When in Portland

On our trip to Portland in May, in addition to seeing two friends get married (they were sisters with weddings four days apart), Dexter and I ate at two great restaraunts. During the trip, I also read In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, which I became interested in when I read about it on Alicia M.’s blog. So, while eating at these restaurants, my definition of food was in the process of changing and I was feeling very idealistic. I’ve been thinking lately that both would be successful in Iowa City.

First, we ate at Hopworks Urban Brewery. It’s in half of a yellow building on Powell Street, not far from the Hawthorne shopping district. (Hawthorne Street is basically a mini Iowa City, lined with coffee shops, independently owned stores, and homeless people.) The other half of the building is under construction and if you park on that side, you’ll be in a tiny one way parking lot with no outlet. We were finally guided into the correct parking lot by cardboard signs with lettering in black paint that were propped up in various places outside the restaurant. The restaurant was much cleaner and more professional on the inside than on the outside. The menu was completely organic from the wheat in the pizza crusts to the hops in the beer. They had lots of vegetarian options, which was great since we were in the beginnings of our vegetarian experiment. Dexter ate a portabello burger and he is now in love with them. I had a calzone which was gigantic as well as mighty tasty, although I felt it had more artichoke hearts than necessary. Our entrees were so good that we wanted to get dessert, but were both too stuffed from the big portions. Next time I go there, I am definitely getting the apple crisp. Dexter got a sampler of the beers, all organic and brewed in the basement of the restaurant, and one was made with espresso, which we though was cool. Each booth had a little compartment in the wall with ketchup, salt, and pepper. I associate the decor with construction because it was wood/metal/yellow, but also because the other half of the building was being constructed upon. It was a little bit pricey, but you can order whole pizzas, and organic foods are more expensive at the grocery store so it makes sense that they’d be more expensive at a restaurant.
We also ate at Vita Cafe, a tiny and very progressive restaurant that served mostly vegetarian/vegan fare. It was really crowded, but I thought they had a good system of having you write your own name down on the waiting list if they didn’t have a table open where you could seat yourself. We happened to go on a Wednesday night–the one night where they have a few discounted entre options and cheap beer and cocktails. I ate Thai noodles for $5 and Dexter ate “fish” (tofu) and chips. The Thai noodles could have had quite a bit more flavor, but were good. Dexter ordered some Hopworks beer (on tap) and I had a raspberry cosmo. When the girl finished making my drink, she drank the leftovers. She later knocked Dexter’s beer off the table which made me wonder how many leftovers she’d been drinking. Lots of alternative lifestyle adds on the community bulletin board. However, there was a real sincerity about the green-ness of the place. Bikes crowded the sidewalk in front, everything was printed on recycled paper, they had cardboard rather than styrofoam to-go boxes. It was a little depressing though, since it seemed like being green and leading an alternative/tolerant/whatever lifestyle were the things the people there put their hope in. But, I don’t make a very good postmodern.

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