Lauretta Jean’s

When you’re setting out for a slice of pie, it’s sometimes more about the experience than what’s between the crusts. So to speak. Portland has plenty of places where you can get a tasty slice of pie, but sometimes the atmosphere, service, or the marionberry crunch itself sometimes lacking.

Not so at Lauretta Jean’s on Division — a light, clean space that somehow feels homey.

When the line at Pine State down the road is too intimidating, head to “that pie place where Pix used to be” and give yourself a pat on the back for being so biscuit-savvy. Their tall, stalwart biscuits come with a solid crust with a bit of a crunch. These biscuits are no pushovers. They would stand up well to veggie gravy or other sauces, and can be employed in a number of breakfast sandwiches.

Biscuit to go

Tall biscuits from Lauretta Jean’s, toddler approved.

My recommendation? Take a date to Lauretta Jean’s after a walk on Mt. Tabor, and refuel with a slice of mixed berry with streusel topping. You can even grab a beer or cocktail, if you so choose.

There’s also a small outpost downtown, designed for office workers to grab-and-go.

My forays into meals have been more disappointing. A breakfast sandwich arrived heavily dosed with mayonnaise. Admittedly, I’m the opposite of a mayonnaise fan, but who needs the added moisture with a egg and cheese sandwich? Another day, a quiche taken home for lunch didn’t have the goat cheese flavor that was advertised, and was a bit soggy for my tastes. Maybe it’s better to eat in and enjoy.

Lauretta Jean’s, with its focus on where butter meets flour, is not going to be a great choice for vegans or for gluten-free eaters. Sorry, friends! Biscuits and pie crusts here are all-butter, no lard.

What’s your favorite pie at Lauretta Jean’s?

Grand Central Bakery

Grand Central Bakery is a great go-to, with seven Portland-area locations, and bread made from local flour.

If you’re like me, you like to have something a little special when entertaining, without making a huge mess in your kitchen or spending too much time. That’s where their pizza dough, pre-made pie crust, and puff pastry comes in. You make your desserts yourself — mostly.

In addition to breads and pastries, Grand Central Bakery locations offer breakfast and lunch – the usual sandwiches, salads, quiches and soups. Options change seasonally, with spring sandwich options of this writing such as beet and chevre, and “hot provolone and greens” with “garlicky raab.”

I recently took my six-year-old to Grand Central’s Fremont location, and it was so buzzing on a Friday morning that we barely got two seats together. He got a brioche cinnamon roll — I’d rather not have SUCH an enriched dough, but they had more traditional cinnamon buns as well — and I got a simple breakfast sandwich with egg and Havarti on a potato roll. Earlier in the week I’d gotten a really bad breakfast sandwich from another place that will go unnamed. Really bad. Like overloaded on bad sauce AND undercooked white, could not eat the whole thing bad. Well, lucky for all of us, Grand Central delivered a beautiful, perfect breakfast sandwich, a lovely over-medium egg on a perfectly toasty soft potato bun.

No, they’re not fancy. They’re not the new and hot spot, but they do good work and make excellent food. They source local ingredients and serve neighborhoods. There are always thoughtful and seasonal vegetarian sandwich choices.

Go eat happily.



Robo Taco

Let’s start this conversation with complete honesty — I’ve been to Robo Taco maaany times, and I’ve only gotten one thing: the veggie al pastor/faux pork burrito. It’s a soy curl burrito cooked al pastor style, with pineapple. Though there are plenty of other vegetarian options, both in meat substitutes and dishes to put them in, it’s just my go-to standby burrito.

This isn’t traditional Mexican food here. This is casual Portland Mexican fare. You don’t have to be a hipster, but it helps, as a large portion of the clientele drifts in from nearby bars in the evenings and late into the night.

Vegetarian options include:

  • Faux pork – Soy Curls, marinated with Al Pastor marinade, served with fresh pineapple slices
  • Spicy veg sausage – Ground Soy Curls, spiced to taste like chorizo. Finished with  fried potatoes.
  • Mushrooms – Sauteed button and crimini mushrooms with garlic and herbs. Topped with queso fresco and crema. Vegan by request.
  • Chile relleno. Damn, this used to be my go-to burrito in my 20’s. I am no longer in my 20’s.

Not too shabby for selection there. Top your torta, your breakfast (served all day), tacos, nachos, or fill your burritos.

Speaking of breakfast, eggs are cage-free.

It’s a bit rock and roll down there on lower Morrison, with plenty of foot traffic, but it can be hard to find parking to run in for a burrito these days. (Imagine a rant here about New Portland keeping me from my soy curls.)

