Monday, November 23, 2009

My Portland Cafés Today

Extracto Latte
All this talk about cafés leads up to the inevitable question: Where do I go for coffee in Portland right now?

I have to admit that after Torrefazione closed I spent a certain amount of time moping.  I came up with all sort of plans.  For a while I toyed with having five favorite places (one for each day of the week).  I figured I'd read travel books in one place, food books in another, a long Russian novel in a third...well, you get the idea.  It just didn't catch on--too much juggling of books and bags.

I finally had to admit it was a bit ungrateful of me to spend so much time ruing Torrefazione's departure.  Portland isn't exactly Wasila (don't want to disparage almost anyone's hometown; this one seems sort of safe), there's actually a fair amount of decent coffee.  In case you hadn't heard.

What Torrefazione did have for me was a perfect combination of proximity, ambience, and good coffee.  It also kept one demitasse spoon in the European cafe culture.  By now, Portland has its own cafe culture.  But you know, I kind of miss that old world feel.  I've made my peace with having a few favorite cafés, and trying my best to frequent them all.  It's like having a lot of kids.  Luckily, having raised three of my own, I have some experience with not playing favorites.

So here's my Portland café roundup.  But remember, there are so many other good places to try--these are just my favorites.

View Set the WABAC Machine to Berkeley Cafés: Back for Seconds in a larger map

Located on NE Killingsworth, Extracto has been a family favorite since it opened; it was the café that first gave us hope in the post-Torrefazione era.  Originally serving Stumptown coffee, this past year they started roasting their own, Cherry Coffee Roasters.  The coffee's great, they carry pastries from Fleur de Lis  (I do like those cinnamon rolls) and shortbread cookies from Baker and Spice (I'm pretty addicted to the chocolate ones, but am working on giving equal time to the coconut).  Spacious enough to stay awhile, our family likes to bring books and cards to Extracto.  Nearly every trip to or from the airport for a family departure/arrival is bookended with a stop here.  For our kids, Extracto is a part of home.

Added bonus: it's one block from New Seasons, so easy to work in a visit when running errands.  And they have what has to be the prettiest coffee machine ever, a baby blue four group La Marzocco machine that you just want to pet.

They're opening a second Extracto soon.  I'm pretty excited, because it's within walking distance of my house.   A little further than Torrefazione was, and up a hill.  But I figure that's only good--pounds are harder to keep off as you age.  I'm already trying to decide what novel to read there when it opens.

2921 NE Killingsworth St.
Portland, OR 97211

1465 NE Prescott
Portland (due to open soon)

This little café, a shoebox of a spot (one that would probably hold something lovely, like Blahniks), opened early this summer.  It's only two blocks from my house, I've clocked the distance at 4 minutes (when I walk eagerly).  Cartola (it means 'top hat' in Portuguese, and is named for Angenor de Oliveira, a Brazilian singer instrumental in the development of samba) makes me extremely happy.

Owned by a young couple, Cartola has the kind of ambience I missed after Torrefazione closed.   Music plays, but it's not loud, and it's music I like. There are two arm chairs by the front window, and 4 or 5 marble-topped tables along a long padded bench. Art work and family photos hang above on the wall covered with handsome floral wallpaper.  The attention to detail here is appreciated: water with lemons is always available, from a spigoted urn.  When it's time to bus your table, a large open tray is ready--no awkward crouching and piling of dirty dishes--and they keep it regularly cleared off.  That kind of attention is also evident in their coffee: espresso drinks carefully made with Stumptown beans.

2723 NE 7th Ave. (just north of NE Knott)

Coffeehouse Northwest
I wrote about Coffeehouse NW here earlier in the year, especially about their mochas, which are made with Stumptown coffee and Cluizel chocolate.  And are one of the truly great things to have in Portland.  But like most New Year's resolutions, this one (to have a mocha every Friday), pleasurable though it was, has fallen by the wayside.  Kind of.  I still go in weekly, but usually too early in the day for a mocha.  You need to have some self-control; waiting until I've had one coffee before drinking mochas is one of the disciplines I require of myself.

Coffeehouse Northwest is a great spot--in an old brick building, with slanted worn wood floors (you need to drink a few sips of your coffee before you put the full-to-the-brim latte down) and truly nice staff.  They also will make your latte, cappuccino, or mocha with organic milk (for a small surcharge).  Well, it's a blend of organic and normal (has to do with the foaming capability).

Sometime in the next month they will be opening Sterling Coffee Roasters in a tiny spot on NW Glisan, featuring a different single-origin bean every day,  roasted right there.  The machine (a San Franciscan) is a beauty, reminiscent of one of those art deco train engine posters.  I look forward to visiting.

Coffeehouse Northwest
1951 W. Burnside
Portland, OR

Sterling Coffee Roasters
2120 NW Glisan

Ken's Artisan Bakery
It's really not a cafe.  But I go there for coffee just the same.  The kind of care they take in making bread and pastries (arguably the best in town) is repeated with their coffee, made with Stumptown beans.  Since you're sitting down for a coffee there, you might just as well get something to have with it.  Some of my favorites: their cannelés, the upside-down cake of the moment (gingerbread-pear last time I looked), a walnut bread roll, or their croissants.  If it's close to lunchtime I might just grab one of their ham and asiago sandwiches, on buttered baguette.  And if I'm not really that hungry, their mini pain au chocolats are perfect.

338 NW 21st Ave
Portland, OR 97209
(503) 248-2202

Random Order
Random Order opened in the location of Groundswell Cafe (another lost favorite of mine; Groundswell made a mean fried egg sandwich with grilled peppers, channeling Olympia Dukakis' great scene in Moonstruck, and also goat cheese on Pearl's fig anise panini--but I'm getting sidetracked) in 2004.  They make delicious muffins (something I almost never enjoy in cafes and bakeries) and pies (all-butter crusts, I like their brandied peach), serve solid Stumptown espresso drinks, and even have a liquor license.  I love it that I can go there in the afternoon and have a campari and soda.  Though their ginger toddy is calling to me now that it's cold and damp again.

Random Order
1800 NE Alberta
Portland, OR

Olympia Dukakis in 'Moonstruck'. The egg scene starts at 1:35

So there you have it. My favorite Portland cafes.  Again, I hasten to add they're just my favorites.  There are plenty of great places to visit in just about every corner of town.  Here's links to a few others where I'm always happy to stop for a cup.

Ristretto RoastersLittle Red Bike CafeAlbina PressCremaCoffeehouse FiveBarista.

I really can't complain about the state of cafes in Portland.  I have it pretty good.


Kathleen Bauer said...

When you're out and about sometime you've got to try out Cellar Door Coffee Roasters on SE 11th. Terrific folks and great coffee.

Giovanna said...


Cellar Door is on my list of places to try, as are many of the places you profiled in your Oregonian piece! (I liked Heart too)

Giovanna said...

So many places I should have mentioned. Spella, for one! I don't seem to be close to his cart often, but look forward to visiting his cafe in the new year (opening at SW 5th and SW Alder, I think). And sometimes I stop in at Alma Chocolate for a bicerin made with Spella espresso.

Thérèse said...

OK, well, believe it or not I haven't been to Extracto. Or Coffeehouse NW. Top of the list next time, OK?

lshere said...

This brings back so many memories of the hunt for the perfect cafe in Portland. We'll have to try the newest ones next time. I'm looking forward to it.

Giovanna said...

I just went to Coffeehouse NW on Thanksgiving morning--they had an open house, complete with homemade eggnog. Portland is such a reasonable city.

I look forward to visiting whatever cafes you want to see on your next visits.

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