What a fantastic trip to the Pacific Northwest. It’s one of my soul’s homes, right up there with Ireland and northern Arizona. But that’s another story for another time. In this space I need to stick to just the meals …
From the tarmac at Sea-Tac I was whisked by my brother and mom to lunch at Salty’s on the water at Redondo Beach in South Seattle. Mom had been before, and I couldn’t resist the Signature Seafood Chowder she raved about.
Similar to plain ol’ clam chowder in that it’s creamy and made with potatoes and clams. But in this case, also scallops and shrimp. A table-side trickle of sherry and sprinkling of fresh ground pepper added the finishing touch. Well, that and the waterside table and sunshine and an excellent local beer. Perfect beginning.
The seafood theme continued with a grilled salmon dinner at my brother and sister-in-law’s Anderson Island lake house. While everybody else was making steak sandwiches and PBJs the next morning for a seaside picnic, I turned leftovers into an excellent salmon salad for my lunch.
After lunch and exploring we pulled up crab traps only to find them filled with female Dungeness crabs, shown in the photo (it’s illegal to keep those). So we re-dropped the traps near the boat dock, a guaranteed Red Rock crab spot — success.
Red Rocks are similar to Dungeness, but their shells and cartilage and harder and sharper — making them more difficult to pick — and they don’t have quite as much meat. (Of course, I can’t personally vouch for the picking challenge. I was allowed to simply enjoy my G&T and keep the pickers company.) Mom proclaimed the Red Rock meat to be tastier than Dungeness, and she used it to make my great-grandmother’s deviled crab casserole. You’ll find the recipe at the end of this post.
On the way from Kelly’s vacation house to a new permanent home in Tigard, we stopped in Portland to eat at a Chowhound-lauded pizza spot on Hawthorne Boulevard. Our appetites couldn’t bear the 45-60 minute wait, so we strolled a few doors down to get in the long but seemingly fast-moving line at the well-named Por Que No Tacqueria. (IMHO, when it comes to tacos, “why not” is the ideal sentiment.)
Funky, casual and mostly open-aired, Por Que No is festooned with myriad south-of-the-border colors and tchotchke.
We all agreed that the food and atmosphere were fantastic — and the price was right.
I had a rum-spiked horchata and two of the specials, a la carte.
It’s often difficult to find a good vegetarian tamale, but Por Que No served the best I’ve ever tasted. The masa was stuffed with potato, anaheim pepper, red onion and tomato, and topped with “red sauce.” A tame — and ultimately misleading — description of an exceedingly spicy dish. It’s a good thing I like heat. As in the kind that had my scalp, upper lip, forehead and under-eye areas sweating freely. I fully expected hot tamale follow-up the next morning, but was pleasantly surprised. Thank god.
My summer veggie taco was billed as spicy, but compared to the tamale it was child’s play. Still very flavorful, what with the stuffing of corn, sumer squash, red pepper, Swiss chard and green beans all sauteed in pepito pesto and topped with salsa de arbol and queso fresco.
The next morning a gaggle of us family members went berry picking at Rowell Brothers Farm.
You might have heard of Oregon’s plentiful salmon or pinot noirs, but maybe not its berries. The part of the state we were in overflows with them during the summer — boysenberries, loganberries, blackberries. We were seeking whatever was plentiful and looked best, which ended up being blueberries, marionberries and raspberries.
Berry season hit early this year, I suppose because of the big heat, and it was the last pick-your-own day at Rowell Brothers.
Next were marionberries — or Marion blackberries — which I’d never had. They’re considered the “Cabernet of Blackberries” and are a large, full-flavored cross between two other varieties. They were not easy to pick, holding tightly to the thorny vines. The kids gave up quickly, so we only picked down one row (much to my dismay — they were fantastically delicious).
And finally, we gleaned the very last of the Cascade Delight raspberries: sweeter, larger, longer and firmer than other more common varieties. The vines had been picked over and we really had to hunt for them. (A lilting “come out, come out, wherever you are” was my niece Riley’s tricky technique.)
Mom baked a big pan of mixed berry crisp that night, and Kelly made us all blueberry pancakes the next morning using my late dad’s recipe. (Yet another one for you at the end of this write-up.)
