Since Feast's inception five years ago, it has grown into what is inarguably the finest food and drink festival in Portland, if not the country. There is nothing quite like it: four days of indulging, from massive events like the Sandwich Invitational and Brunch Village, to intimate dinners and fun drink panels spanning across town. This year was bigger than ever with the addition of Fun-Size Events -- medium-sized gatherings focusing on everything from cocktails to noodles.
With so many events and so many chefs and winemakers and artisans and more featured at each, it would be impossible to get to everything. Even if we did (can't say we didn't try), there'd be no way we could list everything that’s simply only "really good"; there’s just so much good stuff going on at Feast that it'd be an endless scroll fest. But here are just a few of the things we’ll be dreaming about until next year. Remember: only 350-odd days to recover.
This Restaurant Reinvented the McGriddle
The winning sandwiches at the Sandwich Invitational
Feast festivities kicked off Thursday night with the Sandwich Invitational. It was the only event with a contest aspect -- dozens of chefs competing to claim the judge’s choice and people’s choice for best sandwiches. This year, like every year, was a difficult one: the fish filet style sandwich from Nomad was an upscale take on a fast food classic; the crispy pulled pork with smoked oyster mayonnaise was as great as is expected from a place like Trifecta Tavern; and House Spirits made the best (and only) BLT in cocktail form we’ve ever had. But the two champions were deserved: the Mumbai Monte Cristo, a deliciously fried monte cristo topped with plum chutney from Bollywood Theater won People’s Choice for its sweet and savory quality, and the Bulgogi Club Sandwich from Kim Jong Grillin' foodcart won the judges’ award with its spice and richness.
Vitaly Paley of Paley’s Place, Imperial, and Penny Diner is one of the most influential chefs in the Portland food scene. The announcement that he would be taking over the Heathman’s famed restaurant program with a new spot, Headwaters, was greeted with considerable enthusiasm. What we did not expect was his complete overhaul of the hotel’s tea service; some lucky few got a preview of this at Feast, and we couldn’t be more excited. Gone is the English tea program with its white bread cucumber sandwiches -- it's been replaced by a full Russian tea service: think pickled, smoked, and kippered fish, khachapuri, Russian tea cakes, and dark Russian teas sweetened with fresh, local jams.
Between lunches, panels, and booths at the main events, Washington wines could be found just about everywhere. Part of that is due to Feast’s expansion to encompass a greater area of the NW this year, and part of it is just the rise of Washington in the wine world in general. It was a great break from the ubiquity of Oregon pinots, both noir and gris, and a great opportunity to sample some of the excellent products coming from our northern neighbors.
The Sweet Harmony at Peace, Love and Cocktails
Our personal new favorite fun time event is Peace, Love, and Cocktails, a celebration of some of Portland’s best bartenders, visiting bartenders, and local distilleries, all hosted at House Spirits. The event had, hands down, the best drinks of the entire festival, and of those, our favorite was the Sweet Harmony, created by Sean Hoard of Portland’s Commissary and served by Daniel Shoemaker of the famed Teardrop Lounge. A mix of House Spirit’s aquavit and vodka, pear shrub by the Commissary, orange juice, and Pyramid IPA, it was a delicious, refreshing, and truly unique drink.
Rene Ortiz’s marinated salmon & Jose Chesa's duck cones at Night Market
Night Market is another extravaganza, and favorites are hard to pick. The popular item at this year’s Latin-themed Night Market was the marinated salmon with roe from Rene Ortiz of Launderette in Austin, TX. Spicy and briny with a vinegar lime sauce, but still rich with the salmon and the roe, it was the pick of the night for many. We also adored Jose Chesa’s (Ataula and Chesa) “meat cones,” another unconventional dish from the brilliant chef, with duck escabeche, ancho chili, avocado, and plantains all wrapped in a waffle cone.
Bonnie Morales’ pickled radishes & Bon Appétit’s roasted plums at the Grand Tasting
The Grand Tasting is a chance for chefs, artisans, and winemakers to showcase their products in the form of small bites. It can be a bit hectic, especially when it rains like it did at Saturday’s tasting this year. There were literally dozens of things to try. Our favorite, though, was the exercise in simplicity that was Kachka’s polenta and pickled radish, topped with a crispy radish leaf -- simple, salty, tasty, perfect. Another treat was found in the Bon Appétit tent: roasted plums atop ricotta and toasted: not too sweet, rustic, and lovely.
Smoked is only in its second year, but is arguably the best of the main events. This is where you'll find an abundance of grilled meats, and there were numerous standouts: Hugh Acheson of Five & Ten, Empire State South, and more in Atlanta, GA wowed crowds with his lamb burger. Nong perfected her already perfect khao man gai by grilling, rather than poaching, the chicken. But if you asked, most people would have declared their favorite was a cookie: Katy Millard’s smoked almond salted caramel chocolate cookies from Coquine. More than 1,700 were made, and they nearly entirely disappeared, many of them into bags and purses to be smuggled out for later.
Daiquiris at Day of the Daiquiri
Feast has always had great cocktails, but year five had the best of them all. Our favorite Drink Tank event had to be the Day of the Daiquiri. To be fair, we’re always rooting for the daiquiri, but this exciting panel, which included Mike Shea of Rum Club, among others, reminded us exactly why we loved them so much, and hopefully introduced more people to this increasingly popular drink. Not all daiquiris are frozen monstrosities!
Rosé Champagne & Chartreuse gin fizzes at Brunch Village
Closing out the festival was Brunch Village, where you can work off your cumulative three-day hangover by working on your fourth. There was plenty to drink, including the obligatory Bloody Marys and mimosas, but our favorite was a sparkling rosé, sans OJ. Gruet from New Mexico and the classic Nicolas Feuillatte Champagne were both perfect pairings with breakfast. Additionally, the delicious Ramos gin fizz with Green Chartreuse from Aria Gin Distillery made for another spot on breakfast drink -- frothy, lightly sweet, and botanical. Let’s hope you had a ride home on Sunday and not much else to do the rest of the day…
Congee, chicken sandwiches & deep fried Monte Cristos at Brunch Village
Of course, brunch is more than just drinks, and there was so much good food to help soak up last night’s (and that day's) drinks. Fried chicken breakfast sandwiches from Toro Bravo were grabbed faster than they could be laid out on a table; the deep fried Monte Cristo sausage wrap from Olympia Provisions was entirely different than the winning sandwich at the Sandwich Invitational, but no less delicious; and our favorite was the congee with black bean sausage from Joanna Ware of Smallwares. It made us even sadder that her restaurant closes the 24th of September.
Maya Lovelace’s fried chicken at Go Get You Some Picnic
Maya Lovelace runs Mae PDX, a pop-up dinner series serving some of the best Southern food in the state. She joined Feast this year, bringing her fried chicken to the Go Get You Some Picnic Fun-Size Event: lard fried chicken wings with sorghum butter and a country ham biscuit, perfectly paired with a creamy “after church” broccoli salad.
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Alex Frane looks forward to Feast like some people look forward to Burning Man. Follow him while he counts down to the next one at @franiacdrinks