“The dream of the ’90s is alive in Portland.” – Portlandia, (Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen)
“Sorry I’m late.” I call out to a thick cloud. A voice echoes back, “It’s ok. Everybody’s stoned.” Stretching onto my yoga mat in the MaryJane Event Space I fold open a pamphlet to find a selection of six joints to smoke during the session. Each strain corresponds to a different sequence. “I want you to have the experience of being able to feel the effects of the cannabis in your body,” shares Rachel Stern of Heart Shaped Yoga. “And then the effects of the poses in your body, and then to notice the differences, because that’s part of the discovery, part of the fun.” Like an orchestral movement, she conducts us through the class, varying the degrees of CBD and THC so that we can be present and “go deeper.” I hold each pose as long as I can, before realizing that I haven’t actually been holding at all, but have been lying flat on the mat eating guacamole and chips. The snack table is a buffet of fresh, local, and infused-ingredients. Ideally, the aim is to relax—so I’m good. Deep feelings of calmness and presence have washed over me. Now it’s time to get on the Yellow Pot Bus.
High 5 Tours is a veritable Canna-bus. Once aboard, I accept that heaven is Portland. To be clear, I was once pretty hip, but my virgin eyes have never seen all this paraphernalia and the variety of options for us to freely consume. When I was a kid, everybody knew a guy. His name was Noodles. He wore a trench coat. If you wanted 5 grams of hydroponic weed, he had it wrapped in tinfoil to sell you. He’d get it from someone in BC who got it from someone in South America. It was all kept on the down low. Well, times have changed. Portland is so clean and so educated, far beyond what I imagined. Our first stop is Home Grown Apothecary & Dispensary.
On display is a row of Indica to relax, Sativa to uplift, every hybrid in between, and so many different strains that customers are discussing, from their terpenes and flavour profiles to their effects. This is how I would be talking about wines and grape varietals. “Excuse my ignorance,” I interrupt, “But how does anyone know which one to choose?” “It really depends on what someone is fighting in their daily life, and what they’re working to correct,” explains the bud tender. Sizing me up, she reaches for a jar of buds and asks me to smell it. Ahhh… This reminds me of a summer night in June, lying in the grass at a ‘Dead show. “This is the one for you,” She smiles. “It’s called Blue Dream, and if you like the way it smells, and it evokes that kind of memory-sense, then this is the one you should respond to well.” Next to me, a woman is purchasing a Mango Cannabis strain for her migraines.
In Portland, possession was decriminalized in 1973. Since then, due to the growth of medical marijuana, a high level of education has developed that does not exist as prodigiously anywhere else. A vanguard of chefs is also using cannabis. They are versed in terpenes, the aromatic oils of cannabis that elicit distinctive flavors from citrus to mint to pine, as well the quantities and effects of CBD versus THC, and how to pair them. For example, limonene, which combats depression and anxiety, is citrusy and bright, and pairs with dishes of lemon-y profiles. At Noble Rot, heirloom tomatoes grown in the restaurant’s roof top garden, along with herb gnocchi and a basil emulsion also sourced from the garden accompany a pork shoulder smoked in apple and cherry wood. As a side dish, the chef proudly presents his Kimchibd—kimchi that is fermented with a water- soluble CBD isolate—one gram per pound—sprinkled with hemp and sesame seeds, drizzled in rosemary oil and mixed with puffed wild rice. Its initial kick is followed by a gradual pleasing buzz.
Down the street Hotel Jupiter Next is modern and hip, but cozy. Entering Hey Love, the 1970s-inspired cocktail bar on the main floor, feels as though I’m back in college and staying at the coolest residence, where everyone wants to be.
On an afternoon cannabis tour with Cordilleran Tours we visit a glass blowing studio to see how pipes are made. In the workshop of Oracle Glass Inc. an octopus, a cross bow and intricate molecular designs are being set. It can take anywhere from minutes to months to make these artful ornaments that range in size from a finger to a tuba, and can cost thousands of dollars. They are beautiful, whether in use or on display.
Next stop is Laurie + MaryJane, where Laurie Wolf, part Mother Nature, part Willy Wonka, and three-time Dope Cup Winner, leads us through her handcrafted cannabis edibles production. “One truffle will get you high.” She cautions, halting me from grabbing one. Not your average bake-sale, Wolf ’s aim is to “elevate the edible.” Warm pop-in-your-mouth cookies of ginger molasses, peanut butter, or vegan chocolate are decadent bites containing 10mg of THC. Her Morning Blend Granola contains 120mg of CBD. Dosing and potency are listed, and quality control is strict. We purchase a few fruity nut bars for our hike through the trails of Forest Park. Vegan and gluten- free, they’re chock full of cashews, dates, bananas, chocolate and crispy brown rice with a 1:1 ratio of 25mg THC to 25mg CBD. For the calorie and cannabis-conscious, the bar is sectioned to let us know exactly how much we’re consuming.