Robo Taco

Cheese Bar

At Cheese Bar, you can choose your cheeseventure.

Want to take some cheese to take home with you? An experienced cheesemonger will be happy to help you decide, with generous samples. Nothing classes up a trip to Mt. Tabor like selecting the perfect Gruyere on the way home.

Would you care for a nibble with a glass of wine after work? Sit at the bar and wait for your date to meet you. Or chat with the proprietor. Chat with whoever else happens to to feel like chatting.

Fancy a casual dinner? Order a sandwich, or a salad, or a cheese board, or  a mix of whatever feels right at the time. Macaroni and cheese with a kale salad is my idea of a balanced meal.

On Wednesdays, Cheese Bar often has a special theme night — raclette in the colder, rainier months, and pizza in the warmer months. As of this writing, one veggie pie is available each week. Follow their social media for the skinny.

Cheese selections change regularly, and the cheese counter is open as late as the bar. Yep, stop in for cheese until 11pm.

We went here for dinner once while I was pregnant, and the owner made sure the cheese on our cheese board was vegetarian and safe for pregnant ladies. He seems to be happy to bounce around the building, asking if you need extra crostini, handing out samples of beer, and generally making sure everyone’s happy and satisfied.

Feel classy, eat local, and you don’t (necessarily) have to spend one million dollars in order to have a great experience.


East Side Deli

When I was pregnant, I remember telling my sister-in-law, with great regret, that I wasn’t even able to finish a whole sandwich from East Side Deli.

“You eat an entire sandwich from East Side Deli?!”

Yeah, okay, they’re pretty big sandwiches, but not more than I can handle without mitigating circumstances. I’ve probably had 20 sandwiches in my life, as a quick and happy go-to meal when they were new on Hawthorne, and also when I worked at PSU and they had a (now departed) Park Blocks location.

It’s just a good-ass sandwich, and they give you a ton of veggies. Ever order a veggie sandwich that ends up being about two slices of bread thick? That is NOT an issue here. I get a wheat roll, and it’s always full-to-bursting. (In fact, sometimes they go a little over the top with the jalapenos.) No fake meats are required to make a satisfying meal, but Field Roast is available should you want it.

Veggie sandwich from East Side Deli

Veggie sandwich from East Side Deli: photo by Dianne Yee via Flickr

Salads, should you choose them, are also huge. Check out the vegetarian specials, but you can usually pick up some bbq soy curl action.

Three Portland locations, all with a basic menu and their own specials. Make an order online or just head on in. The Hawthorne location has a rock-and-roll blue collar vibe, with all sorts of people cycling through to grab a sandwich and hang out or run. It’s a great one-two punch with the record shop next door, so leave yourself ten extra minutes to paw through the racks.


Dove Vivi

After I birthed my first child, a friend came to visit and wanted to bring food. “If there’s anything you could have, what would it be?” she asked.*

I asked for a corn pizza from Dove Vivi. It was a good choice.

Dove Vivi has incredible cornmeal crust pizzas. Don’t try to compare them to traditional flour-yeast pies; they’re different, and delicious, with a firm and savory crust that supports more weight and moisture.

Dine in the small and cute dining area, or call ahead and take yours to go. Check out the daily special for available slices.

Par-baked pizzas are available, so you know that the next time I’m in the area, there’s going to be pizza for dinner that night. Hell yeah.

I’ve heard very good things about the vegan corn cashew pizza: vegan roasted pepper and cashew cheese, fresh sweet corn, caramelized onions, chives, smoked tomatoes. I mean.

Salads and desserts available, but no gluten-free pies.

*Note: I heartily recommend this approach to providing meals to new mothers.

Vegan for Everybody at Bob’s Red Mill

A week or two ago, I got an email letting me know that there was going to be an event at Bob’s Red Mill (okay) about a vegan cookbook (you have my attention) from America’s Test Kitchen (!). As a red-blooded, vegetarian, NPR-listening food nerd, my interest was immediately piqued. Jack Bishop came to talk about the new book, Vegan for Everybody, and shed a little light on how they came up with these new recipes in the Test Kitchen.

Jack Bishop discusses new America's Test Kitchen book, Vegan for Everybody

For those of you who weren’t able to make the trek to Milwaukie on a Monday morning, here are some of the major points you missed.

America’s Test Kitchen does a lot of testing. LIKE A LOT.

