Fall is here and that means apple season. Time for backyard cider pressings, extra helpings of apple pie a la mode and a little bobbing to unleash your inner goblin. In my opinion, it’s the prettiest time of year in Portland. The air is crisp and the foliage full of color—perfect for a fruit loop tour through the Hood River Valley. Or, closer to home, an apple circuit through our City of Roses. (After all, the apple is a member of the rose family.)
Portland chefs and spirit makers are preparing local apples in fresh ways. We can’t guarantee they’ll keep the doctor away, but we can vouch for how tasty they are. And if you’re up for some apple tasting fun, head over to Portland Nursery’s 23rd Annual Apple Tasting (5050 SE Stark) this Friday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Now, first things first, and for me that means dessert!
Caramel Apple Ice Cream: Fifty Licks
I have heard rumors that the real treat with Fifty Licks ice cream is their packaging: clever, flip-top boxes with a minimalist flair. I find the real treat inside the little box, however. The caramel apple ice cream conjures up youthful memories of eating my way through the caramel on my apple and wishing there was more, more, more caramel. The apple flavor is sweet and faint. Its source is Lattin’s apple cider, a blend from the family-run farm outside Olympia. Fifty Licks says that inside their box you’ll find a “pint of award-winning Washington apple cider boiled down into a buttery, bittersweet caramel. The flavor of fresh, tart apples shines brightly.” And, that’s just about how I find it. Granted, there is a bias for the buttery caramel, which suits me fine.
Peppered Apple Tart: Pinot American Brasserie
I am not a black pepper fan. I am, however, quite fond of the peppered apple tart at Pinot American Brasserie. And not just because it’s picture-perfect upon delivery. The pâte sucrée shell is enlivened with black pepper and hazelnuts for a sweet flavor followed by a subtle kick of heat. A crème anglaise filling supports a layer of sliced, Gala apples, which are poached in white wine, bay leaf and thyme. The apples are topped with a petite, sliced black grape. Not done yet. (This is a French-inspired brasserie, after all.) Three pretty crème anglaise rings laced with late-harvest raspberry sauce grace the plate, too. It seems complex, yes. Yet, the result is refreshing and light. And the apples are perfect: a delicate flavor and a consistent texture through and through.
1205 SW Washington Street
Vegan Caramel Apple: Black Sheep Bakery
If you’re looking for a vegan twist on a traditional caramel apple, Black Sheep Bakery is your pick. Plus, it’s one of the only spots in town we found that’s making a hand-dipped caramel apple. Who’d have thought something so simple would be so tricky to track down? Black Sheep’s caramel apple starts with a tart Granny Smith pome, which is then draped with vegan caramel sauce made mostly from brown rice syrup and coconut milk. If the spirit strikes, they may follow with drizzles of chocolate. The result: a caramel apple that takes you back to your sticky fingered childhood.
523 NE 19th Avenue
Hood River Omelet: Cafe Nell
The Hood River omelet at Cafe Nell layers one of my favorite cheeses, Gruyere, with slices of Honeycrisp apples for a light flavor and smooth texture. A crowd pleaser, it’s been a fixture on the cafe’s weekend brunch menu for over a year. Don’t come expecting a dish that packs an apple punch or crunch. Or an omelet that weighs you down. This one has a comfortable heft: soft and moist eggs, not too much cheese and just the right amount of apple.
1987 NW Kearney
Bourboned Apples: Cafe Nell
Bourbon and apples: What could be better? The Hood River omelet drew us to Cafe Nell, but the bourboned apples ended up being the real draw. On the menu both as a starter and as a compote for their pumpkin pancakes, the Gala apples emit just a hint of the Buffalo Trace bourbon they’ve been soaked in. They rest in a crème fraiche base, punctuated by candied walnuts. The outcome is tasty and not too sweet like some compotes can be. Comfort food doesn’t get much tastier.
