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- Six-year-old Ella, a Lagotto Romangolo, hits on Oregon white truffles beneath the ground’s surface when she’s out with her owner, Stefan Czarnecki.GAIL JOHNSON.
With the NBA season in full swing, basketball-loving Vancouverites wistfully wonder whether the city will ever actually see the return of a pro team. Until then, the closest place for fans to watch a live game is Portland.
But that five-and-a-half hour drive isn’t a bad thing; in fact, heading south to take in the Trail Blazers in the City of Roses makes for a great excuse for a long weekend in Oregon. Check out the team’s schedule here, and keep an eye out for superstar Damian “Dame” Lillard. (Number 0 is also an aspiring rapper.) With food, drink, and outdoorsy highlights rounding out a road trip, you can have a getaway that’s as action-packed as it is ambrosial.
Here are some ideas for a visit to the Beaver State that will take you to beyond Moda Center.
Oregon wine country
The Willamette Valley—it’s pronounced wil-AM-it, dammit—is about 45 minutes southwest of Portland and is home to more than 220 wineries. (The terroir consists of volcanic soil remaining from ancient Cascade Mountain lava flows.) While Oregon is acclaimed for Pinot Noir, there are also big reds and sparklers to try at so many tasting rooms, mostly boutique, as well as craft beer and cider.
Check into the Vintages Trailers Resort in Dayton and check out the lovingly and thoughtfully refurbished Airstreams and Shastas with names like Vegabond, Neurtron Family, and Groovy. Glamping never looked so hip. This tidy, quaint spot with seasonal swimming pool has two rows of vintage trailers equipped with luxury hotel-grade sheets, mattresses, bathrobes, and towels (yes, there are showers in the units, some sharing space with the toilet). Plus, your morning java is pour-over style and local (Caravan Coffee). You can borrow cruiser bikes or just hole up in your tiny home by your electric heater to play board games.
Capo is a wood-fired Neapolitan pizza place on McMinnville’s main street. A wall of exposed brick, another with a swath of decorative log slices, and the rest of the room awash in white and wood: it’s a contemporary space that comfortably fits in amid the historic charm of the town, incorporated in 1882. Try the meatball pizza with Calabria honey, Brussels sprouts with salumi crumb, and affogato with rich espresso and even richer vanilla gelato.
Spend half a day truffle hunting with Black Tie Tours’ Stefan Czarnecki and his trained truffle dog. Oregon is home to pungent white truffles (Tuber oregonense), and Ella, a six-year-old Lagotto Romangolo, loves to find them.
Czarnecki’s parents opened Dayton’s Joel Palmer House Restaurant in 1997. Today, under his chef-brother Chris’s lead, the menu highlights wild mushrooms and truffles, hand-picked by the team.
You’ll meet Czarnecki at a central location before driving out with him to an undisclosed area; truffle hunters keep the coordinates of their sites closely guarded for obvious reasons.
In a forest thick with Douglas fir, Ella, coffee-coloured, calm, and quiet, makes her way along her own meandering route, sniffing the ground as she goes. When she hits on some of the tubers beneath the duff, she sits down and gazes up at Czarnecki. “Where’s the truffle?” he asks. On cue, she slides her right paw along the ground, just once. Czarnecki gently pushes the top layer of dirt and debris aside, sometimes digging and inch or two below to strike culinary gold (or rather white). Ella is rewarded with slices of fresh kielbasa.
Time to move on. She sniffs and sniffs. Time and again, she sits, looks up, then slides her paw, only occasionally leading her owner to a false truffle or one that’s not ready to be harvested. Czarnecki, who uses the truffles to make oil and in his own home cooking, will then share a truffle-themed lunch.
Forktown Food Tours offers a few different neighbourhood strolls, with the downtown tour including five hot-spot stops. Owner Heidi Burnette shares fun and surprising facts about the local food scene and the city itself along the way. Here’s one: While Portland was a leader in the food cart scene—a model that Vancouver looked to in developing its own community—the number of street vendors has been dropping as land prices have gone up in recent years. Here’s another: Oregon is home to about 80,000 acres of hazelnut crops, representing 99 percent of domestic production. The filberts show up on farm-to-table restaurants the state over.
Stops may vary, but you might hit Meaty & Melty (a food cart in Pioneer Square that uses Tillamook Cheddar and Olympia Provisions meats lie salami Capri and pork pistachio pate); Cacao Drink Chocolate, a shop that specializes in local and global craft and drinking chocolate; and Ruby Jewel Ice Cream (famous for its house-made ice-cream sandwiches in flavours like Oregon strawberry ice cream with brown sugar cookies). Then there’s Nong’s Khao Man Gai. A Portland legend and embodiment of the American dream, Nong Poonsukwattana arrived in the States with $70 in her pocket from her native Thailand in 2003. Khao Man Gai is the name of the single rice-and-chicken dish she started serving out of a food cart in 2009 before being forced to move (see above) to a nearby bricks-and-mortar location. (She now has two restaurants and two food carts.) The bright, balanced meal, with a gingery-garlicky fermented soy-bean sauce and cup of clear soup is made to perfection, served with refreshing slices cucumber, full sprigs of cilantro, and lime wedge.
Located in the Duniway Portland, a Hilton hotel across the street from Pioneer Square, Jackrabbit restaurant is one of four dining establishments throughout the U.S. helmed by chef Chris Cosentino, author of Offal Good: Cooking from the Heart with Guts. A champion of whole animal cooking, Cosentino offers dishes like pig’s ears, trotters, and head; you’ll also find a little number called Around the World in 8 Hams as well as rigatoni Bolognese, which is his grandma’s recipe. Vegetarians are not forgotten: there’s a pumpkin risotto, roasted squash, and dressed-to-the-nines Impossible burger. The Duniway takes its name from writer Abigail Scott Duniway, the owner of the first free press in Oregon and a suffragist fought for women’s right to vote in the state and who promoted free speech and human rights. (Oh, how we need you now, Abigail.) In celebration of her fierce independent spirit, the boutique hotel has black-and-white portraits on every floor of empowered, tattooed female Portland residents.
Columbia River Gorge
A mecca for windsurfers and a designated National Historic Area that stretches 85 miles on both sides of one of North America’s largest waterways, the Gorge is accessed via the Historic Columbia River Highway. Less than an hour east of Portland is so much natural beauty, with dozens of waterfalls surging from basalt cliffs.
Rooted in the Gorge is a just-opened restaurant in the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center and Museum (check out its exhibits and raptor presentations). Rooted is not a cafeteria-style afterthought to the museum but rather a draw in itself. Prior to launching their field-to-fork eatery, Kristen and Jakob Lillvik began doing monthly pop-up dinners in and around the city of the Dalles as a way to build community and support local ranchers, farmers, growers, and producers; the evenings were a hit. She’s a self-taught chef who has a knack for beautiful family-style plates showcasing seasonal, local, wholesome ingredients. With experience working in hospitality and brewery, he helps source ingredients and run front of house operations. Their new restaurant has the feel of a comfy living room, with wood, leather, and greenery.
Menu items change depending on what’s available from suppliers like Gathering Together Farm, Stamboom Meats, Wildwood Farm, and Cascadia Creamery. Expect unfussy fare that’s as nourishing as it is tasty–think kale Caesar with watermelon radish and Pine Street Bakery croutons; roasted Treebird Farm pork shoulder with Oregon Growers’ red raspberry and mustard glaze. To drink are local wines and craft beer and cider, all with a view of the Gorge’s green hills and grasses.