We came, we ate, we conquered ... and then we regretted—not the food comas and sugar highs, but the anxiety of knowing we missed something: a dish, a moment, or a forbidden flavor hybrid that could have rocked our world. After all, one cannot taste everything at Feast Portland. But we tried, mightily. For three nights and four days, we hit as many of the festival’s main events, fun-sized events, and dinner series as our stomachs could handle, joined by a record 20,000-plus ticket holders (a jump of nearly 2,000 eaters). This much we can say: As it turned seven, Feast Portland had one of its best years yet. Among the high points: a great new event ('80s vs. '90s), a groundbreaking dinner (No Proof), and one dish worthy of a last supper (Jerk corn dusted with chicken skin, from Smoked!). Party on, people. —Karen Brooks, food critic
Thu, Sept 13
'80s vs. '90s at the Rose Quarter Commons
Three things you need to know about Portland: we love old-school hip-hop, fast-food homages, and wearing costumes. It was all proudly on display at Feast’s newest main event, '80s vs. '90s, which replaced the popular Sandwich Invitational at the sprawling Rose Quarter. I knew this was going to be a hit earlier that day, when all conversation seemed to be: “What are you wearing tonight?” Note: This was not billed as a costume party. But there they were, chefs and nearly 2,000 eaters alike, bumping in wigs and gold chains to a well-combed playlist of hair bands, grunge, and early rap.
Typically, Feast chefs serve samples from personalized booths. But for this event, they also competed. Eighteen chefs, local and national, divided into two teams with a mission: to represent, Proustian Madeline-style, the 1980s or the 1990s. Then, throughout the night, one chef from each team went head-to-head, presenting their dish to judges, among them yours truly, Pink Martini’s China Forbes, and the hilarious Carnie Wilson (daughter of Brian, member of Wilson Phillips, 1/3 of “Hold On”). The winner of each round racked up a point for their team. But mostly, fun was the winning ingredient of the night. This event is a keeper, one of Feast’s best yet.
Highlights from the Judges' Table:
Most hotly anticipated matchup: It was '80s Hot Pocket vs. '90s Hot Pocket, starring Departure’s famed Gregory Gourdet vs. Mae/Yonder’s rising star Maya Lovelace, who pulled an upset for the '90s squad with flaky biscuit dough oozing pimento cheese. (Later, Gourdet, who grew up in Haiti, confessed to me: “I’ve never eaten a Hot Pocket.”)
Toughest round: Brad Farmerie's (Saxon + Parole, NYC) take on “Toaster Strudel” was impressive, a toasty square of blood sausage pudding and pineapple jam etched in foie gras icing; Pillsbury, gone tres chic. No matter. It wilted in the face of waffle cones that revealed hot, stretchy cheese when ripped into; each holding honey ice cream and candied figs—a hotcake house homage from Salt & Straw maestro Tyler Malek. Note to all competitors going forward: Never compete against Tyler Malek. Have you seen the lines at Salt & Straw?
Best judge comment: On Team '90s member Holdfast’s “fermented” stuffed potato hoisting smoky queso sauce: “I want to fuck this.” –Carnie Wilson
Biggest no-show: Who would have won this visiting royalty smackdown? Austin’s famed Franklin BBQ (smoked turkey, sweet corn, rice noodles, and a cookie) versus Bon Appetit’s 2017 Restaurant of the Year, New Orleans’s Turkey and the Wolf (a '90s bagel bite makeover, crowned with crispy bologna bits and fennel). We’ll never know. Both ran out of food before heading to the judges' table. There is no just punishment.
Who won the night? Team '90s had three of the night’s craziest, tastiest dishes … and also a few misses. But everyone on Team '80s played well, and in the night’s final round, Pizza Jerk’s Tommy Habetz—dressed impressively as a Ninja Turtle—made the winning shot for the crew: French pizza bread reimagined with Bolognese sauce and burrata. Winner: Team 1980s. My closing argument to fellow judges and MC Jordan Kent, a Blazer broadcaster: “There’s a reason the Golden State Warriors are champions. At crunch time, everyone hits." —KB
Fri, Sept 14
Sardine Head Pop-Up at Stumptown Coffee
On Friday afternoon, the secret apartment above Stumptown Coffee’s cold brew brewery on Southeast Ninth morphed into a classy wine lounge thanks to the team at Sardine Head, a weekend evenings-only “natural wine dive bar” normally tucked inside Sweedeedee on Northeast Albina. With co-owner Simon Lowry pouring glasses of clean, crisp Loire Valley Chenin Blanc from noted Vouvray natural wine producer Michel Autran, Feasters snacked on fresh Little T Bakery baguette and good French butter, platters of tinned fish, and shrimp chips with sardines and nam jim Thai dipping sauce. The space itself—a former private home once inhabited by Joshua McFadden, among others—positively creaked with old Portland charm. A perfect match for Sardine Head’s vision for a restorative happy hour: jazz, fishies, wine. —Jordan Michelman
Big Feast in Little China at the North Warehouse
A lantern-lit playground of cheeseburger fried rice (Chicago’s Fat Rice) and slushie coconut drinks set the scene for Feast’s Fun-Sized event devoted to “masters, enthusiasts and admirers of Chinese cooking” putting a mod spin on classic Chinese-American dishes. That prompt yielded wide results, from silky, shrimp-topped turnip cakes dressed in a tangle of fennel from hometown soup-dumpling hero Jasper Shen (XLB) to Xocolatl de David mastermind David Briggs’s sweet, chewy coconut rice cakes paired with handmade fortune cookies and lick-the-plate good sweet bean chocolate ganache.
