Not everyone would spend one of their days off stomping through the city in the rain, through campgrounds, railroad crossings and service roads just to find a tiny ramen joint and a brewery not long for this world.
Those people aren’t me, and they surely don’t live in Portland.
After driving over and through the highways cris-crossing over the Central Eastside and seeing the name painted on the side of an industrial building countless times, I’m finally belly-up at Hair of the Dog in the last weeks of its existence.
Why? Rumor has it the brewmaster is retiring, and he apparently just has a gift. Fans and followers swear that any beer made that he doesn’t have a part in just doesn’t taste the same. No one is willing to buy his business for that reason. Apparently attempts to train successors have failed- no one can replicate his formulas and techniques, documented or not.
As I write this, I’m slowly nursing a glass of “Greg”- a field beer loaded with pumpkin and winter squash that is possibly the best beer of it’s kind I have ever had. It’s sweet, but not cloying. Vegetal and not candy like. Bright, clean, and refreshing rather than heavy and syrupy. In a few weeks, no one will make it anymore. The remaining stock is being sold off at incredible prices, upwards of $20 US for a 12-ounce bottle.
Conscious of alcohol content (and budget), I’m sipping 4 ounce tasters. Each one is glorious. A snapshot for the mental gallery.
“See it before it’s gone.”
I can’t quite afford (or even necessarily excuse) buying a bottle to take home, regardless of how well it will age. I know in my heart of hearts I will keep in on my rack, both eager for and dreading the day I would open it. Some kind patrons shared a bit of the bottle they bought with me as the bartender comes by and admits “it’s a little hot right now, but give it a bit to age and it’ll be smooth as glass.”
Good God, if it gets better, I don’t know that I deserve it as a living man.
Whether I decide to make an offering to the credit gods for the opportunity to take a bottle home remains to be seen. In the meantime, I’m enjoying a glass of the “Adam”- a smoky, hearty dark beer that’s chasing away the chill and rain with every small sip.
Truth be told, my walk through the city was not a mere beer pilgrimage. I had already been out and about for an appointment this morning and realized that, if I just wanted to walk for an hour or so, I could wander down by the Willamette River in time to get a bowl of some apparently excellent ramen. My logic was as follows:
”It’s rainy. I’m in the rain. It’s my day off, and I’ve decided Fridays are my special lunch out.”
“Let’s get going.”
Wu-Ron has precious few things on its menu, but it knows what its about and I respect that more than anything. I got a bowl of their nakahama tonkatsu ramen and the semi-humble Spam musubi.
The musubi is “deconstructed” in the most basic of ways, and the ramen is the definition of basic- sesame seeds, green onion, pork belly, noodles, broth and a whole jammy egg (because what cheap joint gives you half an egg?) I picked a local barleywine from Away Days to accompany it. Sweet, but not cloying and remarkably smooth for such a high-test beer (though weak compared to Hair of the Dog’s “Don.”)
After a long walk in the rain though, it was all exactly what I needed and wanted. I discussed who had “the best ramen in Portland” with a couple at my table, and while the answer really came down to “It depends on your tastes really,” we both came away with recommendations to follow up on later. I happily ate the best Spam Musubi I’d ever had, and then one of my Top 3 Bowls of Tonkatsu Ramen.
This is where the good stuff is.
It’s almost a cliche how the present cuisine of the rich was once the food of the peasant, perfected over ages of suffering and effort. In Portland however, some of the very best food I’ve ever had- even food that is in danger of disappearing- is within “where’d I park my car” distance of the high-rent, well-appointed parts of the city. Spitting distance from Gastropubs and Mixologists, if you dare to wander into industrial areas and skirt homeless camps, is some of the best food the city has to offer.
Look left and right on major roads, peek between office buildings, and you’ll find the places with plates that Michelin-starred restaurants and James Beard Award winners wish they had the insight to replicate.
Grow a spine. Grab your coat. Get off the beat path and talk to strangers.
See them before they’re gone.