Everything is tested using scientific method. They’ll create a hypothesis, control for variables, and test one element of a recipe at a time to see the results. Using a blueberry muffin as an example, you have the sugar, the flour, the temperature, the mixing method, the egg replacement, the fats… and on and on. They made 100 batches, or 1200 muffins, to create the recipe in this book.

Aquafaba is so hot right now.

They loved aquafaba, the liquid that comes from draining a can of garbanzo beans/chickpeas, for creating egg-replacing foams that add texture and structure to sweet baked goods like muffins and cakes. They also learned that it’s not worth it to try to create your own aquafaba from dry garbanzos. (It has to do with how canned beans are cooked, in the can.) Apparently, Progresso beans are the only national brand that doesn’t work.

“I have bad news for you — you cannot use applesauce instead of eggs,” said Jack. Eggs provide fat, protein, and lecithin, whereas: “Applesauce is just wet.”

Water wheel at Bob's Red Mill store

They only test products that are available nationwide.

Many vegan muffins have a flabby and unappealing lid, though we all know the best part of the muffin is [supposed to be] the top. Luckily, oat milk’s proteins and sugars help create a browned color and caramelization in baked goods. The Test Kitchen also liked using refined coconut oil in the place of butter. Like butter, it’s solid at room temperature. Refined oil has less coconut flavor. Cashew milk? They didn’t test it, because not everyone can find it at their local Whole Foods yet.

Vegan for Everyone book signing

They test in their kitchen and yours.

Jack went through the development process in a couple of other recipes as well,  like vegan mac and cheese made with cauliflower, cashews, turmeric, almond milk, tomato paste, and nutritional yeast. That one includes a savory Parmesan-esque topping of ground olives, cashews, nutritional yeast, and pine nuts.

It was really cool to learn about recipe development from someone whose work is predicated on it, and to get some insight into how the Test Kitchen works.

In addition to having employees in-house working on recipes and product reviews, they also work with a bunch of volunteer home cook recipe testers. Surveys tell them what’s available in a given area, what substitutions people make, and their impressions of the results. Take a recipe for chili, for example. They’re looking for about 1/3 of testers to say it’s too bland, 1/3 of testers to say it’s just right, and 1/3 of testers to say it’s too spicy. That means it’s just about in the middle and will please the most palates.

I’ve heard people say that America’s Test Kitchen or Cook’s Illustrated recipes are under-seasoned or bland. That makes a lot of sense, keeping this middle-of-the-road palate in mind. Jack recommended making recipes as written the first time, and adjusting to taste from there.

I’m getting Vegan for Everybody from the library (only #71 in line, awwww yeah), so I’ll let you know what I think after looking through a few recipes. As it is, I’m glad this exists for vegetarians and vegans, and for the omnivores who want to reduce their animal product intake and cook vegan for others.

Do you have a favorite vegan cookbook? How about a recent favorite that’s come out in the last year or two? 



Lovely’s Fifty Fifty

“We’re going to a restaurant tonight. What kind of restaurant would you like to go to?”

“Ice cream restaurant.”

Well, I don’t know what I expected when I asked my two-year-old, but as soon as I heard his reply, I knew where we’d go: Lovely’s Fifty Fifty, a Mississippi Avenue restaurant serving pizza and homemade ice cream, and one been wanting to visit for years. Destiny!

We arrived shortly before 6 pm to a dining area fronted by an ice cream case, with only a few tables being taken up. By the time we left (after 7; our first pie got a hole and had to be remade; c’est la pizza vie), there were no empty tables in sight.

At the back of the room, a wood-fired oven blazes appetizers as well as blistered pizzas made with naturally leavened dough.

Charred crust on a slice of pizza from Lovely's Fifty Fifty in Portland, Oregon \ vegetarianPDX

Look at that char, baby

We ordered a cauliflower appetizer (oven-roasted cauliflower with currants, golden raisins, and toasted almonds, $9), a kid’s pizza ($7; huge for a toddler; he ate half), and a 12″ pizza to share. Husband and I each ate two pieces of the six-slice pie.

Cauliflower appetizer from Lovely's Fifty Fifty in Portland, Oregon \ vegetarianPDX

All pizzas are 12″, with local, organic, and less-than-ordinary toppings available. Beside the pizzas on the menu, one can add calabrian chiles, a farm egg, or arugula. That’s the extent of (vegetarian) extra toppings.

Do you ever get a craving for savory? Not sweet, not salty, but straight-up-umami? Behold umami in pizza form: spinach with crushed tomatoes, fermented chiles and carrots, capers, and goat feta.

