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Voodoo Doughnut | Portland, OR

Voodoo Doughnut (Facebook / @VoodooDoughnut)
22 SW Third Ave. (map it!)
Portland, OR 27204
(503) 241-4704
Open 24 hours a day
Accepts cash only
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/Y/N

Date of Visit: Wednesday, October 27, 2010 at 6:00 pm

IMPRESSIONS: Voodoo Doughnuts is a Portland institution, and you’d better not mess with it. With two locations in town (and a third down in Eugene), Voodoo is synonymous with Portland’s downtown and nightlife. Their donuts, some of which trend toward the ridiculous, have landed the shop on the Food Network and other national stages. Taking the advice of our Portland friends and other trusted sources like reader and Twitter-friend John, we visited the original location downtown. I’m told the new locations are nice, but nothing compares to the “character” of the original. Such is true for many things in life.

ATMOSPHERE: Voodoo is to donut places what Yesterdog is to hot dog joints. It’s old, beaten up, a little dirty (in more way than one), they only take cash, the servers are kinda gruff, and there’s nothing you can do about any of it. For those who don’t know Yesterdog, it’s a hot dog place in my hometown of Grand Rapids. It’s cheap, beloved of native Grand Rapidians, the wooden booths are carved with graffiti, and the dirty tattooed guys behind the counter will yell at you if you order incorrectly. That was our experience at Voodoo.

The space is super small and cramped. Maybe ten customers can fit inside at once. Everything’s pink and a little dark. The only lighting is a giant chandelier hanging overhead.

They’re aggressively cash only, but provide an ATM for your convenience, whether that means getting some cash or carving a tribute to your one true love.

There’s a huge menu, which you can also peruse online. Donuts range from simple cake and custard varieties (at about .95/donut) to wacky specialties that cost $5-6.

Standing at the counter lets you see shelves and shelves of donuts.

There’s also a rotating glass display case with their more creative fare. A glimpse at this case is worth the visit alone. I ordered The Loop, covered in Fruit Loops.

Plenty of seasonally-themed donuts, too.

Many of these donuts feature funky designs or kooky add-ons like cereal, coconut, sprinkles, marshmallows, cookies, or candy.

Their signature Voodoo Doll: a man stabbed with a pretzel stick, filled with jelly.

There’s plenty of dirty bumper stickers and signs plastered around the space. Thank goodness our kids can’t read yet…

Read through their menu for some of the more scandalous names, too.

FOOD: Our group loaded some of their signature pink boxes with a variety and took them home. All in all: very good donuts. A couple of the toppings were a little dried out, but they certainly all tasted good.

The specialty donuts are big, so they’re great for sharing.

The famous Bacon Maple Bar. A great blend of flavors. Sweet and salty all in one. Our sample was a little dry, but I liked it. Even more so if it was filled with cream.

Another signature, the Old Dirty Bastard, covered with peanut butter and crumbled Oreo cookies. A ridiculous wallop of sugar. My favorite of the mix.

SERVICE: Don’t expect any smiles from the Voodoo crew. They’ll take your money and serve you great donuts, but don’t expect them to like it. If being coddled by a customer service representative is your thing, don’t come here. If you don’t care, you’ll be fine.

OVERALL: Later in our visit to Portland, after a fancy Peruvian diner at Andina, we stopped by Voodoo Doughnut for a second dessert. It’s a fun, guilty pleasure. While Voodoo isn’t the most magnificent donut shop I’ve ever visited, there really is something to all the hype. The whole experience is fun, and you can’t argue with a big box of crazy donuts. If you’re ever in Portland, go hang out downtown and pick some up.

FUN NOTE: If you love Voodoo Doughnuts that much, why don’t you get married there? You can.

-> Gimme Doughnut, short documentary on Voodoo Doughnut

Voodoo Doughnut on Urbanspoon

Helser’s on Alberta | Portland, OR

Helser’s on Alberta
1538 NE Alberta St. (map it!)
Portland, OR 97211
(503) 281-1477
Open daily 7 am – 3 pm (bfast served all day; specials served Mon-Fri, 7-9)
Accepts cash and credit/debit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/N/N

Date of Visit: Tuesday, October 26, 2010 at 9:00 a.m.

