The 10 Best Gluten-Free Things I Ate in June (PDX Edition)
July 6, 2016
For any of you who are gluten-free and have visited Portland, you know there was no way for me to keep this month's gluten-free round-up to just the five best. Impossible, for sure. Even if you don't have to be gluten-free, I promise you will not be disappointed by this list and even more impressed once you taste some of it.
It's so good in fact, it made my return to Berlin a little bittersweet. Even at the Bio markets here, I'd pick things up to read the label, and sigh. Nope, not safe for me. Here, I'm relegated to the veg/dairy/meat sections (not that that's a bad way to eat, but sometimes it's nice not to have to make everything from scratch). It was a jolting reminder of how far we still have to go for the gluten-free community here in Germany. Portland, you spoil me.
So for now, I will dream about my next visit... planning to wear exclusively elastic-waist pants, of course.
1. Cinnamon Rolls from Kyra's Bake Shop
I tried a few cinnamon rolls while in Portland, but this was the only one that brought back pre-celiac-diagnosis memories of decadent mall Cinnabons I indulged in when too often while working the retail circuit. Yeasty, cinnamon-y and perfectly iced, these were perhaps my very favorite treat of the trip. Rave reviewers consistently praise Kyra's baked goods for not tasting at all like gluten-free and these are no exception. I have yet to make homemade cinnamon rolls (I mean, all that work...), but these might be just the push I need to give it a shot.
2. Seattle Cider Basil Mint Cider
OK, so here's where I had to break with only featuring food here, because the whole drinks scene is so good in Portland, it's worth adding to the list. There was a plethora of good gluten-free beer, but it was this crisp, summery cider that had me swooning. I'm still mourning the bottle that was left at my parent's house, forgotten to be put in a suitcase for our crack-of-dawn departure. I'll come back for you cider, I promise.
3. Back to Eden's Chocolate-Rootbeer Doughnut
Let me just preface this by saying my first gluten-free doughnut was the maple-bacon weekend special at Kyra's, and while it was indeed amazing, it had that overwhelming feeling on one's gut and psyche that my friend refers to as The Doughnut Sadness. Enter Back to Eden's slightly healthier, baked vegan treat graciously recommended to me via Instagram. Now, I'm a firm believer in fried doughnuts, but this chocolate-y moist doughnut iced with perhaps one of my favorite flavors from childhood was neither too sweet nor overpowering, and made the perfect accompaniment to that good, Portland coffee. Let's just say I ate far more of these than I should have.
4. Chile Verde Tamale at Tamale Boy
Of all the Mexican food that I love, tamales reign supreme for me. After the one restaurant in Berlin that made them stopped doing so (for reasons I can only assume about Germans not knowing or understanding the wonder that is the tamale), I felt a gaping hole in my life. So when I discovered that there was an entire location in Portland dedicated to these, I knew I had to plan a visit - or three - to this spot. Needless to say, I was not disappointed. After enjoying the best horchata I've ever tasted, I determined this place is a definite winner, receiving high marks from everyone I brought here during my stay. A close second to this amazing tamale? The chipotle refried beans with bacon, ham and chorizo were almost the best thing on the menu. Almost. (note to celiacs: many items are noted gluten-free on the menu, but after inquiring about shared cooking spaces with gluten, some were clearly unsafe for us 100% gluten-free folks, so exercise caution when ordering)
5. Kyra's Award-Winning Cupcakes
What PDX food list would be complete without the only baked goods to win the Food Network's Cupcake Wars a record four times?! I mean, this girl is clearly a goddess of gluten-free baking, and to have gone up against bakers baking with gluten is really telling, I think. So huge props to this lady for changing the world's perception of gluten-free cake! Being the glutton that I am, I tried almost every cupcake that was available during my three week visit. While the award-winners that were featured during that time - cherry balsamic black pepper and apple fritter - were nothing short of incredible, I want to say the simple Ding Dong, made to resemble a Hostess childhood staple, was one of the most impressive. It took what was, let's be honest, a rather shit quality product and elevated to gourmet proportions. Kyra has single-handedly proven why I don't need to live in Portland: I'd easily weigh 400 pounds.
