PORTLAND, Ore. — Is it possible for an Angeleno to leave home and find love in a region where sunshine is merely a rumor and 50 shades of gray are a daily atmospheric reality?
It's helpful if the pursuit of that bliss involves a white-hot controversy that upon occasion dominates headlines and ensnares academics, government officials and medical researchers.
I am speaking, of course, of carbohydrate love.
Portland — where the constantly caffeinated seem to have an ever-growing selection of pastries to consume with their coffee — is a logical destination. "We love our bakeries like we love books and strip clubs," a writer at Portlandfoodanddrink.com professed last year.
My husband, Steve, and I flew to Portland in early December, primed for a pastry crawl — 48 hours of maple frosting and bacon, of gingersnaps and drop biscuits with lemon curd. We were also primed for a visit with our 25-year-old son, Greg, who wanted to introduce us to his serious girlfriend, thus allowing us to witness a more traditional sort of affection.
Our list of stops was informed by recommendations of friends and coworkers who have some awareness of Portland's growing reputation as a gastropolis.
During the 48 hours, we stopped at seven places, ranging from artful (Bakeshop) to playful (Voodoo Doughnut Too). We drove about 70 miles in total as we wended our way around four of the city's five quadrants (North, Northeast, Southeast, Northwest, Southwest). Portland is not difficult to navigate and the locals' idea of bad traffic made us snort with derision, but we discovered that there were times to turn off the GPS and ask for directions.
Mostly, we grazed. We consumed shortbreads and gingersnaps, Fruit Loop doughnuts and macarons, at prices that ranged from $2 to $6 (although some of the big loaves of bread cost as much as $15). During our short stay, we must have consumed a month's worth of calories, and we agreed to give up sugar not only for Lent but also for the rest of the year, a resolution we broke as soon as we spied "made in Oregon" chocolates at Portland International Airport. It was an experience we'd repeat tomorrow.
Here's a rundown of the bakeries and sugar shacks we visited:
Known for: Pastry chef Kim Boyce worked at Campanile and Spago before relocating to the Pacific Northwest. Her creations, which are sold to other restaurants and coffee shops, attest to a thoughtful, sophisticated baker.
Highlights: Shortbread, ginger molasses cookies, chocolate orange pecan scones, chocolate espresso cake
Vibe: The Bakeshop counter is relatively small and practically elegant, reflecting what is being sold. Next door at Case Study Coffee, the mood was one of quiet contentment.
Overheard: Bakeshop is a carry-out kind of place next door to Case Study Coffee, which roasts its own coffee and encourages carry in. On a rainy Saturday afternoon, most customers seemed engrossed in their computers and their pastries; eavesdropping was a challenge. But a preschooler clutching a hot chocolate with homemade marshmallows proved the exception by loudly extolling its virtues.
Conclusion: An adult experience. Look for Madeleine Peyroux on your iTunes, plug in the headphones and dig in. Most items $2-$6.
Info: 5351 N.E. Sandy Blvd.; (503) 946-8884, http://www.bakeshoppdx.com. Open 7 a.m.-2 p.m. Wednesdays-Sundays.
Voodoo Doughnut Too
Known for: Tourists, long lines, doughnuts covered with maple frosting and bacon, arcade games and T-shirt sales. Despite all this (or because of it), Voodoo gets great press. Bon Appétit once proclaimed: "What Dalí was to art, Voodoo is to donuts." (There are two other locations: the original, in Northeast Portland, and a shop in Eugene, Ore.)
Highlights: Bacon maple bar, the voodoo doll (a doughnut filled with raspberry jelly and topped with chocolate frosting), the Loop (covered with Fruit Loops) and the maple blazer blunt (decorated with red sprinkles).
Vibe: Voodoo Too feels like a combination tourist trap, fetish shop and sweet factory. It's fast, furious and fun — in a sledgehammer kind of way.