: Helser’s was our third formal stop on our Portland breakfast tour. While visiting friends in PDX, I had Hesler’s on my agenda after it appeared in Breakfast Special along with the Tin Shed, just down the street. The extra bonus with this visit was getting to meet Paul Gerald, author of the book Breakfast in Bridgetown and the corresponding blog. Like myself, Paul appeared in Breakfast Special as the local breakfast blogger food guide. We got to compare Portland and Columbus breakfasts and chat about all things breakfast bloggery.

Helser’s wasn’t my favorite breakfast in Portland, but comparing Portland breakfast places is like comparing Pixar films. Some are definitely better than others, but the quality is higher than most things out there.

Like the Tin Shed, Helser’s is situated along the busy and trendy Alberta Street. They’ve got a sweet corner location with big, bright windows all around. I really love the painted column in front of the door. Don’t know why; I just do.

Inside, the checkered floor, the big chalkboard with specials, the large bar with a full service coffee setup, the bright illumination – all of these things add up to a classic cafe setup. When I think cafe, I think of this.

: Again, because of Breakfast Special, we already had our eyes on some of Helser’s featured dishes. All of their food is great comfort food, but there’s lots of fun twists or unusual dishes on the menu. I don’t often see Pigs in the Blanket or Russet Potato Pancakes on breakfast menus, and I would love to return to Helser’s to sample more. Pictured above is my wife’s dish, the German Pancake, or Dutch Baby. This isn’t your traditional pancake, but more like an open pastry baked with lemon juice and powdered sugar, then served with lemon slices and syrup. You’ll have to wait a little longer for it to be prepared, but this was our favorite dish of the meal. It’s a huge pancake, sweet and flaky, but with touches of tangy lemon.

I immediately zeroed in on the Scotch Eggs and Potato Pancakes. I love a good scotch egg. Not many places in Columbus serve them. If you’ve never had one, a scotch egg (no, it has nothing to do with the distilled spirits) is a hard boiled egg, wrapped in sausage, then breaded and fried. Helser’s version is excellent: egg cooked just right, crispy breading, good seasoning. I was so-so on the potato pancakes, at least texture-wise. They taste very good, and they’re browned perfectly. I even liked the horseradish sauce (and I generally don’t like horseradish), but the internal texture of the pancakes didn’t quite work. I think the potatoes were cooked unevenly, so occasionally I had bites that were too hard.

Another good find from their menu: toasted crumpets. I can’t say I’ve ever had one. Nice soft texture, barely sweet. A good side to any of their meals.

Paul ordered the Pear and Harvati Pie, and I snapped a picture. It takes the two ingredients and bakes them into custardy tart. Again, very creative and unusual things on the menu.

And the standard side of Brioche French toast for our son. He certainly didn’t say no to it.

SERVICE: Our server was great. Fast, helpful, interactive. I was a bit predisposed to liking the service, after Breakfast Special featured one of their servers, Leah, talking about her work. We got to meet Leah and chat with her about having PBS film there.

: Again, Helser’s wasn’t my favorite Portland breakfast, but there’s plenty to like here. The service and location are top-notch, and the menu offers a lot of hard-to-find breakfast eats. Some of them just worked better than others. And I certainly wouldn’t say no to a return visit, especially to enjoy the bright atmosphere and try more of the menu.

-> a taste of Helser’s from WQED Pittsburgh

Helser's on Alberta on Urbanspoon

Gravy | Portland, OR

Gravy (Facebook)
3957 N. Mississippi Ave. (map it!)
Portland, OR 97227
(503) 287-8800
Open 7 am – 3 pm daily
Accepts cash and credit/debit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/N/N

Date of Visit: Monday, October 25, 2010 at 9:00 a.m.