Mom and I met a friend for Sunday brunch at a newish place called The Parish, located in Portland’s trendy Pearl district. The ambience was lovely, with floor-to-ceiling windows, Big Easy colors and flourishes, and jazzy live music.
The menu featured both traditional and push-the-envelope New Orleans dishes. I opted for one of the latter: local squash blossoms stuffed with fresh goat cheese and topped with cucumber and romanesco squash. It was a riot of flavors and textures. I wished for Italy’s larger versions of the delicious blossoms, and cut them into small bits to savor them longer. The sauce was good enough to beg some of my mom’s baguette to sop some up.
Our last full meal was quintessential Portland: a variety of small plates from one of the city’s food cart “pods.”
Unlike those in Raleigh and Austin, Portland’s portable eateries are known as carts instead of trucks. Which makes sense, as most of the ones I’ve seen there are smaller and more pod-ish.
The Triangle’s trucks are very mobile, moving between special event and regular gigs and spots (like microbreweries). In Austin there seems to be a combination of mobile trucks and those settled outside certain venues or clumped together in small “trailer parks.”
Portland’s Good Food Here was one of the two most highly acclaimed pods. It features more vendors (15!) than any of Austin’s parks, and several places to sit and eat, including a covered picnic table shelter. Like a tiny, funky and slightly edgy foodie neighborhood. Unlike Raleigh’s trucks, most of the carts operate on a cash-only basis — but the pod provided an ATM.
Jay and I decided to share an appetizer of Macarena (with spinach, garlic and jalapeno add-ons) from Herb’s Mac and Cheese. But the cook misunderstood and instead gave us a classic version. It was so good neither of us missed the other ingredients. Very, very rich and creamy. One of the better mac and cheeses I’ve ever had.
Next I ordered a prawn baguette from EuroTrash (boasting European and Mediterranean food with sloppy American flair). The bread was stuffed with curried prawns and topped with bright and crunchy cilantro slaw and a zingy sauce. Very satisfying.
But when it came to dessert, the steamy evening made us all scream for ice cream.
Fifty Licks — wow! What fresh, original flavors. I can’t believe nobody in my bacon-lovin’ family ordered the maple with bacon flavor.
After a few tastes, I was torn between two sorbets, so got some of each in one cup: coconut lemon saffron, and passionfruit with Szechuan peppercorn. Visually, it was difficult to tell them apart, but tasting the difference was a breeze. The passionfruit was super-intense and sweet, and after many bites in a row it was nice to switch over to the more soothing coconut-lemon-saffron. I also tried — and loved — my niece’s Tahitian vanilla and my brother’s … jasmine tea and apricot (or something like that). What a treat — real and high quality ingredients make such a difference.
And finally, I toasted goodbye to Portland with two local (Pacific Northwest, anyway) beers at Bailey’s Taproom — the Pyramid red wheat with fig being my favorite of the pair.
I hope that’s enough to keep you satisfied for awhile, because it is now time for A Tarheel Tastes to go on a serious diet. Summer of excess, indeed.
Now, here are the two recipes promised earlier:
Mimi’s deviled crab casserole
No measurements, sorry. You’ll just have to exercise your good judgment and personal preference, and wing it. (This tastes nothing like the deviled-crab stuffed shells you can find in restaurants along the coastal Carolinas, by the way.)
Mix mayonnaise, lemon juice, yellow mustard, raw eggs and melted butter. Mix in chopped hard-boiled eggs, coarsely crushed saltine crackers and cooked, picked crabmeat. Spread evenly into greased casserole dish, and top with more crushed saltine crackers mixed with melted butter. Bake at 350 until bubbly.
Jim Haggerty’s pancakes
Mix together the following ingredients in a bowl (don’t overmix) and spoon onto a greased pan or griddle to cook:
- 1 egg
- 1 1/4 cups buttermilk
- 2 T. shortening
- 1 1/4 cups flour
- 1 t. sugar
- 1 t. baking powder
- 1/2 t. baking soda
- 1/2 t. salt
My brother Kelly makes fluffier pancakes by separating the egg, beating the white and gently folding it into the batter at the end.
And finally, a photo snapped at an Asian market in Tacoma to leave you with a smile. (Idiot fish will be on my tasting menu next time I visit out there, I promise …)