It’s impossible to walk a mile in Portland without passing chock-a-block food carts and a mouthful of eateries. Case in point: as I stroll to the opening night of Feast Portland—the Pacific Northwest’s prime-cut foodie event, now in its second year—I almost stop 20 times to buy a bite from the congregation of carts lining the street.
â€¨I’m headed to the Sandwich Invitational, Feast’s kick-off and a "meat-up" of Portland’s top chefs, plus a few famed out-of-towners like Duff Goldman of Charm City Cakes in Baltimore. The mission: create a sandwich of Portland proportions. While I love the classics some chefs whip up—think, fried bologna on white—it’s the interpretation of "sandwich" that makes the soiree. Some are too-big-to-bite-into brioche ice cream creations rolled in nuts and chocolate, others press pulled pork and Oregon field greens between two sourdough pancakes.
Feast Portland is a four-day celebration of Oregon’s bounty, sporting a schedule as diverse as it is homegrown. In one day you can take a pig butchery class, learn the art of tea blending, study how to make Pok Pok’s Thai food at home, and attend a chef-collaboration brunch. And this is a mere drop in the pan.
My goal is to take in as much of Feast as I can, and (somehow) leave room to eat at some of the hottest haunts in town, like Ava Gene’s, crowned one of the top 10 best new restaurants in America by Bon Appetit Magazine.
After pairing sandwiches with beer at the kick-off event, I race across town for one of the dinner series pairing friends Aaron Barnett of St. Jack in Portland, and Thomas McMaughton of Flour + Water in San Francisco. Feast’s dinner and brunch collaborations are a treat, as chefs with complimentary skills team up as dynamic duos. My six-course menu is what you’d expect from two industry heavyweights: hearty with just the right amount of gastro-wow, evidenced in dishes like salmon crudo with late-summer vegetables, and fig leaf sherbet with whey soda and gin oil.
Still full from my Thursday evening events, on Friday I skip breakfast and opt for an early lunch at Luce, one of the food town’s most highly regarded restaurants. The Italian restau-market delivers in every way from local ingredients to taste to decor. While I long to nosh on crostinis slathered in a fig and goat cheese mousse, and sip rosé out of my tumbler for eternity, I have a date with the GMOs and Transparency Speaker Series.
Insider Tip: During Feast, go to Portland restaurants at off-hours to secure prime seating.
As with any rousing lecture, the multi-perspective panel of experts don’t agree on everything, yet they do come together on two hot topics: genetically engineered food should be labeled, and buy organic.
The remaining nights bring more big-ticket events growing gradually from casual to chic. Friday evening, I nibble on fancy street fare under the glow of lanterns at the Night Market. Here, culinary greats like Floyd Cardoz (dishing up a savory-sweet dungeness crab salad with avocados and cherries), serve alongside local heroes like Nong’s Khao Man Gai food cart’s one-dish-wonder: poached chicken on Thai-steamed rice.
Once I’ve awoken, thanks to a DIY tour of three indie coffee shops, Saturday sees me savoring one of the weekend’s free events: Whole Foods Market Best Butcher Contest and Fishmonger Face-Off. Sourcing the best-of-the-best from Whole Foods stores around the country, fishmongers and butchers go head-to-head to filet the cleanest-cut surf, and carve the best retail-ready turf. Bonus: this Superbowl of butchery is accompanied by a live band and complimentary concessions.
As my time at Feast comes to a close with a six-course Sunday brunch collaboration between chefs from local restaurant Bar Avignon and Seattle’s The Whale Wins, I’m reminded of a conversation I overheard at the food festival’s kick-off: "Do they sell stretchy pants here?" said one gentlemen to his group of friends, "by the weekend’s end, we’ll just want to go pantless" quips another. Feast, indeed.
What to know:â€¨ Dates for 2014 will likely be Sept 18-21. Tickets for the gourmet line-up start as low as $10, and can be purchased as singles, or as a package. Once the 2014 schedule is set, book early to get your prime picks, as many events sell out. All free events are noted in the schedule of events. Feel good about feasting: net proceeds go to two local Oregon charities
Want more Feast? Check out our review from last year!
Photos credits: All photos courtesy of Trish Friesen