IMPRESSIONS: Stop two in our Portland breakfast tour! Our Portland friends had whispered to us about a restaurant called Gravy. One of the most appealing breakfast restaurant names I’ve heard in a while…

ATMOSPHERE: We’ve heard tell of Gravy’s long lines and packed houses on the weekends, and that can be frustrating or add to over-hype. But we found ourselves fortunate enough to visit on a slow Tuesday morning; we were ushered right to a table. Gravy’s layout is wide open, with big windows and skylights. Lots of natural lighting illuminates the browns and creams, the wood accents, and big pieces of art on the walls. You can also see right into the open-topped kitchen. Seating includes about fifteen tables, plus a few stools at the bar. Overall, a relaxing atmosphere punctuated by a fantastic music selection.

FOOD: Of all the great breakfasts we had in Portland, I am still craving Gravy’s the most. The prices are a little steeper: like $12-for-a-scramble steeper. HOWEVER, you get what you pay for. You could easily split a $12 scramble between three people. Everyone would have plenty to each, and you’d only be spending about $4 per person. Their breakfast menu isn’t extensive, but it covers all the basics: scrambles, omelets, hash, sandwiches, pancakes. I immediately eyed the list of scrambles, and settled on The Dalise: ham, bacon, sausage, mushrooms, peppers, onions, and cheddar, covered in gravy. Served with the most awesomely huge portion of done-just-right hash browns. Look at the picture above: the hash browns must have been cooked in their own pan. They come out like a giant bird’s nest. The whole breakfast was very well seasoned, cooked to the right consistency, and just a big delicious mess.

My wife is always a fan of smoked salmon, and well, we’re in the Pacific Northwest. She ordered the Smoked Salmon Hash & Eggs, which was even better than my scramble. Large chunks of fresh salmon, soooooo well seasoned, mixed with veggies and eggs on top. Probably the best dish we had in Portland, and on my list as the best hash I’ve ever had.

If I look at this picture too long, I start drooling.

We ordered their French toast for our son. He loved and devoured it. Made with challah bread. On a side note: Gravy’s coffee was also very good; their own special blend. Points to them for offering chilled cream for our coffee, without us having to ask.

Our friend ordered the Oatmeal Brulee (and my wife ordered it on a later visit). Gravy is well known for this dish, and I can see why. Along with the salmon hash, it quickly joined my list as the Best Oatmeal I’ve had.

These pictures don’t fully communicate the size of this bowl. It’s like if you cut a softball in half, hollowed it out, and filled it with oatmeal. And this is thiiiiiiick oatmeal, filled with fruit and nuts, topped with brown sugar, and torched. This probably isn’t the healthiest oatmeal ever, but a big warm bowl of cooked oats, fresh fruit, and caramelized sugars is still worth something.

It’s like an oatmeal cave! This continues Gravy’s streak of monster portions. The restaurant and neighborhood may feel a little trendy and a tiny upscale, but Gravy is pushing big, classic comfort food.

OVERALL: In our short time in Portland, we made a return visit to Gravy. That’s despite great breakfasts at The Tin Shed and Helser’s on Alberta. All of their food is big and flavorful. Great combinations of textures. You have to know how to play the prices to your advantage: if $12.75 is too much for Smoked Salmon Hash & Eggs (yeah, that’s steep for me), consider splitting it with one or two people. I think the food is worth it. They landed two dishes on my list of favorites.

-> official website for Mississippi Ave., Gravy’s neighborhood

Gravy on Urbanspoon

The Tin Shed Garden Cafe | Portland, OR

The Tin Shed Garden Cafe
1438 NE Alberta St. (map it!)
Portland, OR 97211
(503) 288-6966
Open daily, 7:00 am – 10:00 pm (bfast served till 3)
Accepts cash and credit/debit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/Y/N

Date of Visit: Sunday, October 24, 2010 at 10:00 a.m.

IMPRESSIONS: My wife and I have some close friends in Portland, Oregon, and take any opportunity we can afford to go visit them. It’s a super added bonus that Portland – like Columbus – is a great breakfast town, and it had two breakfast joints featured in Rick Sebak’s documentary Breakfast Special. The Tin Shed was his first stop in PDX, led there by Paul Gerald, author of Breakfast in Bridgetown.

