Pearl Bakery still sets the standard for great breads in Portland.
I love the Portland Farmer’s Market. Not only is it the biggest farmer’s market in the area, but it has the best combination of quality, quantity, and diversity of vendors and products. It also has some wonderful special events, of which, my favorites are the summer loaf and the berry festival. I visited both this year and took pictures.
The folks who run the market did a wonderful thing this year: they expanded the size of the market to better fit the massive crowds of people for the bread festival. Last year’s Loaf was like being an extra in Soylent Green, bodies crammed so tightly that I half expected the people movers to come scoop of the whole lot of us at any time. With the market extended to the Streetcar tracks this year, it damn near seemed relaxing. It was so successful, I hope they try to make it permanent.
Fressen’s dark, flavorful, and heavy loaves of the barbarians.
Fressen is a new addition to the market that I’ve talked about elsewhere. They never have the crowds they deserve. While I love a light and airy baguette as much as the next carboholic, there’s something really satisfying about a heavy German bread, both sweet and earthy. Fressen offers numerous options, each of which shame the dark breads you find in a bag. These are complex and moist. They’d even be great topped with pastrami or roast turkey.
I primarily show up at Di Prima Dolci to soothe my sweet tooth (or my wife’s). No one has better cannoli in town. And I’m not sure anyone else even has pignoli, and if they do, I can’t imagine they’re better than Pat Di Prima’s. But their rustic Italian breads are becoming works of art. They’re as tantalizing to the eyes as they are to the tummy. Di Prima Dolci is clearly an artisan bakery that deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Pearl Bakery, Ken’s, et al.
Ken’s Bread: Is it burnt? I say, “Nay”.
Speaking of Ken’s… There’s been some discussion online over whether his breads at the market are burnt. I’d never noticed such before, so I went looking at the Summer Loaf. Above is what I found. The bit of crust that lifts away from the cuts during cooking is noticeably toasted. But the question is whether the bread is burned. If you look at the inside, it’s clearly fine. More than fine — that’s a perfet crumb. And it does indeed taste great. It’s quite possible I still haven’t seen what others have, but it’s important to remember that loaves such as these are darker breads than typical French loaves or baguettes and that we usually have to take our bread and cook it again to get those nice crunchy toasted bits.
Panzanella from Delphina’s.
Pearl Bakery is still my favorite. I think they put out consistently the best quality breads in town. And their skills were on display at the Summer Loaf. Look at that bellisimo pane coi santi. It doesn’t get better.
Delphina’s might be my favorite to visit, though, at the market week in and week out. They have the best variety of breads and the quality is solid. The panzanella was fun to look at even if the giant bread stuffed with bread salad was only for looking, not eating.
I was a little disappointed that La Provence didn’t bake their impressive display breads, like they did last year and at this year’s Bastille Day. But I was more disappointed that most of their breads were gone by the time I got around to them. There were plenty of their tarts, however. Thank goodness. I needed more sugar.
Having New Seasons at the Summer Loaf shows how great the others are.
Unfortunately, to know that a thing is good, you must have something bad to compare it to. At this year’s Summer Loaf, like last year’s, New Seasons provided that yang to Pearl Bakery’s yin. Frankly, the breads are amateurish, both in technique and taste. Crusts barely exist and have a texture worse than many commercial bagged breads, and certainly worse than even the “artisan” breads you can get at Safeway.
Only slightly better is Portland French Bakery which advertises its status as Portland’s oldest such bakery. What do they say about old dogs and new tricks? It’s not bad bread, depending on the price of a loaf, but what it reminds me of most is the Francisco sourdough that many of us Americans grew up on. Blah. Little crust, dense crumb, mediocre flavor. But it makes decent toast.
At least with the breads from Gabriel’s, or newcomers Naturebake and Dave’s, they’re making breads more aimed at the traditional Amercian sandwich-eater. The bread is a vehicle whose crumb must be dense and whose flavor will mostly be overwhelmed. And they do an adequate job. Naturebake was the worst of the three and Dave’s loaves were a bit too crumbly, but they’re competitive with any of the top commercial breads and the flavors are more interesting than what you can find in the supermarket.
Figs, peaches, and nectarines from Hopewell Hollows.
Of course, there wasn’t only bread at the festival. Some of the berries were slowing down, though we still had (and have) yet for blackberries to reach their peak. But stone fruits were phenomenal. Peaches, nectarines, cherries, plus — too little space in my belly. Shalimar Farms offered a rainbow of plums for $3. Hopewell Hollows, one of my favorite small vendors always with top quality fruit at both the Portland and People’s Farmer’s Markets, had peaches, nectarines, and figs, all of which tasted divine. I’m not sure if I’ve eaten any fruit better this year than the peaches and figs I bought from them.
Sahagun probably had the best items I ate not made (I assume) by the hand of God. The marionberry truffles could have had a bit more intense berry flavor, but the salted caramels were perfect. I’m glad that we didn’t buy more of them because I would have ate them all, one after the other. A talked to a friend three days later who mentioned he had visited the market and the first thing he raved about were the caramels.
Grand Central had their quality breads on sale, but it was the savory pastries that interested me. Their zucchini and feta on puff pastry was perfectly balanced, the crust flaky and crisp. Blue Gardenia’s chocolate twinkies topped with meringue begged to be devoured. There are always several desserts at Baker & Spice that tempt, but this time it was the chocolate croissant which is never too sweet.
Of course, I stopped at Jim Dixon’s booth and tasted some olive oil, even though I already have two bottles at home. And I think I sampled cheese from all the vendors even though I’ve sampled them a million times before, because, well, I’m a pig. But a happy, pleasant sort of pig, like Babe or Wilbur. Well, at least when I’m fed. And I was well fed at this year’s Summer Loaf.
This year’s berry festival took place at the Thursday market near Ecotrust in the Pearl. The smaller, neighborhood venue made it feel more like one of the community farmer’s markets, such as the Hollywood or Hillsdale markets. One woman sidled up to another, surprising her with hugs and laughs. One man called across the small throughway to another and hopped over kids to shake hands. Despite its size, it packed a lot of berry flavor per square foot.
The market itself enticed patrons by offering free strawberry shortcakes to anyone who made a purchase at any of the vendors. Music and activities for the kids kept the tag-alongs entertained.
Nature’s candy: the berries. (Chernishoff Farms)
Nearly every vendor was selling berries of some sort, even the Asian vendors who generally stick to flowers and greens. Most stands had blueberries, which seemed to be peaking at the time, along with strawberries and raspberries. Most varieties of strawberries were at the end of their season, while the raspberries were just coming on strong. Blackberries and blackberry hybrids hadn’t really started producing yet, but you could find pints of the rubus, especially at Chernishoff Farms, but they would be a lot better in a month or two.
In addition to blueberries and red raspberries, Bittersweet Farms was the only vendor selling black raspberries, a native of North America that can be found wild. It’s already tart and Bittersweet’s were a bit too tart, but they make a unique flavoring for ice cream or sorbet.
A fruit lover’s cornucopia of tasty goodness from Liepold Farms.
Several vendors, including Baird Orchards and Liepold Farms, were also selling stone fruit. The peaches hadn’t quite developed their flavor yet, but the cherries were sublime. Stone fruits are the only fruits I enjoy more than berries and cherries are snacksize. I left with a couple pints of berries, plus way too many cherries. I’ve been known to eat myself sick on cherries. Literally. I won’t give the gory details, but several hours of porcelin-perched agony was still worth it.