March 5, 2009

My first taste of Portland - Rose's Restaurant and the Kennedy School

Yesterday was my first full day in Portland, OR, and I have to say - I'm impressed. This city is probably one of the friendliest I've ever been to (Funnily enough, I thought that Portland, Maine was super friendly, so maybe it's just the curse of cities named Portland to have welcoming and friendly citizens!). More importantly, I'm having a great time hanging out with one of my oldest friends, my fellow University of Kansas alum Diane. She's a great hostess and doing this city proud by showing me around.

But on to the food. My first dessert was tasted at Rose's Restaurant. According to the menu, Rose Naftalin, a widow from Ohio, moved to Portland in 1956 and opened a tiny restaurant where over the next 10 years she worked in the kitchen preparing many of the dishes herself, including the desserts.

In 1966, Rose became a cookbook author and retired. The restaurant was sold to Max Birnbach who kept up the tradition for another 24 years. He was over 80 years old at that time!

The meal was typical diner fare - it was good, but then again, I ordered the typical burger and fries. However it was the case of desserts I was interested in.

From the Banana Bavarian, French Chocolate, Raspberry Poppyseed, or Coconut Cake, that dessert display case was a sight for my sore eyes that had spent the previous day trying to find a decent sweet snack in various airports across North America. One unique cake that I had never seen before was Rose's Orange Creamcicle Cake. It sounded delicious, but I decided on an old standard and childhood favorite - coconut cake.

Because I was so stuffed from lunch, I opted to take the cake to go. Granted, I only made it about 30 minutes after we left the restaurant before I took my first bite, but at least I made the effort to not overeat.

The cake itself was delicious - delicate double-layered angel food with some of the sweetest coconut flakes I've ever tasted spread throughout the middle. I would have preferred buttercream icing, but I generally prefer buttercream on all my cake-based sweets. I believe the icing was some sort of whipped mousse concoction, but regardless, it was still tasty. Overall, I would give Rose's Coconut Cake an 8 out of 10.

And although this isn't pastry-related, I have to mention an awesome little Portland spot called the Kennedy School that I visited for a pre-dinner beer. This is such a quirky little place that I had to write something about it.

Originally opened in 1915, this elementary school has hosted thousands of students throughout the years. According to the website, when school was not in session the Kennedy served the community as a public meeting hall, polling place, Red Cross blood drawing center, collection site for paper & tin can drives, weekend playground, and even flood-relief shelter.

Sadly, at the end of the 1974-75 school year, the school was closed due to poor enrollment numbers (something the entire city was facing), as well as a deteriating building too costly to repair.

However, the local Portland community was stronger than any demolition order that tried to destroy the beloved community center. Neighbors, former students, past PTA presidents, and the Portland Development Commission fought successfully to save the Kennedy School and won.

Today, the "school" continues to serve as a community meeting place. There are several bars, a restaurant, movie theater and meeting rooms on site. The building is also a hotel! It's probably the quirkiest little place I've ever visited ANYWHERE in the world. My favorite part was hands down all the artwork adorning the hallways. It does a great job of telling the history of the building through the eyes of former students and teachers.

My other favorite part of the Kennedy School is the hand-crafted McMenamins' Rube Ale. In 1985, McMenamins became the first brewery in the U.S.A. to legally use fruit in the creation of ales. As I've mentioned before, my favorite berry (and probably favorite fruit) is the raspberry, so you better believe I was stoked to find out that 42 pounds of Oregon-grown and processed raspberry puree are used in every batch of this ale!

McMenamin's Ruby Ale is, hands down, the best ale I've ever tasted. I plan on drinking at least one more pint of this brew before I head back East.

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