The Greatest Food City in America
It gave us food trucks & craft distilleries & barrel-aged cocktails. But a visit to Portland five years into the food revolution shows that it has become so much more than the sum of its quirky parts.
If a city could be summed up in a dish, that dish was sitting right smack in front of me. I had been in Portland for four days before I walked into the twee slice of coastal Sweden that is Måurice. It sat just under three dozen people, it billed itself as a “modern luncheonette,” and I later learned that its owner, Kristen D. Murray, named the place after her French lop rabbit. “As an homage to his companionship, goodness and generosity of spirit,” it’s explained, “it seemed a natural fit to baptize her dream shop with her beloved rabbit’s name.” Whoa.
I ordered “Radishes with French Butter and Salt” and that’s exactly what I got: five well-scrubbed heirloom radishes, greens still attached, ends untrimmed, sitting on a white plate with a gold rim accompanied by a dollop of butter and a generous pinch of sea salt. For $6. For a satirist, a place couldn’t have presented itself much better than Måurice. There were endless avenues to mock (it’s no surprise that Fred Armisen’s Portlandia is just starting its fifth season), but I parked my wisenheimer impulse and tucked into the best radishes I’ve ever had in my life. They were so good that I shared them with my family—which is saying a lot when you have only five radishes. In return, my daughter offered up a corner of her scone, itself one of the best-made pastries I’ve ever enjoyed.
It was here, in a shoebox of a restaurant named after a pet rabbit, eating food that Måurice himself would have loved, that I came to the inescapable realization that Portland may be the greatest food city in the world. It began as the place that spawned a million Civil War-era chin whiskers and popularized arm garters and bamboo growler attachments for cruiser bikes, and it’s morphed into a place where creative types have gathered in such unprecedented quantities that it’s fundamentally altered the way the city approaches the idea of living. I’m not saying irony and sarcasm have been outlawed, but I defy you to find a city in North America where these qualities are in less supply. They’ve been replaced with earnestness, which on its own can be something of a buzz kill. But when it’s bolstered by what appears to be genuine happiness, it’s a revelation. It’s why you have to visit right now: it’s for the food, the beer, the wine, the artisans listed below. And time is of the essence—who knows how long this nirvana will last?