Pizza from Lovely's Fifty Fifty \ vegetarianPDX

It’s not very often that I actually say “mmm!” out loud, but it popped out involuntarily on this one. The pizza so much more/less than the description, which sounds like there could be a mound of salad on a pizza. Fermented chiles and carrots? You wouldn’t have guessed that there were carrots on the pizza, but the chiles lent a funky heat. Very tasty. I can’t wait for my leftover slice.

After dinner, naturally, we needed a couple of scoops of ice cream. It’s an “ice cream restaurant,” after all. What would you choose from this lineup of flavors?

  • Salted caramel
  • Buckwheat honey & toffee
  • Mint vanilla bean
  • Malted milk ball
  • Candied kumquat
  • Quince butter

The toddler wanted malted milk ball, and I got candied kumquat which, understandably and completely predictably, blew out my taste buds with bitter kumquat. They were not that candied. Now, I’m a fan of bitter. I’d volunteer to carry the banner in the Bitter Appreciation Day Parade Sponsored by IPAs of America. But it really doesn’t help you judge the quality of the ice cream.

Lovelys Fifty Fifty ice cream \ vegetarianPDX

By 7 pm, plenty of people were coming in just for a ice cream cone, which they could eat while strolling down Mississippi or on the little front porch.

Guess we’ll have to come back to try some more flavors. Summer’s coming, after all.

The gluten-free are warned that there’s a lot of flour flying around the kitchen. No gluten-free pies, and be aware that wood-fired appetizers share space with wheat.

Vegans will make out just fine if you don’t mind ordering a few things without the cheese. Check the seasonal menu ahead of time.

The Observatory

The Observatory is a popular place.

During happy hour, dinner, or later into the evening, as Montavilla bars and restaurants start to fill up, The Observatory is Most Likely to Fill First. For a long time, it was a place where I’d check in, hear how long the wait was, and decide to go elsewhere. Ironically, maybe, I’ve only gotten in since we had the toddler: happy hour at 4 pm, or lunch at 11:30.

I don’t mean to scare you off — I mean, it’s full of people who DID get seats, after all, and they’re all there for a reason. If there’s a wait, they’ll take your name and number and you can stroll down the strip in Montavilla, or wait “around the corner.” That’s the bar in the back (Over and Out), where you can hang while you wait for your table. An extremely similar menu is available back there, but kids aren’t allowed, and instead of sipping cocktails in front of mirrors and artfully draped curtains, you’ll be sipping cocktails in front of pinball machines.

We visited The Observatory at lunch recently to try out the veggie burger as part of my research to find out the best veggie burger in Portland. What we found — and I’ll elaborate on this in a later post — was a solid effort, with impressive structural integrity, if a little tall/thick. The patty is vegan, but if you’re not, I’d recommend adding cheese for a buck. I gobbled up the crispy sweet potato fries, a $.50 upcharge at lunch.

Veggie burger at The Observatory in Portland, Oregon | vegetarianPDX

You know a lounge has a reputation when you peruse the bar menu and think, “Oh, I’ve heard of that!” The Capricorn’s reputation precedes it: vodka, strawberry puree & black peppercorn syrup with a salt and pink peppercorn rim served up ($7.50).

Also semi-famous is the oregano fry bread, which I’ve never tried, but have heard lots of good things about.

And with that, we’re nearly at the end of the menu for vegetarians. Salads,  a grilled cheese, and that well-known veggie burger are about it. But if you’re looking for a cool place  — that’s not overly hip or trying too hard — The Observatory is worth the stop.


Have you been to The Observatory? What’s your poison?


Laurelhurst Market

Laurelhurst Market is a butcher’s shop and a “steakhouse-inspired brasserie,” which doesn’t exactly make it a vegetarian’s haven. But, hey, it’s my husband’s favorite and I’ve had plenty of good meals and particularly tasty salads here.

I just need to shower when I get home to get the meat smell out.

Servers will help you pick a selection of salad and sides. There should be enough flexibility for vegans and gluten-free eaters, but check the menu online ahead of time. Right now, in early spring, there’s a endive and citrus salad with roasted beets, a “harvest salad” with raw and grilled vegetables on greens, smoked oyster mushrooms, roasted baby carrots, roasted potatoes, mac and cheese, onion rings… I’ll bet you could make a decent meal out of that.

It’s been a while since I’ve been to Laurelhurst Market, but I do believe I did make one triumphant return after that one time I was nine months pregnant with low blood sugar and I cried for the first fifteen minutes of our anniversary dinner, freaking out the poor wait staff. Awwwkward. But hey! I’ll bet you have a better time than that, unless you have gestational diabetes, in which case: honey, check the menu ahead of time.