My Own Private Portland

“Hmmm.  What a lovely room of death,” I thought upon walking into a most unusual store stocked with all manner of taxidermied, mummified, and otherwise deceased creatures.  I would be exaggerating if I said that that the variety of unusual articles offered by the shop was downright terrifying, but the vibe erred well onto the side of spooky.  Despite my misgivings about the overwhelming presence of dead animals, the store’s singularity and the pleasant nonchalance of its staff made my visit memorable, to say the least.  Where does one find such a store?  Why, in Portland, Oregon, of course.

A mere 6 hour drive southwest of Spokane lies fabled Portland, a Mecca for beer lovers and connoisseurs of the charmingly peculiar.  Prior to my most recent trip, I hadn’t visited the Beaver State for several years, nor had I made brewery-hopping an objective of my visit.  A number of sources informed me that there was far more to Portland than the obvious draws, like Powell’s City of Books, Hopworks Urban Brewery, and Voodoo Doughnuts, though, heaven knows, I couldn’t help but check them out (again), anyway.  This trip, I resolved to jump off of my previously beaten path so that the question wouldn’t be what was I going to do, but what wasn’t I going to do?

I ate tofu at a small neighborhood restaurants I’d never heard of with signature cocktails served in (what else?) wide-mouthed Mason jars.  I satiated a spontaneous fit of curiosity by popping into a comic book store that just happened to catch my eye.  I was utterly enamored by the outrageous combination of pear-blue cheese and IPA-upside down cake ice creams served up in a homemade waffle cone (totally worth the twenty minute wait).  I proved to my cousin that perfect strangers regularly walk up to me and ask me questions about the store/brewery/park we’re in for reasons largely unbeknownst to me.  I watched the most magnificent group of nerds reenact a classic Star Trek episode (“The Trouble with Tribbles”) at a packed outdoor amphitheater.  I drank a beautiful golden British ale whose flavor elicited a delightful slew of childhood memories.  I bought more books than I honestly need or have the time to read, and I escaped from a doughnut shop without being accosted by maple-bacon-loving passersby.  I had a packed, exhausting, and completely fantastic weekend in P-town.

The quarter-day drive home allowed me to plenty of time to reflect on the weekend that was, and I realized that the unfamiliar wasn’t quite as foreign as I’d feared it may have been.  I already knew full-well that Mason jars make for excellent glasses and that it’s never a bad idea to drop into a new bookstore.  I knew that a fresh beer in the sun with a good friend is one of life’s simplest and greatest pleasures and that seemingly bizarre flavor combinations will often surprise you in a very good way.  Truthfully, though some of the content differed, the feel and presentation of the places I visited in Portland were not too unlike those found in my own hometown of Spokane.

Spokane has its own local book haven (Auntie’s), an eccentric doughnut shop that sells its goods in eye-catching pink boxes (Dawn of the Donut), and a slew of top-notch breweries (No-Li, Iron Goat, 12 String, etc.).  Brain Freeze Creamery has been known to produce a few off-centered flavors (cinnamon ice cream with lentils, anyone?), and Manito Park frequently plays host to outdoor concerts throughout the warmer months.  The idyllic South Perry neighborhood, even without a shop full of dead animals, could fit right in to the quietly lively retail strips that dot the ‘burbs of PDX.

I love to excurse out of town whenever I can; there are far too many places to visit and experiences to try to be content sitting at home every weekend.  Nevertheless, most of my weekends are, indeed, spent in here, in my hometown.  I absolutely adored Portland, and I’d jump at an opportunity to spend more time there.  However, since that is not the case at present, I’m glad that I’ve taken the time to ponder what it was I really enjoyed the most about the City of Roses, for that reflection has allowed me to see a little bit of it in the Lilac City.  I don’t need to travel across the state and over a river to recreate some of the best parts of such a unique city.  My own little slice of Portland has been hiding here, in plain sight, all along.

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The Hop Shop

image from the Hop Shop

This spring, my mom, her two sisters, and her dad all hopped on a plane together to spend two weeks traveling through Germany and the surrounding areas.  As her father is originally from Germany, it was his dream come true to have all of his girls with him while touring his home country.  They visited castles, recreated multiple scenes from The Sound of Music, and, of course, drank a lot of great beer.  As a beer geek myself, I was thrilled to hear that my mom and my aunts took full advantage of the situation and imbibed in the local specialties.  The story I enjoyed most of all was that of their trip to the Hofbrauhaus in Munich.  Along with its historical significance, the Hofbrauhaus is renowned for its terrific beer garden.  Unbeknownst to me, the bierhaus has a policy of serving beer in containers no smaller than a liter after 5:00.  Oh my.  Undaunted, the intrepid quartet took the plunge, and, beers and pretzels in hand, had a lovely afternoon drinking beer and enjoying each others’ company in Munich.

