Chow Town

Portland, including BlueStar Donuts + Coffee, excels at the art of empty calorie

Updated: 2013-10-07T22:18:34Z

By KIMBERLY WINTER STERN

Portland, Ore. — known by its stand-in abbreviation, PDX — is full of well-shod hipsters, modern-day hippies, city dogs who look both ways before crossing the street and a bustling food cart culture where street-side vendors congregate in pods throughout the city, peddling everything from fat breakfast burritos to vegan Himalayan dumplings and Georgian Republic delicacies like badrijani and khachapuri .

There’s a brewpub on every corner in the Rose City where locals — over Pacific Dungeness crab rolls and platters of Moroccan carrot-walnut pâté — debate the merits of IPAs and porters and ales as vehemently as Kansas Citians defend their barbecue over bottles of Boulevard.

I’ve been in Portland the past week with a very simple agenda: eat and work, and precisely in that order. The former fuels the latter, and for me, it’s been a delightful discovery in what makes a midsize city like Portland the darling hotbed of American gastronomy.

Organic and gluten-free are SOP in Portland. Acclaimed James Beard chefs like Gabriel Rucker at Le Pigeon and Little Bird, Ken Forkish at Ken’s Artisan Bakery and Andy Ricker at Pok Pok are household names. Big and bold eats in Portland mean thoughtfully sourced, well-executed and never-done-tweaking dishes that sizzle.

The next trend to snake its way throughout the country just might be cooked up in a restaurant kitchen in any of the city’s many distinct neighborhoods — Southeast, Northwest, Pearl District and Old Town, among others.

PDX-ians are comfortable in their own skin here — tatts and piercings abound on all ages, all walks of life — and they certainly aren’t afraid of strangers and enthusiastically talk about what makes their cuisine-drenched city so darned agreeable, accessible to the traveler and tasty.

Of course Portland isn’t exclusively four- or five-star restaurants. You can get bad food, a mediocre cup of coffee, an off-beer, snarly service and an experience that is unforgettable, just like in any city.

You can walk away from a much-ballyhooed establishment shaking your head, wondering what all the fuss is about.

But what sets Portland apart — and I believe puts Kansas City in its very-close-behind footsteps —is its general lack of pretense, focus on creativity and innovation and effortlessly blending in local products with heirloom and tradition and authenticity.

Finally, following four days of hearty consumption at the likes of PDX’s Andina, Ava Gene’s, Smallwares and Clay’s Smokehouse and Grill, I craved absolutely nothing.

In other words, empty calories.

Nothing that I could enter into MyFitnessPal iPhone app that would make me proud.

A certain nothing that I could eat with abandon, feel momentary pangs of guilt, have to readjust my belt a notch or two and move on to a second helping.

Luckily in Portland, the art of the empty calorie thrives.

And if a sugary doughnut can be sensuous and sexy and leave you breathless, then I say bring on a half-dozen.

Blue Star Donuts + Coffee in downtown Portland serves up classic brioche-style treats that are delicious nuggets of nothing — devoid of any redeeming calorie worth counting.

During my breakfast stop at Blue Star last Saturday, I had one request of the adorably kerchiefed doughnut elf behind the glass case: fill up a box for me with an assortment of your dream donuts.

She obliged and I pulled out a stool at the window counter, chomping down on her selections.

A hard apple cider fritter with fresh Rainier apples made me pause, close my eyes and sigh while eating it in four finger-licking bites, sipping a Stumptown Americano.

A Meyer lemon and key lime curd doughnut that, I’m pretty sure when I bit into the powder-sprinkled creation, made me shudder, my eyes rolling back in my head.

Maple-and-bacon. Caramel and sea salt. Peanut-butter-and-jelly. Brandied cherry.

Donuts for grownups.

Later that day, blocks away from Blue Star, I encounter another PDX doughnut phenomenon, Voodoo Donuts. It’s a must-see when visiting this food-centric city. Buskers strum banjos and guitars and blow on harmonicas to entertain lines coiling around the building 24/7.

Patrons eager to fill their bellies with doughnuts embellished with mini-M&Ms, Cap’n Crunch, Fruit Loops, bubblegum dust and other garish garnishes congregate on bright blue picnic tables in Old Town, Portland, munching on circles of nothing with a hole in the middle.

A life-size “Keep Portland Weird” mural across the street from Voodoo’s shop keeps PDX’s unofficially official solemn pledge in public view.

Voodoo Donuts are the over-the-counter elixir for the morning after a late night in PDX. Quaffed with an espresso from nearby Vita, I’m certain they’re satisfying in a non-satisfying sort of way.

It’s a scene, for sure, but not for me.

I prefer the non-tourist variety of PDX’s delightfully empty calories at Blue Star Donuts + Coffee.

Now, let me brush the crumbs from my computer keyboard and get over there before I leave. The doughnut elf owes me another dream box filled with sweetly sophisticated nothingness.

Kimberly Winter Stern — also known as Kim Dishes — is an award-winning freelance writer and national blogger from Overland Park and co-host with Chef Jasper Mirabile on LIVE! From Jasper’s Kitchen each Saturday on KCMO 710/103.7FM. She is inspired by the passion, creativity and innovation of chefs, restaurateurs and food artisans who make Kansas City a vibrant center of locavore cuisine.

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