Revelers happily lined up for vivid, out-of-the box drinks from Emily Mistell, the cocktail ace at Jupiter Hotel Next’s upcoming bar Hey Love. Best sip: a salty mango number appropriately dubbed “It’s All in the Reflexes,” balancing rum, oolong tea, and falernum for a lush sip with a saline kick. (If Hey Love’s bar list is half as good as what Mistell has been pouring at festivals like Feast and PoMo’s own Cowabunga earlier this summer, we’re in for a treat.) An evening highlight came from chef Brandon Jew of San Francisco’s hot spot Mister Jiu’s—an oddly wonderful rendition of takeout sweet-and-sour pork. In the mix: bits of juicy, crunchy deep-fried quail slicked in intensely bittersweet, nearly tannic cherry sauce, sprinkled with sour-tanged pineapple and peppers, and showered with cilantro. “Not sure if I like it but I can’t stop eating it,” my dining partner said, mouth full and smiling.” Exactly. —Kelly Clarke
Zero Proof Dinner at Blockhouse PDX
When five trailblazing chefs throw down a dinner, we expect some very good food. What no one imagined was the emotion—the sheer raw power of iconic cooks (some with more medals than a four-star general) all baring their souls with tales of sobriety to a small group of eaters gathered at a Feast dinner series. Read the rest of the tale here. —KB
Night Market at Zidell Yards
This perennial fest favorite sits on the banks of the Willamette like a softly glowing food circus, flaunting dishes from a roster of national draws and Portland fixtures. Paradoxically, the lines stretched longest for restaurants that revelers could theoretically access most any day around here: Lardo, Afuri, and Toro Bravo, whose owner John Gorham oversaw a car-hop style burger service complete with vintage ice machines and jaunty retro paper caps for the staff. Who was criminally overlooked? Nationally lauded chef Ravi Kapur of San Francisco’s Liholiho Yacht Club, and his “Yacht Dog”—homemade pork shoulder spam, battered in a katsu breading, served hot dog-style on a sweet bun, and heaped with kimchi and wasabi mayo. Crunchy, porky, savory and sweet, it was the single best thing I ate all weekend. (Bonus shout-outs for Tamale Boy’s duck tamale with mandarin mole—I can still taste that complex sauce, days later—and shockingly fresh king salmon and macadamia lomi lomi from Cannon Beach-based chef Aaron Bedard of the Stephanie Inn.) —JM
Sat, Sept 15
Franklin Barbecue & Friends at Wayfinder Brewing
Keep it weird ... and music-drenched, with clothes that smell like brisket perfume. That could be the motto for both Portland and Austin. Not surprisingly, the two cities now feel like bandmates, or at least college roomies. That’s in part due to Aaron Franklin. Austin’s star pit master has become an unofficial Portlander in recent years, with his near-annual visits to Feast. Tasting his iconic barbecue has become one of the festival’s most coveted experiences. I’m always struck by Franklin’s demeanor during the fest, handing out his famed brisket to folks he’ll never see again with grace, humility, and humor. That was surely the case at Saturday’s Fun-Size event, as Franklin and his Portland “friends”—Maya Lovelace, (Mae/Yonder) Matt Vicedomini (Matt’s BBQ food cart), and Rodney Muirhead (Podnah’s)—greeted each diner in a cafeteria-style line at Southeast’s Wayfinder, as Austin musician Paul Cauthen strummed vigorously in a corner.
