26 September 2014


Brazenhead is an Irish pub with an American menu of comfort food classics. Burgers, sandwiches, fried appetizers, soups and salads are paired with large-production craft beers and a few local taps.

The atmosphere is typical of an Irish American establishment. The bar is busy at happy hour. Bands play inside the bar area as well as on the patio some evenings.

There are multiple choices for vegetarian starters. Options include warm soft pretzel sticks, hummus, Greek fries, house-made potato chips and chili glazed cheese balls. The onion rings and pickles are breaded with Guinness, which contains isinglass, a fish gelatin. This is your vegetarian warning.

The pretzels are an addictive snack that can be eaten by the sackful. Though sometimes a little greasy, the piping hot starter tastes better with mustard and best with beer cheese dip.

The chips, which come standard with entrees as well as alone as an appetizer, are golden brown and delicate yet crispy. The subtle garlic dip adds creaminess and layers of flavor.

The vegan burger is a deconstructed take on the traditional veggie patty, made from eggplant, mushrooms, grains and onions. It is served on a brioche bun, topped with lettuce, tomato, sprouts, sliced avocado, balsamic vinegar and mustard.

The grilled cheese is slathered in Cabot cheddar pimento cheese and walnut pesto, with sprouts and pears making up the difference. The sandwich is served on nine grain bread.

Brazenhead Irish Pub on Urbanspoon

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