DSCN2274Here in the states, the Hofbrauhaus in Las Vegas is probably about the closest you can get to the aforementioned experience.  Nonetheless, it’s still nice to enjoy a brew or two out on a patio on a summer afternoon.  Here in Spokane, one of the South Hill’s hidden treasures, the Hop Shop, is my favorite place to do so.  Situated just up the hill from the beautiful Manito Park and a few blocks away from the lively bustle of Manito Tap House, the Hop Shop’s vibe is low-key and relaxing.  The same two fellas are always manning the bar, comfy seating is plentiful, and the work of local artists is featured on each and every wall.  As its name implies, beer is the focus: the bar offers a great selection of limited release bottled beers, as well as nearly a dozen rotating taps, several of which feature local breweries like Iron Goat, Budge Brothers, and Orlinson.  For those who are not beer lovers, fear not: the Hop Shop also features a top-notch wine list including everything from Pinot Grigios to Malbecs and beyond.  If you’re in need of some sustenance, local food carts are known to appear on a regular basis in the parking lot, and a cheese plate can be ordered from the bar.  A little snack and a great beer- what more do you need?

While I do love (LOVE) having a whole food-and-drink pairing experience at a brewpub or sampling each and every offering at a new brewery’s tasting room, every once in a while, it’s nice to just take a breather and enjoy a pint of one of my favorite IPAs with good company.  It may not be quite the same as a trip to a German bierhaus (I’ve never seen anyone sporting liederhosen at the Hop Shop), but the idea and feel is the same, so, as far as I’m concerned, it’s a step in the right direction.

The Hop Shop is open 4pm-11pm Tuesday-Thursday and 4pm-12am on Friday-Saturday.

Spokane’s Summer Bikes and Brews

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Bikes parked at No-Li Brewhouse

With temperatures nationwide regularly reaching into the 80s, 90s, and 100s, there’s only one conclusion I can confidently draw: summer is here and in full swing!  Here in the good ol’ Lilac City, we’re deep in the heart of the hottest season of them all and loving it.  With cloudless skies as far as the eye can see, multiple lakes less than an hour away, tons of great biking and hiking trails, and some of the best breweries around within the city limits, what’s not to love?

Amy (Goose) and me (Maverick) were the only two goons on a tandem bicycle that day. What can I say? We love fun! Image from Lantern Tap House

This weekend, I was lucky enough to enjoy what I think was the epitome of a Spokane summer experience.  Once again joined by Amy from Amy’s Nutritarian Kitchen, I headed up to Spokane’s South Perry neighborhood to take part in the newly expanded Lantern Tap House to take part in their monthly bike pub crawl, though this time around, it was really more of a brewery crawl (or ride).  With about a dozen other intrepid beer lovers, we set off from the tavern in the afternoon sun and headed to our first destination: Spokane’s celebrated No-Li Brewhouse.  Located on a particularly serene stretch of the Spokane River, the wide-open patio of the brewhouse has lounge chairs right on the river bank, as well as a fire pit and picnic tables galore for the enjoyment of sun-loving patrons.  Our ride leader, Mike, ordered up a few pitchers of No-Li’s Summer Wheat for everyone to sip on while we chatted and worked on our tans.  After an hour at No-Li, we steadily mozied on to our next destination.

Enjoying the patio at Iron Goat. Image from Lantern Tap House

Just a stone’s throw from No-Li is Iron Goat Brewing Company, which celebrated its first anniversary just last month.  Once again, everyone grabbed a pint glass, filled it up with the beer of his/her choosing, and scurried to the patio to relax and chit-chat.  Our relaxation efforts were aided all the more by the sudden appearances of an ice cream truck and the Shameless Sausages cart.  After refueling, we summoned our strength for our final destination Budge Brothers Brewing Company, which resided only a few blocks away.  Those who weren’t yet acquainted became so, and we each enjoyed one final, locally brewed pint before heading back up the hill to our starting destination.

By the end of the day, our adventure earned its title of “crawl”; the whole voyage took nearly six hours to travel a distance of only a couple of miles.  Nonetheless, it was a great way to spend a leisurely Saturday afternoon: the beer was terrific, the ride nice ‘n easy, and the company amiable as could be.  Lucky for me, and maybe you, too, the Lantern Tap House hosts bicycle pub crawls each month, most with five destinations rather than three.  If you’re looking to ride from a different destination or on a different route, or if you’re still on the lookout for your ideal outdoor beer hangout, there are options to be had here in Spokane.  I encourage you to check each of them out so as to find the one that’s best for you!  Cheers, and ride safely!