You can find the Tin Shed on Alberta Street, a charming stretch of shops and restaurants that, I am told, has been improving in quality over the years. If you’re going to visit The Tin Shed, get familiar with this sight: the outside. Chances are you’re going to wait. A long line always speaks to the quality and popularity of the place, but a.) be prepared and don’t let the long wait make you grumpy, and b.) be careful that your expectations aren’t raised too high. Breakfast joints with long waits – whether because they are local favorites, or because they’ve been featured on national television, or both – can raise expectations unrealistically and lead to disappointed customers. With a group of six (4 adults + 2 kids), on a Sunday mid-morning, we waited about 30-40 minutes.

But the folks at Tin Shed know you might have a long wait (and there’s a good chance you’ll wait in the rain), so they’ve got a coffee stand set up out front. Coffee, tea, water: all there for you.

ATMOSPHERE: As if you couldn’t tell already, you can expect a busy atmosphere at Tin Shed. The sidewalks will be lined with hopeful customers. To join their ranks, you need to sign in when you arrive. (Fun note: if you’re sitting outside, you can bring your dog.) The seating is grouped in two areas. The first is the small inside, with about five tables and a few stools overlooking a small bar. It’s crowded, tight, and noisy. The decor is an eclectic mix of funky lighting and colorful art.

The second seating area is mostly outdoors. There you’ll find the more-charming covered patio, with a fireplace, big fans, heat lamps, and rustic tables. On a slightly chilly, damp October morning, there was something enticing about the patio. It seemed so cozy, despite the outdoor location, that I was almost disappointed we were seated inside.

FOOD: Tin Shed has the hip menu to match its layout and decor. Each section is a different variety of “goodness.” Stacked Goodness (potato pancakes). Sample Goodness (the big platters). Sweet Goodness (porridge, French toast). You get the idea. Pictured here is the Spike Lee, from their Specialty Goodness. Most of the items in this list are named after movie stars. The Spike Lee is a burrito filled with scrambled eggs, veggies, and black beans. It’s spiked with jalapenos and chipotle. Our friends let us try a bite: very nice.

Our friends also chose the Everything Nice. This is one of two options in the Sample Goodness category. Its counterpart is the Everything Naughty, loaded with all the bad but delicious stuff. The Everything Nice, however, features their signature potato cake, fruit, French toast, and a choice of meat. Our friends opted for the pork sausage. I love how it’s split and grilled.

A point for their kid-friendliness: a cheap but good-tasting children’s menu. We ordered our son the Freddy: a kid-sized portion of the French toast.

My wife and I split the Roll Over. This comes out of the Stacked Goodness, in which everything is based on the potato cakes and named for canine commands. I was drawn to this because I wanted to try the potato cakes, plus you could get it with rosemary mushroom gravy. Um, yes. The stack is rounded out with a sausage and egg scramble, and it was simply delicious. The gravy really made the dish. I keep craving it, well after our trip.

I chatted with one of the managers for a bit, connecting over the fact that we were both featured in Breakfast Special. As a little perk, they gave us a couple Bloody Marys to try. I’m not usually one for alcohol with my breakfast, but these were most certainly worth a try. This is the Cajun Bloody Mary, which had a big dash of spice around the lip of the glass. Garnished with lime, onions, celery, peppers, and olives.

We also tried the regular Bloody Mary, which was very smoky. Made with their own bacon-infused vodka.

SERVICE: We were treated very well at the Tin Shed. You could probably be soured by a long wait, but I think we were prepared. Our server (forget her name, dangit) was super nice and attentive. Despite the crazy crowd, the Tin Shed is accommodating to children. Our party included two youngins, and our server was prepared with high chairs, crayons, coloring books, and fun cups. This is a quick way to win parents’ hearts.

OVERALL: Tin Shed has a fun location, a really great vibe, and creative food. Again, the long wait could easily put you off or build your expectations too much (being featured nationally doesn’t help), but we found it to be a great community experience. Even the wait was fun with our friends there, and once in the restaurant, we felt welcomed and well cared-for. Their menu features a lot of creative options, and while it wasn’t my favorite in Portland, a couple items stand out, especially those potato cakes and that rosemary mushroom gravy.


Tin Shed Garden Cafe on Urbanspoon


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