Got the munchies? When it comes to satisfying food cravings and making taste buds dance, Portland’s got the boogie. Renowned for its Food Pods, every cuisine imaginable occupies abandoned nooks to become community hubs of really good food. At The Bite on Belmont we share Hawaiian Korean Bulgogi from Namu, along with some Viking Soul Food of saffron chowder with lemon cod and mussels. There is always something innovative in the restaurant scene too. Lovely’s Fifty Fifty creates the most beautiful wood-fired pizza I’ve ever seen! Sungold tomato confit with shaved summer squash, basil and orange agrumato, sprinkled with an array of flowers resembles a potpourri. Oui Wine Bar + Restaurant at SE Wine Collective, an incubator for up and coming local wines, offers a choose-your-own-adventure list of pairings with a vegetable- driven menu. Chef Althea Grey Potter makes vegetables cool. Her smoked carrot hummus with mint, almonds and olives, paired with Division Wines Chardonnay, and green garlic and pine nut pesto risotto with a sous vide egg, paired with a Laelaps Wines Riesling offer a quintessential taste of Oregon, both through the vibrancy of ingredients and the exuberance in attitude.
Whether foie gras dumplings with strawberry molé at Canard or foie gras profiteroles with caramel sauce at Le Pigeon, Chef Gabriel Rucker proves that if you’ve got it, flaunt it. Chefs love Portland for its bounty of fresh produce, world- class wine region and proliferation of craft breweries. They head to the Portland Farmers Market to get noticed, build their menus or build up for their own brick and mortar. “Have you been foraging lately?” I hear one market goer ask another. “Ya. I’m working on a new collabo right now actually. You should check it out.” It’s a hotbed of activity that encapsulates Portland’s DIY spirit.
Across town, the motto of the Central Eastside Industrial District is “Community not Competition.” From day to night markets, muralists and chefs alike gravitate here. A tour with The Big Foody leads us through old warehouses revitalized with a cultural makeover. New Deal Distillery’s vodka is made with Oregon wheat and charcoal filtered for purity of water with a true taste of terroir. This isn’t the typical clean spirit. It’s like a record with a bit of scratch in it. Cascara liqueur, made from the cherry, or the husk of the coffee bean, is a palate opener and conversation starter made in collaboration with Water Avenue Coffee.
Cupping coffee at Coava Coffee Roasters reveals more than how the coffee tastes at the end, but also the balance and summation of the sweetness, acidity and body in each mouthful. It seems that everything trickled down from Seattle to create this mecca of specialty coffee. There is such reverence to maintain quality that is unheard of in other cities. The proof is in the cup. Steven Smith Teamaker is the temple of quality tea in Portland. Seated at the counter, a menu of teas and flights are presented, including aromatic tea and scented chocolate pairings. Ecuador Balau chocolate is scented with Masala Chai; Madagascar Sambirano chocolate with Big Hibiscus; and Ecuadorian Peruvian chocolate with Peppermint. The results change the complexion of the chocolate and tea, infusing complex aromatics in the chocolates, and richer nuances in the teas. The mixing and matching is a fascinating experiment that we indulge with every smooth sip.
There is a lot of knowledge about artisanal chocolate at a local level, with more chocolate makers in Portland than in San Francisco, LA and Chicago combined. The chocolate library at Cacao displays bars from all over the world including Singapore, Vietnam, Philippines, France and Canada. High-end chocolate bars like Shrimp and Bonito, Sour Dough and Olive Oil, and Foie Gras pique my curiousity. The selection of hot chocolate, rich and complex, makes my knees weak. Each square bar of Cloud Forest chocolate is a frame of a personal experience, a haiku, an abstract image of a memory, like Miso Truffle, inspired by a walk in Forest Park. Goma, a grey chocolate with black sesame and goma dofu, and Bee Chocolate with local bee pollen are delicate and innovative without peer.
Whatever the passion, hobbies are a high priority in Portland. Whether for cannabis, wine, beer, coffee, tea or chocolate, if you want to geek-out on something, there is a community here that will get behind it and support you. It’s a laid back funky vibe with an aim to live well. As the song in Portlandia goes, “Portland is a city where young people go to retire.” For the rest, we can still visit…and dream.
Adam Waxman is an award winning travel journalist focusing on food, wine and well being. As well as an actor in film, television and formerly, the Stratford Festival, he is the Associate Publisher and Executive Editor of DINE and Destinations magazine.