Bike Rides Around Spokane

Lantern Tap House Pub Bike Ride – Groups ride from the tap house on South Perry to 3-5 downtown or South Hill pubs.  Rides occur approximately once each month.  Check Lantern Tap House’s Facebook page to find out about upcoming rides.  Note: If running is more your style, there’s also a Lantern Running Club.  They’ll be meeting tomorrow (Tuesday, July 16) at 6pm at the tavern to run, and the run will be followed by $2.50 pint night!  Haven’t you heard that beer is a great post-workout drink?

Two Wheel Transit Recyclers at Manito Tap House – The Two Wheel Transit Recyclers meet at Manito Tap House on Thursday evenings at 6:15pm to go for a 60-90 minute ride around the South Hill before meeting back at the tap house for drinks and snacks.  Manito Tap House has a great little bike maintenance station right in front of the restaurant in case you need to make any last minute adjustments to your ride.

Elk Drug Drop-Outs Vintage & Cruiser Bicycle ClubThe Elk‘s bike club meets at the pub at 3pm on the first Sunday each month.  They ride from the Elk, in Brown’s Addition, to No-Li Brewhouse, located near Gonzaga University, and back.  The ride is family-friendly, and anyone and everyone is invited to ride whatever they’ve got!  The next ride should be on Sunday, August 3rd.

Spokane Party Trolley – OK, so this isn’t a bike club per se; it’s more of a club on a bike.  A really big bike.  Like, a big bike that you can ride with a dozen or more friends at once.  It’s crazy fun.  I was lucky enough to get to take a spin on the party trolley for a pub crawl a couple of weeks ago, though the trolley can also be rented for bachelor/bachelorrette parties, family reunions, team building, you name it.  If you’re looking to try it just to try it, the party trolley also hosts Mixer Tours, 2-hour pub crawls that peddle to 3-4 pubs in downtown Spokane.

For information about other Spokane bike clubs, check out the F&*%ing Bike Club’s website.

Thanks to the Lantern Tap House for leading such an excellent bike ride.  Thank you to both Amy from Amy’s Nutritarian Kitchen and the Lantern Tap House for the photographs.

Day Out: The Shop on South Perry

DSCN2246As of late, Spokane’s South Perry neighborhood has become my favorite miniature getaway/hiding spot.  It’s just far enough away from the Valley to feel like a minor excursion, but close enough that I can scurry downtown or back to the Valley in a timely manner if need be.  The neighborhood’s got just about everything you could possibly need or want, too: a pizza parlor, a natural foods store, a fitness clothing boutique, a great place for fine dining, and a quaint little cafe for meet-ups throughout the day.  The latter, simply named “The Shop”, is really a catch-all for the neighborhood: it’s got coffee, ice cream, pastries, lunch fare, vegan and gluten-free options, beer on-tap, and outdoor movies in the summertime.  Sounds pretty good, right?  I thought so, so I scootered on up there and checked it out.

I first happened upon The Shop by accident during a dinner outing this winter.  A friend and I pulled up to Casper Fry one evening, eager to check it out after hearing so many great things about the eatery, only to find that we had arrived on the one day of the week it was closed (Tuesdays, for future reference).  Feeling slightly let down that we’d driven all the way up there just to be shut out, we resolved to head across the street to drown our sorrows in a pistachio-topped pie at South Perry Pizza (it was terrific).  On our way out, we noticed a wee cafe hidden behind the parking lot next to Casper Fry.  Lo and behold, we’d found The Shop.

"Voluptuous" is how I'd best describe the blueberries on this scone.

“Voluptuous” is how I’d best describe the blueberries on this scone.

The Shop opens bright and early at 6am on weekdays, and after an hour or so, the house-made pastries and tarts start to appear.  To go with your fresh-out-of-the-oven scone or quiche slice, The Shop offers locally roasted Anvil Coffee.  If you’re after something a bit chillier to counter the heat of these sweltering July days, ice cream from Spokane’s very own Brain Freeze Creamery is also ready and waiting for your order.  The cafe also hosts six taps, a couple of which serve area brews from breweries such as No-Li, Iron Goat, and Paradise Creek.  By the way, The Shop has a killer Thirsty Thursday deal: $2 pints all day!  The Shop is ready and waiting to offer air conditioning and a cold one for those seeking shelter from the heat and excitement of the farmer’s market that takes place in front of the cafe every Thursday afternoon.

