Food, Wine And Zombies

A walking tour of Portland, Ore., serves up organic treats with a side of the surreal

By: By Monica Poling

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The Details

Portland Walking Tours

What to Know: Portland Walking Tours’ Epicurean Excursion is $59 per person. The tour, which runs about four hours, leaves at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and at 10 a.m. on Sundays. The morning tour focuses on beer, bakeries and teas, while the afternoon tour is all about distilleries, chocolates and coffee.

Commission: 10-20 percent

While riding the streetcar to the Bridgeport Brewing Co., in Portland, Ore., on Halloween, a person dressed like a Sarah Palin zombie sat down next to me and growled, “Brains. Must eat brains.”

When the undead ex-governor exited the street car, a baker “zombie” with a pair of cooking tongs lodged in his head told her to have a nice day, to which she responded with an obligatory, “You betcha.”


Portland’s Pearl Bakery serves up a variety of fresh-baked goods. // © 2009 Monica Poling

This, I thought, struck me as a quintessential Portland experience. The city, which has long taken pride in its unofficial motto of “Keep Portland Weird,” has also gained worldwide recognition for both its artisan beer industry and its emphasis on sustainable living and public transportation. In a single moment, this interaction seemed somehow managed to embody the Portland spirit.

In fact, I was so fascinated by the city’s wholehearted participation in Halloween antics that I’d almost forgotten that I was taking a walking tour focused on food culture. Luckily, our guide, unfazed by all the supernatural activity, kept us on track.

Keeping an eye out for more zombie threats, I refocused myself on the search for Portland’s finest culinary offerings during my Epicurean Excursion, just one of the tours offered by Portland Walking Tours.

Our first stop, at the Flying Elephants Delicatessen — a popular eatery and shop whose motto is “Great Local Foods from Scratch” — served up the perfect introduction to the tour.

Our guide spent much of the day talking about the FLOSS philosophy which, in Portland, has nothing to do with dentistry. Rather, it stands for “Fresh, Local, Organic, Seasonable and Sustainable.”

All of the stops we made on the four-hour tour were selected specifically for their commitment to these principles. At the Bridgeport Brewing Co., for example, our host pointed us to a lone trash dumpster and told us that the brewery only generates two dumpsters of trash per week. Everything else in and out of the brewery is recycled or reused.

After sampling some of Portland’s finest micro-brewed beers, we headed back to the Pearl District, where the majority of the tour took place. Once a neighborhood comprised strictly of industrial warehouses, the Pearl District has since transformed itself into an upscale shopping and dining zone.

At the Pearl Bakery, we took a behind-the-scenes tour, watching the creation of delicious baked goods. Here, our guide educated us about the slow food movement, an ideology developed to counteract fast food and to help reconnect consumers with local food traditions. Although slow food is a nationwide foodie campaign, Portland’s culinary commitment to organic, local farmers makes it a leader in slow food practices.

After viewing the bakery’s back lot, we were treated to a few samples, with the reminder to savor our food rather than just gulp it down. I savored the samples — although, I admit that a little gulping also may have taken place.

Next, we wandered over to In Good Taste, a high-end gourmet store with a vast collection of items for the gourmand. The store also offers regular cooking courses, many of which are tied into the theme of Oregon’s Bounty. After a brief lesson on the care and use of ceramic knives, we settled in to sample local wines.

Although we’d already tasted a fine microcosm of Portland flavors, the tour was nowhere near done. Our next stop would take us to Tea Zone, a tea lounge that also serves various tea-infused cocktails.

The tour highlight was our stop at the Jean Vollum Natural Capital Center. Once an industrial warehouse, this building, now often referred to as the “Ecotrust Building,” is now an eco-friendly retail center, office building and gathering area. Although the building’s exterior continues to reflect its turn-of-the-century origins, the inside has been completely refurbished using eco-friendly materials. The redevelopment contractor estimated that 98 percent of the site’s construction waste was recycled or reclaimed, a Portland record. In fact, this is the first restoration of a historic building to earn gold-level Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification.

All of the building’s tenants demonstrated a commitment to sustaining Oregon’s natural resources. While Patagonia, the outdoor clothing maker, is the anchor tenant, we were more interested in heading to another tenant’s space, that of local eatery, Hotlips Pizza. Because Hotlips uses only the freshest, seasonal items, the pizzas they offer vary daily. Our samples included a variety of vegetarian pizzas chased down by homemade soda pop made from Oregon-grown fruit.

Our final stop was at Via Delizia, a local dessert house and cafe where we tasted samples of seasonal yogurts. The zombies sitting next to us agreed — this yogurt was to die for.

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