At the end of Portland Foodtrip Weekend (Part 1), it was Saturday afternoon and I was recovering from an exciting Friday night by going to brunch, then Powell’s, and getting a bite at PINTS. Now, my friend Jessica had been hinting all week that they had an awesome surprise for me. And finally it was time! We walked a couple blocks from PINTS and they led me to Ground Kontrol.
Ground Kontrol is a classic arcade for grown-ups. 21+ only, and it is indeed totally amazing! It’s all dark inside, the better for your eye to focus on the many many games. Lighting is mostly LED (even the tables are glowing). There is a bar on the ground floor, with some beers on tap and a few special game-based drinks. They’ve got bar food as well. Not a lot of tables though, which is my main difficulty with this place… I guess the idea is that you are there to play, not eat? They do have these nifty cupholders on top of each machine so you don’t have to worry about your drink sliding away. The top floor is mostly dedicated to pinball machines. In all, definitely a fun place although you’ll realize fairly quickly that those childhood games are waaaay harder than you remember… I lost a dollar in about a minute trying to play Mappy, without ever making it out of the first level. Gah. Oh yeah, and as you can imagine… it does get fairly crowded as the evening progresses. Go early, go during the week. Game on!
We spent a couple hours there, but we got hungry. We could just as easily have eaten there… but seriously, we had been passing these food carts for two days. It had been long enough. Food cart time!
It seems to be a pretty big thing in Portland, the food truck revolution I mean. There are a couple of main areas that they can be found, clustered in parking lots. There’s a bunch on Alder, and along 3rd and Stark. The look of it is that they’re permanently there, which is interesting. There looked to be quite some variety, although not many were open at the time we looked, around 8 PM on a Saturday… which leads one to wonder when, exactly, they are open; seems like this would’ve been a pretty prime time. But who knows, Portland is a city that doesn’t seem to follow the regular rules. In any case, no hours were posted on the carts and so we ended up just choosing from whatever was open. We went with a Vietnamese spot that also served Thai food.
It took a looong time… the guy was doing everything all by himself, I think it was about an hour before our food was ready. Probably a good thing we weren’t starving. At the end of all that, my vermicelli bowl was really tasty, but David’s yellow curry was meh. And the prices were a bit higher than I expected… presumably, restaurants have to rent their space and hire staff, on top of the price of ingredients. With the food cart, many of those extra fees are not applicable… again, there was no service to speak of, and nowhere to eat our meal (which was okay, we went and found somewhere to sit). So why did we still pay $8+ for our meal? Ah well. Whatever the case, we would likely try different food carts on our next visit.
The next day, got up, checked out and went to find some food…not realizing how difficult that would be on a Sunday. Listen up, folks, brunch is a HUGE thing in Portland. If you are looking for food in the 1030a-12pm range, you had damn better be prepared to wait, or drive around a little bit for a place with no lines. I wish you the best of luck. We tried 3 places and were told the wait was at least an hour at each. No go. When I am hungry, I need my food ASAP or things get bad. They get BAD fast.
We eventually decided to just park the car and walk to the nearest place that seemed to have a quick turnover. This was City State Diner and man, was I glad at how that turned out. There was quite a list of people (about 7 parties before us) but they were going fast and it was only a 20-minute wait. And, they let you order drinks while waiting, as well as having free coffee at the front. Their menu is extensive but eggs Benedict is their specialty.
Let’s talk a minute about eggs Benedict. This is the type of food you always read about, and hear about… you know, fancy food. I mean, it’s got a name in it, that’s a big clue right there. Plus it is made with Hollandaise sauce. Which is pronounced in the French way, and also from Holland at the same time? Anyway, it’s a big shot kind of food. I’d had it once before because I figured I should be cultured and try it, and I did not enjoy the experience. The sauce was gross, everything had this weird texture. I looked it up afterward and realized that this was really quite horribly unhealthy, since Hollandaise sauce is pretty much made of butter, poured over some bacon and eggs.
But, here I was in Portland, at brunch, at a place that specializes in eggs Benedict. Alright then. Give it one more try, and order some of the special hot toddy-type drink they were serving (hot apple cider + whiskey!) and if it doesn’t work out, eat some of David’s Sweet Chick scramble (chicken apple sausage, caramelized onion, pear, blue cheese).
It worked out. Amazingly. Everyone was eating off my plate. I kid you not, at the end of the meal, Rich was mopping up the leftover Hollandaise with some toast so as not to waste any of that awesome sauce, even though it had gone a bit cold. David said that he liked his food less only because mine was so good. YOU MUST TRY THE EGGS BENEDICT AT CITY STATE DINER.
After that immensely satisfying brunch, we drove around a little bit pretending we were in that show, Portlandia. If you haven’t seen it, give it a try, it’s pretty fun. And also pretty accurate in terms of giving you a glimpse into Pacific Northwest life, I think. Then we headed downtown and shopped a bit, because there is no sales tax in Oregon! Yay! Guess where I’m doing my Christmas shopping (other than Groupon, anyway).
One last stop before we headed home. Jessica has this place she loves called the Kennedy School. Well, it is another McMenamins property. It’s an old school that they converted into a brewery/hotel complex. The old classrooms are now hotel rooms, and there are various small pubs or restaurants in what used to be the Courtyard, the Boiler Room, etc. They also have a pool and a room where people just…sing. Yeah, it’s a bit odd. The walls are covered with some rather creepy paintings of the students and teachers and such. It is definitely an interesting place. Bit annoying because they serve different things at the different locations, but they do let you walk around with a glass if you so desire, as you explore.
So, that was my birthday weekend. Food, friends, drinks, books: what’s not to love about Portland? They’ve definitely got something for everyone. After all, one of their slogans is “Keep Portland Weird”, so you know they’re not judging!