Michael Burgess

Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Oregon: Fantasy land for foodies

Michael Burgess enjoys the freshest produce and craft beer on the West Coast of the USA.

Mother's Bar and Bistro in Portland emphasises home-style cooking.
Mother's Bar and Bistro in Portland emphasises home-style cooking.

If you're coming to Oregon, bring an empty belly.

On a trip through the West Coast state, you'll need to revisit your perceptions about American cuisine. Sure, there are all your usual fast-food choices as well as ubiquitous diners and bullish buffets. But beyond that, Oregon is a state for true foodies.

There is a long-established "farm to table" culture and residents insist on local, fresh ingredients (as the saying goes, the only thing Oregonians care about more than what they're eating is where it came from). It seems almost obsessive but visitors get to reap the dividends.

Oregon is also one of the epicentres of craft-beer production in the United States, and like the rest of the West Coast has an extensive wine tradition. Travellers who come for the scenery, adventure, history and modern cities stay for the food. Here's my pick of Oregon's food and drink.

Honey Balsamic Strawberry with Cracked Pepper Icecream at Salt & Straw, Portland

You read right. The flavours at this home-grown icecream parlour have a certain wow factor - and that is just reading the menu. Pear with blue cheese? Coffee and bourbon? Candy cap mushroom with port red wine? The genius of this operation, started by two local cousins, is that you have to taste to believe it. The honey balsamic strawberry with cracked pepper is as strangely good as it sounds. Perhaps next time the "Elvis" - marionberry jam, peanut butter cookie dough and pralined bacon spun through banana pudding icecream.

Exploding Hearts Pizza at Sizzle Pie, Portland

A Portland institution, Sizzle Pie serves pizza by the slice until 3am. The crowd is as mixed as the range when I visit after midnight. Apart from Exploding Hearts (artichoke hearts, shaved almonds, mushrooms and provolone) I also indulge in Apocalypse Dudes (pesto, ricotta and vegetables) and The Francesca (jalapenos, pineapple and smoked mozzarella) with no space for other favourites like Gene Parmesan and Napalm Breath.

Coffee-infused Oatmeal Imperial Stout at Ninkasi Brewing, Eugene

Eugene is not shy of places to quench your thirst. Local students talk about getting lost in the "Barmuda Triangle", and Ninkasi is one of the more committed operations around. They have a beer "overbridge" that funnels liquid gold from the brewery across the road straight to the bar. Total Domination, a flagship creation, is big on hops and malt while Sleigh'R (a winter ale) also piques the palate - but the stout tastes as rich and good as its name.

Crunchy French Toast at Mother's Bistro and Bar, Portland

This cafe emphasises home-style cooking, and even features recipes from a nominated "Mom of the Month". The extensive breakfast menu has everything from Belgian waffles to breakfast nachos to chicken-apple sausages. The French toast is dipped in cornflakes then cooked golden brown - an absolute delight.

Figaro Sour Beer at Cascade Brewing Barrel House, Portland

"We are a bit obsessed about our craft beer in Oregon," smiles the barman at Cascades.

"Californians say they invented it - well, we perfected it."

Cascades offers handy taster trays so you don't get too sloshed but can still sample a selection. Figaro (blond ale, aged in chardonnay barrels with dried white figs and lemon peel) is a favourite but Tangerine Dream (aged in rum barrels with tangerine zest) and Summer Gose (spiced with coriander and sea salt) are also standouts in the sours range.

Cookie Caramel Avalanche Cake at The Sweet Life, Eugene

The birthplace of Nike and known as "Track Town USA" for the feats of its runners, Eugene has plenty of tasty, post-exercise treats. This chocolate cake (loaded with chocolate mousse, cookie chunks and caramel) is spectacular while the chocolate-chip peanut-butter custard sandwich cookie is also an incredible piece of sugary engineering.

Eeny Meny Miny Moe Pizza at Ivy Bear Pizzeria, Sandy

Pulling off the highway in the spectacular Mt Hood region, my expectations are not high. But this pizza takes me back to the 1980s, when deep-dish pizza first came to New Zealand and it seemed like it was from another world. It doesn't really matter what toppings you have - the secret is in the delicious cheese (sourced locally) and the dough that is made over a 72-hour process. While you wait, the historical Oregon Trail memorabilia on the wall makes for fascinating reading.

CHECKLIST

Getting there: Hawaiian Airlines flies three times a week from Auckland to Honolulu. From Honolulu, Hawaiian Airlines connects to 11 US mainland destinations (including Portland) and has a 2 x 32kg bag allowance.

Further information: For more on Oregon's brewing culture see DiscoverAmerica.com.

The writer travelled as a guest of Hawaiian Airlines and Travel Oregon.

- NZ Herald

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