Wednesday, May 5, 2010

My very own Inglourious Basterd



(With apologies to Mr. Tarantino...)

So there we were, at the tail end of the IACP conference in Portland, shagged out from long days with few good meals, wandering the streets and looking for something to eat.  You'd think that a foodie conference would manage to scare up lots of good eats, but with a few notable exceptions, we rarely got a chance to either eat well or eat enough, as the conference meals tended to be wine, cheese, and crackers.  I mean, I like wine, cheese, and crackers as much as the next person, but not as a meal, and certainly not for days in a row.  There were one or two outstanding meals (the best by a mile being at Cathy Whims's Nostrana Restaurant), and I'll get to them later.  Right now I want to talk about this particular Saturday, a gray day when I was so hungry from this lack of good food that I was in a foul and terrible mood, and we were looking for a place to eat, and there was no food in sight, and I was really getting tired of nothing but walking, walking, walking.

We'd heard about Portland's great weekend public market, so we hiked up there, scouring the place for something, anything that smelled remotely enticing, but it was mostly t-shirts and dangly earrings, with not a piroshki vendor or falafel man in sight.  I said to J.H., since we'd already walked a couple of miles, "Let's walk over to NW 23rd, where I've read there's a great French bakery."  Visions of warm, flaky croissants and foamy cafe au laits danced before us as we trotted down the street, practically racing toward this shop a couple of miles away.  Pre-fat burning exercise, I consoled myself.

Mini doughnut devotee
And then, a couple of blocks down Burnside, I smelled them.  Doughnuts.  Warm, sugary, delicious doughnuts were calling to us.  Could it be?   We turned the block and saw an enormous line stretching down to the next intersection.  Why yes, it was the very place Anthony Bourdain had lavished considerably praise on: Voodoo Doughnuts.  

Now, I usually can't stand these things and will go to great lengths to avoid even dealing with them.  To my taste, they're always too greasy, too sweet, too bland, tasting of little more than old fat and too much sugar.  But I saw people practically skipping out of the door, not with a doughnut or two in a napkin or paper bag, but with big pink boxes, sometimes two piled on top of each other.  These were serious doughnut aficionados, and they looked ecstatic.  

And I was so hungry I could barely see.  Time to stand in line.  A little girl squatted on the corner, savoring her score.  I was beyond jealous.

Thirty minutes crawled by until we were allowed into the Voodoo Doughnut inner sanctum.  I've never seen so many doughnuts before.  Racks and racks of them filled the back of the counter.  The blackboards were filled with names like Gay Bar, Voodoo Double Bubble, Grape Ape, Tex-Ass, Cock-n-Balls, and Dirty Snowball.  No explanations, just names.  It was intimidating, to say the least.  What to choose, what to choose.  We quickly scanned the list, J.H. (who loves doughnuts) had to have two maple bars, I insisted on one maple bar with bacon for myself (my occasional pig lapse happening right there on the fly), and to finish out the order we got a Memphis Mafia and an Old Dirty Bastard.

Racks and racks of perfection
It had started to rain by the time we finished our transaction, and as there's absolutely zero place to eat the doughnuts once their in your hot little hands, we raced -- literally -- uptown to Sip & Kranz, Portland's renowned coffee shop.  There was a lot of crankiness involved in this trek that I won't go into, as we were wet, tired, and ravenous, plus we were being driven mad by the fact that these tantalizing things were wafting their aromas right in front of our faces, but we there was no way we could even take a nibble in all that rain.

We rushed into the coffee shop.  All the seats were taken.  I've rarely seen J.H. so totally crushed.  Fearing that a total meltdown by either one of us was imminent, I shooed some of Portland's terribly polite denizens around until I could get us two seats and our lattes.  J.H. attacked a maple bar without mercy or further ado, and I took his reverential silence as a good sign.  Then it was my turn.  First, that bacon maple bar.  I stuffed one end into my face and bit down.  Ahhh...

Bacon 'n maple... yes, please
Let me put it this way:  If I'm ever on Death Row and get to have a last meal request, I'd seriously consider getting a couple of those bacon maple bars along with a hot cup of coffee, and then consider myself fully fortified for Old Sparky.  The bacon's really crunchy, which goes perfectly with the soft, bready doughnut, there's just about no grease from the fryer (even the box was amazingly clean), and the salty smokiness was a perfect foil for the maple glaze.  Perfection achieved.

I sighed, moaned a bit, was happy that I'd walked about four miles already and so could feel all those calories burning even as I shoved more down my face, and then surveyed the rest of the box.  

Me with a head-sized doughnut
Next up was an Old Dirty Bastard.  "The Magic is in the Hole!" is Voodoo Doughnut's motto.  I disagree.  The magic is in the near greaselessness of each doughnut we tried and the exceptionally light hand with the sugar.  They're sweet, no doubt about it, but it's not hit-you-over-your-head-with-saccharine sweet; rather, it's just enough to make you sit up and pay attention.  

The Bastard is a raised doughnut with chocolate frosting, crushed Oreos, and peanut butter.  Oh yes please.  We shared that one and sighed in relief.  Later on that night we finished up the other Maple Bar and that Memphis Mafia, a terrifyingly huge fritter about the size of my head that's laced with chocolate chips, bananas, and more peanut butter.  This ode to Elvis was very tasty and I slept particularly well that evening.

Now I know, the next time we visit Portland, Voodoo Doughnuts will be at the top of my list for breakfast, lunch, and late-night snacks.  Good thing for me, Portland's also a great town for serious walking.

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