On the epic tray: Franklin’s almost pudding-tender brisket; Vicedomini’s smoked queso sausage (a miracle of heat, cream, and snap); Texas native Muirhead’s spot-on smoked rib and pulled pork, and, not least, Lovelace’s first-rate collard greens, singing with country ham potlicker intensity. After digging in, I heard a gaggle of large men moan. Sitting nearby, Country Cat’s butcher chef Adam Sappington summed things up: “This just feels like Austin. Aaron brings the conversation to Portland, the culture of barbecue. It gives a context for places like Matt’s and Podnah’s. He just elevates the situation.” —KB
Smoked! at the Fields
Flames were flying like Dante’s Inferno. Meat was everywhere—hanging from chains, hiding in smokers, and sizzling on grills so hot that several chefs wore grimaces usually reserved for the dentist’s chair. Smoked, Feast’s annual meat extravaganza turns Northwest Portland’s Field’s Park into one giant barbecue pit; transforming, as night falls, into a purple-smoked, neon-glazing carnival of meat and booze. Chef talent to visual drama, Smoked! remains Feast’s premiere event.
Talk of the night: A giant swing set, from which hunks of 90-day-aged beef dangled from long chains, S&M-like, over a smoking grill, courtesy of New York’s lauded chef Angie Mar (Beatrice Inn). No fooling around. Mar served the meat provocatively rare, with prawn butter.
Best “Am I Seeing Straight?” Moment: John Gorham’s massive beef boulders clad in cold butter like Christo installations, waiting to hit Shalom Y’All’s grill. We thought we’d seen it all.
Most addictive dish: Sweet, charred corn as you’ve never tasted it, lashed with Jerk spices, garnished with chicken skin dust, and hit with lime, via Nina Compton, the New Orleans-based, Beard-medaled chef of Compère Lapin.
The Buddhist reminder that “life is ten thousand joys and ten thousand sorrows”: Pok Pok’s Andy Ricker grilled his heart out, intensely focused (when is he not?) on nailing the perfect Thai grilled pork skewers. He succeeded (when does he not?), with hot edges, crispy fat pockets, a wash of fish sauce, chile, and toasted rice powder. When I got home and collapsed on the couch, what was on TV? A repeat of one of the all-time great episodes of Parts Unknown: Ricker leading Anthony Bourdain on a wild, funny, hallucinogenic trip through Thailand; two guys drunk on food and life. Bourdain would have danced around Smoked! —KB
Marissa Ross at Bar Norman
In the middle of the Feast frenzy, Bon Appetit wine editor and Instagram celeb Marissa Ross worked an in-the-know bar shift at Dana Frank’s Bar Norman, a spot fast becoming Portland’s go-to destination for visiting wine insiders and natural wine true believers. Frank and Ross poured an eclectic mix of wines by the glass from en vogue wine regions (Mosel, Beaujolais), while Frank’s spouse, Bow & Arrow winemaker Scott Frank, spun vintage vinyl from the bar’s catbird mezzanine. A technicolor glass of Lazio winemaker Andrea Occhipinti’s Alea Rosa, redolent with notes of fresh strawberry and cannabis? Don’t mind if I do. —JM
Feast Like an Italian at Blockhouse PDX
The sun peeked forth and the music swooned as a quintet of chefs, some with Portland roots deeper than most farms, calmly moved through the open kitchen at Blockhouse PDX, a gorgeous garden bower hidden behind Pomarius Nursery in Northwest Portland. In the house: Bar Mingo legend Jerry Huisinga, pasta ringer Tommy Habetz (Bunk/Pizza Jerk), Tuscan soul food man Paolo Calamai (Burrasca), Lovely’s Fifty-Fifty pizza obsessive Sarah Minnick, and Rob Roy, Nostrana sous and macellaio (that’s Italian for butcher). For this Feast dinner series event, they’d come together to make a family supper in honor of Cathy Whims, who helped shape the tastes of generations of Portlanders, first at the legendary Genoa and now at Nostrana and Enoteca Nostrana. The end result? A deeply soulful, lazy family-style Sunday dinner showcasing the old-school European values in between lush glasses of Elizabeth Chambers pinot.
The hits kept coming: Habetz’s chicken liver-smeared, berry-adorned crostini; Huisinga’s impossibly good take on caprese, with soft, fresh peaches and his own stretchy, hand-pulled mozzarella. Also: tender tagliatelle from Calamai awash in rabbit sugo. Fall-apart braised pork shanks from Roy, with bowls of melty, sage-perfumed cannellini beans (Huisinga again, damn it), and that’s just a partial list. Just as diners were just slipping into a happy, collective food coma, Minnick shocked us awake with, of all things, Neapolitan ice cream cake. Her cold, creamy riff on Sicilian cassata layered almond, pistachio and cherry-candied fruit ice cream with a slab of Strega-soaked sponge running throughout. A sweet end to a sweet homage. —KC