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What is Portland, Ore.? (Part I)

What is Portland?

It’s where I had my first newspaper internship way back when at the Oregonian…

It’s where I learned it wise to carry an umbrella two out of three months that summer because that’s just how much it rains there…

It’s a pioneering eco-conscious city known for its great public transportation system, including free streetcar and bus rides in the downtown corridor…

And of course, it’s a region blessed with spectacular homegrown produce, world-class Pinot Noirs, incredible microbrews, legions of food carts long before it became trendy, and a vibrant restaurant scene any city would envy…

Thanks to Travel Oregon, a group of 25 food bloggers, including yours truly, recently was invited as guests to wine and dine our way through Portland.

Here are some of the tasty highlights:

A trip to Portland has to include a stop at Voodoo Doughnut, right?

This doughnut shop is known worldwide and its wacky cruellers have even been featured on Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations.”

I couldn’t resist the Voodoo Doll, a raised yeast doughnut frosted with chocolate and filled with raspberry jam that comes complete with a pretzel stake through its belly. Oh my! These doughnuts are total sugar bombs — as sweet as all get out and as fun as can be.

Then, there was dinner at Ping by 2011 “James Beard Best Chef Northwest” winner, Chef Andy Ricker. This trendy Southeast Asian street food bistro in the heart of Chinatown boats an eclectic decor with a wall of old-school radios, billowing fabric panels hanging from the ceiling, and tabletops covered in Korean writing. The food is inventive and vibrant.

Next, a trip to the huge downtown Saturday farmers market, where you can find vendors selling everything from squash blossoms to leaf lard.

I couldn’t pass up a biscuit at the famous Pine State Biscuits. While you can get them stuffed with bacon, sausage or even fried chicken, I opted for a plain one to experience the real unadulterated taste. The biscuit did not disappoint. It’s hefty and high with a fluffy yet sturdy texture. This is not a crumbly biscuit, but one that’s almost bread-like. It’s pretty darn amazing.

After that, it was on to a hands-on lesson in making tomato jam with the gals of Sassafras Southern Kitchen, who showed us how to cook down heirloom tomatoes, lime juice, garlic, shallots, brown sugar and spices to make a sweet-tangy jam that you just want to smear on a hot dog or juicy pork chop.

After that, another hands-on lesson from the creative duo behind Salt & Straw ice creams. Cousins, Kim and Tyler Malek, showed us how they concoct some of their unusual flavors, including a rose petal one they’re still fine-tuning.

We also got to sample an intense basil sorbet with Meyer lemon, a fabulous melon & prosciutto and my favorite of all, sea salt ice cream with caramel ribbon.

Finally, an al fresco dinner of brews and sliders on a downtown rooftop terrace at a very artsy advertising company building that was featured in an episode of the quirky “Portlandia.”

Chefs from the Gilt Club grilled up beef, lamb and elk burgers until we had to waddle away.

Part II Tomorrow: Portland’s Wine Country

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