6. Eliot's Adult Peanut Butters
In the words of Gwen: This shit is bananas. No joke. I was intrigued when I picked up a jar of the Honey Chipotle flavor and found a recipe for rice krispies treats made with the stuff (which are the perfect pairing with Oregon's recently-legal herbal refreshment, btw). After one spoonful, I was hooked. These are most definitely adult, the Honey Chipotle the perfect marriage of sweet and spicy, and the Spicy Thai straight out of your favorite Thai dish, with notes of lime leaves and lemongrass. I picked up a couple to bring home, but I already fear the day when my jars are empty. I used to request Jif from all my US visitors, but now, it's going to be this stuff.
7. Cream puff at New Cascadia Traditional Bakery
There's something about fluffy French pastries that I've always had a soft spot for. Finding good gluten-free ones, ones that really nail that texture is like the unicorn of gluten-free baking. New Cascadia Traditional Bakery has always blown me away with the textures on its baked goods - from pizza crusts and cakes, to French bread and Challah - I can't say that I was surprised to be bowled over by this delicious dessert. Admittedly, I'm more of a custard-over-cream kind of girl, but this vanilla-flavored filling was nothing short of extraordinary nestled between two pieces of impressively delicate pastry dough. I'm going to dreaming about this one for awhile.
8. Coffee at Upper Left Roasters
Too many good coffee shops, too little time. This was the mantra of my trip. While I enjoyed coffee at Barista, Coava and Water Avenue Coffee, this spot might have been my favorite. In addition to having a fantastic cappuccino with an extra shot - my drink of choice since flat whites are not as ubiquitous here as in Berlin - the decor was something of a Scandinavian dream. My mother was even compelled to ask where the light fixtures came from (Europe, ironically). While they do offer gluten-free bread for their tasty-looking-yet-simple breakfast plates, the food prep area looked too cramped to allow for safe separation of gluten and non-gluten, though to be fair, I didn't test this theory. I was perfectly happy to stop by Back to Eden for a doughnut or scone as the perfect accompaniment to such great coffee.
9. California Pizza Kitchen's BBQ Chicken Frozen Pizza
Can I just say: Who knew?! CPK not only makes frozen pizzas for the comfort of your own home, but even makes gluten-free versions?! OK, those of you lucky enough to be living in the States knew, but I was blown away when I spied these at the grocery. Even more impressive? My mom shared the first one with me and declared the crust was way tastier than the gluten-filled version she'd bought before. Now that's a ringing endorsement, if I ever heard one. Wonder if they'd consider shipping overseas...?
10. ButterSCOTCH ice cream at Fifty Licks
Salt & Straw may be the darling of Portland's ice cream scene, but I think Fifty Licks is actually where it's at. Just a few blocks down from Salt & Straw's Division Street location, this quieter spot has flavors that pack more of a punch than it's competitor. Coffee made from Water Avenue's caffeinated good stuff, lavendar-mint chip, and blood orange creamsicle are all nothing short of amazing, but it's the boozy flavors this place is known for. My last visit over the holidays, it was Noggin Boots, an eggy, spiced ice cream spiked with with rum and brandy. This summer? The hangover-inducing scotch ice cream run through with ribbons of butterscotch, which might be my new favorite flavor, period. Add to that, gluten-free house-made waffle cones and it doesn't get much better. I mean, any place that names its basics 'Vanilla-' and 'Chocolate as @#$&' has the life-long devotion of this foul-mouthed ice cream lover. Go getchu some!
And because there's that much good stuff... Here are my runners up: Back to Eden's ginger-citrus and pizza scones, New Cascadia pizza (which I've raved about before) and French bread, Teote's arepas and mimosas with house-made agua frescas like pineapple-lime and strawberry basil, Whiskey Soda Lounges's Mango Alexander, Heat Ray and Lord Bergamot cocktails (I swear I didn't drink all three in one go), Thai Iced Tea gelato at Bassotto Gelateria, Hi-Wheel fruit wines, Green's Tripel Blonde Ale (from Belgium!), Kyra's doughnuts on the weekends... Seriously, just go eat in Portland!