad (papaya pok pok, the house dish) creeps, going from a subtle wisp of chili to a full blown inferno in a matter of three to five bites. The texture of unripe papaya gives the dish a meaty chew, and the flavors alternate with layers of lime, tamarind and peanuts. 

The het paa nom tok is a forest mushroom salad dressed with soy sauce, lime and chili. The mushrooms were thinly sliced, and the dish showcased the essence of black pepper, cilantro and sweet smoke.

Cocktails were outstanding. The apple gin Rickey was made with the Pok Pok Som apple drinking vinegar, which gave the drink a bright acidity to contrast the herbaceous gin. 

Pok Pok on Urbanspoon

22 August 2014

Tasty N Sons

Tasty N Sons is the cousin of the popular Toro Bravo restaurant. There are two locations, the second being Tasty N Alder. Tasty N Sons is located in the Boise neighborhood.

Almost every restaurant in Portland offers some form of brunch. Brunch is almost its own regional culinary tradition with religious significance. But Tasty N Sons really could be the best brunch in the city.

There are classic breakfast options with local spins. The menu also has Spanish options in the style of Toro Bravo with small plates to match. 

The potatoes bravas were saucier than the most rigid interpretation of the classic dish. Despite the modern spin, it was a different take on a breakfast potato dish that is good enough to fight over if it's being shared.

The sweet biscuits were dusted in powdered sugar and served with Oregon blueberries and marionberries. The buttery biscuit pairs fantastically with fruit and cream.

The fried green tomatoes were thinly sliced and dusted with a flawless panko crust. It was served with a bright remoulade.

The staff easily handled all vegetarian and vegan dining concerns, even offering modified versions of dishes to conform to dietary requirements. Service was friendly, fun and well paced.

Tasty N Sons has a full bar, and there were classic brunch drinks like the bloody Mary and mimosas, as well as other riffs on other classic cocktails. The wine list has some great selections, and it offers a nice range of options.

Tasty n Sons on Urbanspoon

20 August 2014

Rogue Distillery and Public House

Oregon is a brewing wonderland, and Portland may well be at the heart of it all. The city, called Beervana by brew-loving visitors, is home to a number of high-profile breweries. The brewery that put the Beaver State on the map, though, is Rogue. The Newport brewer has a brew pub in Portland, and it is a great spot to sample the off-the-radar offerings that fit the slogan, "Dedicated to the rogue in each of us."

Sure, you can get Rogue ales in almost a reputable liquor store in any state in America. However, there are plenty of barrel-aged and otherwise unavailable brews at the Public House that make it worth seeking out. Rogue was one of the United States' first breweries to make spirits, which can also be sampled here.

The food, for the most part, was run-of-the-mill brew pub fare. Dishes had a nice focus on Pacific Northwest ingredients. An apt description would be forgettable pub grub. 

But why go for the food? Delicious food can be found all over Portland. Go here for the brews.

Four sample size brews cost $6.50. It is a good way to sample the catalog. Interesting choices on my visit included the marionberry braggot, six different pale ales (Juniper pale, 200 Meter IPA, XSIPA, and the cask aged Imperial IPA being most interesting), cask aged Imperial stout and Beard Beer, a wild ale. 

Designated drivers and the little ones in the back seat can enjoy Rogue root beer and sodas, which come in flavors like cucumber citrus.

Rogue Distillery & Public House on Urbanspoon

14 August 2014


Tucked in an unmarked space across the street from Beast, Expatriate is a speakeasy small plates spot in Northeast Portland. Cocktails that riff on the classics are mixed skillfully by Kyle Linden Webster, and they pair with small plates by Mrs. Linden Webster, a.k.a. Naomi Pomeroy of Top Chef Masters/James Beard Award fame. 

The space is dark with a stylish minimalist vibe. The mood can vary based upon the flavor of vinyl that the proprietor spins from his vault.

Every drink has a story. The old school drinks explain their origin, noting the inspiration. The Infante, named after Mexican idol Pedro Infante, mixes Pueblo Viejo tequila blanca, fresh lime juice, fresh orgeat and local honey. It is dusted with fresh grated nutmeg, and the spectacular ice cools the drink beautifully.

The Royal Hawaiian contrasts a spicy gin base accented with bitters and citrus juices. It is named for a hotel opened in the 1920s influenced by the work of Rudolph Valentino.

The food is every bit as interesting as the drinks. While there are only a few vegetarian options on the menu, everything was perfect paired with the cocktails. 

I will crave the James Beard tea sandwich until my dying day. Crustless white egg bread is layered with cold butter, parsley, thinly sliced white onions and crunchy grey sea salt. Imagine the most delicious cucumber sandwich and elevate it. 

The hot and sour Indian curry fries are liberally dusted in a makeshift garam masala, and served with cilantro raita, curry ketchup and sumac ranch. The hints of sweetness temper the spiciness, and the creamy condiments add another layer of richness to the gourmet bar snack.

Epatriate has popped up on the radar in many important places, including being nominated as one of Bon Appetit's 50 Best New Restaurants of 2014. It is a fun experience, less serious than Beast across the street. Neither Beast nor Expatriate should be missed, though Expatriate's menu seems more vegetarian friendly. 

Expatriate on Urbanspoon

30 July 2014

The Sycamore

The Sycamore in German Village is the first new concept from the folks behind the popular Harvest Pizzeria. They turned the former Sycamore Cafe, a grungy dive bar in the heart of the neighborhood, into a stylish hang-out with a killer kitchen.

Rather than pizzas, The Sycamore offers pub fare that pairs nicely with the classic cocktails and reasonably interesting wine and beer lists. There is a small selection of vegetarian items on the menu, but most of the options are delicious.

The veggie burger, in particular, was a standout. The patty was quinoa, chickpeas, carrots and greens, topped with grilled mushrooms and onions with white cheddar, lettuce, tomato, mustard and house-cured spicy pickles with a subtle bite. The patty crumbles easily, but it delivers layers of flavor. The garlic and herb-tossed fries are great, and the malt vinegar aioli adds a rich, sweet accent to them.

The guacamole, on the other hand, added little to the Mexican staple. The chips were greasy, and the dip needed more avocado and cilantro and less radish and tomato.

Other vegetarian menu items include papas rajas and wild mushroom tacos and a mixed grilled vegetable plate.

The wine list skews heavily toward the New World. There are excellent beers by the bottle and on draft with a number of local choices.

The Sycamore on Urbanspoon

23 July 2014


Challah is a regular participant in the Food Truck Food Court at the Columbus Commons, and it pops up regularly at other spots around town. The ladies behind Challah prepare fresh comfort food rooted in Jewish cuisine, particularly the kind from Eastern Europe.

There isn't a ton of options available for vegetarians from Challah, but there is a meatless sandwich and side dish on the menu. The bread is good enough to make sandwiches a must-have from the truck.

There were differences in the bread for the tomato sandwich on separate visits. The interior with heirloom tomatoes, Emmental cheese, endive and mayonnaise is a perfect marriage of ingredients for a summer sandwich. The sweetness of the tomatoes amplifies the richness of the cheese and the spice in the greens in perfect synergy.

The latkes, served with sour cream or apple sauce, are made with thin ribbons of potato. It is a superior side to the somewhat ordinary cole slaw.

The cart handled a high volume of business well with minor timing flaws. Staff capably handled vegetarian questions and fixed all service issues. 

Challah on Urbanspoon