Adjacent to The Shop is Casper Fry, and the two eateries are separated by the latter’s north-facing brick wall.  Not wanting a blank canvas to go to waste, the wall is painted to look like the screen of a movie theater, which, on summery Saturday nights, it is.  Throughout the summer, The Shop hosts outdoor movies at dusk each Saturday night, each benefiting a different local charity, and this year’s lineup has something for everyone: The Princess Bride is this Satuday’s feature, and upcoming shows include Jurassic Park, Wreck It Ralph, and, to my delight, The Avengers (remember how awesome IronFest 2013 was?  I do).  Grab your favorite lawn chair and a bag of popcorn and enjoy a free (FREE!) showing in one of the most charming neighborhoods in town.

It can really be a challenge for a business to try to be everything to everyone, but The Shop does an impressive job at it.  Offering a place for locals to grab breakfast, lunch, an ice cream cone, or a cold brew, this hidden gem hits all the right notes.  As my last trip there resulted in an unexpected sighting of some rabbits sitting at the table next to me (I couldn’t make this up), I’m curious to see what surprises my next trip to The Shop will have in store (fingers crossed that it involves another peculiar farm animal!).

Day Out: Casper Fry

DSCN2232Just about everyone has one of those T-shirts with a terrible pun or a slightly (or heavily) crass phrase that makes readers either giggle or cringe.  My mom certainly has one.  It was obtained during moonshine-tasting extravaganza in Tennessee and reads “put the south in your mouth.”  She wears it with surprising frequency and hilarious pride.  It was all I could think about whilst reviewing the cocktail menu at Spokane’s own taste of the South, Casper Fry.

Named after the owners’ great/great-great grandfather, Casper Fry’s classic, locally inclined values harken back to a time before supermarkets and convenience stores, when produce was only available when it was locally in season and chefs were able to pick out exactly which steer to use for dinner that night (gruesome, but great, too).  A large chalkboard mounted on one of the exposed brick walls lists each and every local purveyor and which products come from which source.  The well-stocked bar proudly displays all manner of whiskey, including several brands of bourbon and moonshine, and is made all the more tempting by the additional offering of absinthe and the occasional appearance of a few small Woodinville Whiskey “Age Your Own” whiskey barrels (my family has one, and it’s way fun).  Steampunk-style furniture and the lack of superfluous artwork lend a utilitarian air to the wide-open space and emphasizes the points that Casper Fry lets its food do the talking and speaks for the restaurant as a whole.

shrimp po'boy

shrimp po’boy

On this particular visit, I went with my Texas born-and-raised granddad.  I mentioned to him that prior to visiting Casper Fry, I’d never tried grits before.  He reacted with shock and proudly declared, “I’m from Texas.  We eat grits all the time.”  As I myself lived in Texas for a few months a couple of summers ago, I, too, was surprised that I’d not jumped on the grits bandwagon earlier.  Better late than never, I suppose.  That said, it’s almost mandated that a Southern-style restaurant offer their own version of shrimp and grits, and Casper Fry is not exception.  Served with a hefty handful of monstrous prawns; roasted okra, peppers, and asparagus; a bit of ham; and cheddar red mule grits, this kickin’ dish will fill your mouth with the most savory spices and your head with visions of the French Quarter in no time at all.  If you’re more of a hands-on diner, they’ve got just the thing: the shrimp po’boy is full to bursting with four crispy fried shrimp, as well as fresh red onions, tomatoes, and lettuce.  Drizzled with sweet chili aoili, this behemoth of a sandwich is sure to satisfy even the most voracious appetite.

Omaha sour

Omaha sour

No trip to Casper Fry is complete without a bourbon or absinthe-laden cocktail.  For those feeling both fancy and dangerous, the Corpse Reviver may be just what you need to shake your day up.  Served in a small coupe glass, this mysterious green libation is  sweet, tart, and old-timey as can be.  Made with gin, lemon juice, Dolin Blanc, Cointreau, and absinthe, you won’t be able to resist clinking glasses with your pals and adding a slight drawl to your speech.  For the whiskey-inclined and absinthe-curious, I recommend the Omaha Sour.  This little number involves both bourbon and absinthe, as well as a bit of syrup and lime juice.  As fun as cocktails are, nothing compares to the calming simplicity of a beer, and Casper Fry’s got you covered there, too: they have several taps, including local breweries such as No-Li and Iron Goat, ready to slake persnickety drinkers’ thirsts.

Last Saturday, Casper Fry celebrated its one year anniversary, and I can only imagine that there will be many more anniversary parties to come for this treasure of the Perry St. neighborhood.  Within the past several years, the neighborhood has really turned around and is now home to numerous flourishing businesses and restaurants and a weekly farmers market.  With the upcoming addition of the South Perry Brewing Company, the neighborhood is all but guaranteed to continue to thrive.  Without a doubt, Casper Fry’s arrival and success have had terrific influences on the neighborhood, not only in terms of economy, but in introducing a bit of southern flare to Inland Northwest.  You will, truly, want to put the south in your mouth.