There’s something going on up in the northwest corner of our country, and it’s going to make you hungry. Starting in 2003, a food revolution began in Portland, Ore., that took the farm-to-table sentiment from a movement to a given, and diners no longer had to choose between innovation and modest prices — they got both together.
These things, and so much more, are just the beginning of what you’ll find in Portland. Portland’s story, and all of the incredible food movements taking place there, is told in the cookbook The Mighty Gastropolis: Portland: A Journey Through the Center of America’s New Food Revolution by Karen Brooks with Gideon Bosker and Teri Gelber.
Ask Brooks and company to describe what the food scene is like in Portland and a few words will easily come to mind: obsessive, handcrafted, and unpretentious. They define the food in Portland an art project, something that’s spare and unpretentious, and a reflection of how far an "obsession and a do-it-yourself mentality" can take you. They not only prepare you for the food you’ll experience, but they set the stage in which you’d enjoy it, using descriptions for restaurants like "spaces often hammered, sawed, and welded by hand."
Originality, pride, and a rustic sense of cool are themes that are evident throughout Portland’s story, and we’re guided through them through different restaurants and dining trends that you’ll find there. First, we’re introduced to the "Beastie Boys," butchers or "meat slayers" as they’re described, who are carving away in what the authors call Porklandia. Here you meet people like Gabriel Rucker, Tommy Habetz (and his Pork Cubano sandwich), and David Briggs, and they each tell you their story along with the frequently asked questions they field, their life mottos, and their kitchen rules.
Next you’ll meet the local heroes of Portland who are recreating the homegrown table. There’s John Taboada of Navarre and his leaf-to-stem gospel, best advice from Matt Lightner of Castagna, and Mark Doxtader of Tastebud and his Original Berry Cobbler recipe. The journey continues, through the Asian street food movement (where Miso-Butterscotch Twinkies at Patrick Fleming’s Boke Bowl and Andy Ricker’s skewered chicken butts at Pok Pok are sell-out items) to underground supper clubs, food carts, and small-batch coffee houses. With each stop in Portland’s food scene, you grow more familiar with the people behind the cooking and yearn to meet more of them and learn more about their food (and eat it, too.)
Brooks, Bosker, and Gelber don’t just guide you through the journey of Portland through their vivid and beautiful descriptions, but they introduce you to every player behind it (whether it’s Ricker, Rucker, or chefs like Mark Doxtader) with personal remarks, recipes, and tips. If you find yourself salivating just as much as we are but can’t afford a flight to Portland just yet, The Mighty Gastropolis is the next best thing.
Anne Dolce is the Cook editor at The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @anniecdolce