1987 NW Kearney
Apple Mostarda: Nostrana
Mostarda di frutta, or fruit mustard, has been an Italian staple since the 14th century. It’s a surprisingly easy condiment to make. The trick is in balancing the flavor so that the mustard doesn’t overwhelm the fruit. Nostrana has this down pat. You won’t find it buried on the underside of a bun. No, this mostarda stands on its own. It’s the perfect balance of sweet and spicy, complimenting their charcuterie plate. Nostrana starts with Karmijn de Sonnaville apples—a Dutch Jonathon and Pippin cross they source from Queener Fruit Farms in Scio. They soak those in sugar and wine overnight, mixing in mustard seeds and powder the following day. The texture is more akin to applesauce, with a pleasant crunch from the mustard seeds. It’s straightforward and fresh—a tribute to good Italian fare. The apple mostarda is paired with prosciutto di San Daniele, porchetta di testa Fra Mani salami, cipollini and marinated mushrooms.
1401 SE Morrison
Chicken Sandwich with Apples: Carafe Parisian Bistro
Carafe does French bistro cooking just right. And the chicken sandwich is no exception. They’ve layered a brined chicken breast with slices of Imperial Gala apples, Carlton Farms bacon, blue cheese and traditional French aioli. It’s all neatly assembled on a ciabatta bun from Ken’s Bakery. The apples cut the blue cheese and blend nicely with all the other fresh flavors and textures. With this list of ingredients, the sandwich has the potential to lean on one flavor and leave you filling über-full. Such is not the case. In fact, we still had room for dessert.
200 SW Market Street
Tatsoi Salad with Apples: Lincoln
Tatsoi is a new green for me, though it’s familiar: the flavor of mustard greens with a bok choy texture. Lincoln tosses it with julienne Gala or Fuji apples (whatever’s fresh from the Basque Ranch), currants, hazelnuts and red wine vinaigrette. The effect is an earthy flavor with interesting texture. It’s a reflection of the restaurant’s namesake and a derivative of his nickname, Honest Abe. The ingredients are straightforward and the presentation unpretentious.
3808 North Williams, #127
Bruschetta with Sage-Roasted Apples: Lincoln
The sage-roasted Gala apples don’t quite steal the show in this starter at Lincoln, but almost. They sit atop toasted bread from Grand Central, accompanied by mizuna greens and La Quercia prosciutto. They’re dressed with La Vecchia balsamic vinegar and a dollop of crème fraiche. It’s a palette-pleasing blend of soft and crispy texture, sweet and savory flavor.
3808 North Williams, #127
Cheese Fondue with Apples: Bluehour
It’s tough to go wrong with fondue. Bluehour’s is made from a blend of Fontal and Fontina cheeses and white wine, served with a side of apple chunks (Honeycrisp the day we were there). The fondue compliments the apples and vice versa. And the nice thing with fondue: You get to control your cheese to apple ratio! In my book, fondue with apples is always in season.
250 NW 13th Avenue
Pork Chop with Bacon-Apple Glaze: Pinot American Brasserie
Pinot’s pork chop might just be the apple of my main-dish eye. The medley of flavors and textures is unexpected and delightful. It starts with a Carlton Farms double-cut pork chop dressed with a Nueske bacon-apple glaze and topped with roasted Gala apples from Rasmussen Farms. It’s flanked by Hoisin-braised carrots, cipollini onions and tater tots that surprise the palette with julienne Galas and a dash of Tabasco inside each bite. The Gala apple flavor seeps through the dish, lending texture in varied ways, too. Délicieux!
1205 SW Washington Street
The Dapper Apple Cocktail: Stone Barn Brandyworks
Stone Barn Brandyworks is one of the newer distillers in town, focusing on local, fruit-based spirits. It takes 20 pounds of apples to make one bottle of their 84-proof apple brandy. The bottle we sampled was distilled from local Golden Delicious apples and had a delicate apple flavor. Co-owner and distiller, Sebastian Degens, treated us to a Dapper Apple cocktail: a drink developed at the Distillery Row Bar during the Time-Based Art Festival. It features Stone Barn’s apple brandy, fresh lemon juice, clover honey syrup, ice and a lemon garnish. I’m not sure I can do the cocktail justice; suffice it to say I like it. A lot. You’ll find the recipe on Stone Barn’s web site.
Stop by in the future, and you may get to try the blend of Gala, Sonata and Anna apples currently aging in one of the French oak barrels.
3315 SE 19th Avenue, Suite B