I’m going to come right out and say it. My husband and I chose the destination for our weeklong vacation solely based on the food.
Sure, they have other things in Portland. Really wonderful things! Gorgeous gardens and art museums, breathtaking scenery along a wide variety of hiking trails, and some of the most magical bookstores I’ve ever visited. But the food in this city is fantastic. Our itinerary was basically built around our meals. We started with a huge wish list of restaurants and coffee shops, and filled in the “normal” non-food-related activities around that. Even with a “bang-bang” (have you seen that episode of Louie where he and his friend eat two big meals back-to-back? That’s a bang-bang), we didn’t make it to the end of our food list. Shameful. Guess we’ll just have to visit again.
I have a lot of things to say about Portland food. I ate a lot in Portland. I probably gained 10 pounds (and I’m totally ok with that). But I’m going to tell you about the donuts, because this is a brunch blog, and Portland takes their donuts very seriously.
Another admission I need to make is that it’s been a while since our Portland trip. In fact, at the time, many of the Portland legends didn’t have the Los Angeles presence that they do now: Blue Star Donuts hadn’t yet opened on Abbott Kinney, Voodoo Doughnuts hadn’t started building an outpost at Universal CityWalk, Salt & Straw hadn’t established their Southern California empire, and Stumptown was still new to downtown. So that will give you a sense of the timeframe. But this should also give you a sense of how legit these Portland eateries really are – all of these companies are expanding to great success. So, finding all these wonderful treats was a bit like finding a unicorn, which made them that much sweeter.
Entering the Voodoo Doughnuts on SW 3rd Avenue, that unicorn analogy felt like it hit the nail on the head – even the brick walls outside were coated with glitter. Inside the shop felt like pink frosted mayhem, perhaps exacerbated by the early morning hour in which we chose to visit (an attempt to avoid the famed hour-long lines).
The doughnuts themselves were equally over the top; the decadent options spinning around in one of those old-fashioned glass dessert cases that house pies and cakes in east-coast diners. As difficult as it was, I was able to narrow my choices down to four – totally reasonable number, right? – and went with the McMinnville Cream, Captain my Captain, Old Dirty Bastard, and Blueberry Cake. As fun as the more over-the-top doughnut options were, the winner for flavor was the Blueberry Cake. It was a simple, well-executed doughnut with just the right amount of moisture and sweetness.
In stark contrast, Blue Star Donuts on SE Hawthorne (where they spell it “donut”) offered a much cleaner, simpler vibe, with an open kitchen and white tiled walls. The space is open and airy, and you can watch the masters at work while you contemplate your flavor options.
The donuts are displayed like art behind glass, with the few flavors delicately arranged on white plates and bowls with little cards announcing their names. The flavors we sampled here were both excellent. The blueberry bourbon basil had a light, delicate texture and real blueberry flavor, and the dulce de leche cake donut was sinfully rich and complex in flavor. It’s clear that Blue Star takes their donut craft seriously; they make their French brioche dough daily and change flavors often to celebrate the flavors of the seasons.
Both establishments have shops scattered around the Portland area, so no matter which corner of the city you’re staying in, you won’t be too far from some delicious doughnuts/donuts. And the good news for us Angelenos is that both Voodoo and Blue Star will have an LA presence before we know it. In the meantime, I think we’re going to have to stop by Abbott Kinney very soon to get our Blueberry-Bourbon fix.