Transportation and Dining in the Big City
Friday 12 June 2015 — Category: Outings
A couple of weeks ago I went on my sixth photo outing to Portland in the last three months — and half of those where in May. I don’t know what bug bit me, but I’m positively passionate about Portland!
Out of all the many attractions Oregon’s largest city has to offer, I am especially infatuated with its impressive public transportation system, called TriMet. An integral part of each outing is for me to use mass transit as much as possible.
This outing was my third trip to the Japanese Garden. In March I had made a vow — probably rashly and foolishly — to take pictures at the Garden during each of the twelve months of the membership I purchased. That may end up being a greater challenge than I am willing to meet. But that’s a topic for another time. Wilsonville, which is about a sixty-minute drive from my house. My plan was to take the 6:21 AM WES Commuter Rail train north fifteen miles to Beaverton.
I got up at 4:00 (I don’t like to be rushed first thing in the morning) and left house at 4:45 (I always like to get to a place early the first time, just in case). As mapping software had predicted, it indeed took exactly one hour to drive from my house to the Wilsonville Station.
During the 25 minutes before the train left, I was able to eat my picnic breakfast — cream cheese and smoked salmon on a pumpernickel bagel is awesome! — and walk around the station a bit while waiting.
Before boarding the train, I activated the electronic ticket I had purchased with the TirMet Tickets app on my iPad Mini a couple of days ahead of time. For only $5, I am entitled to ride any TriMet rail or bus service anywhere in the Portland metro area for the entire day. Free parking at numerous TriMet stations is an added bonus. What a deal!
The 27 minute ride to the Beaverton Transit Center was nice in the Wi-Fi-equipped cars with large, comfortable seats, although the diesel engines were a bit on the loud side.
From the Beaverton TC I took a MAX train two stops east through the Robertson Tunnel to the Washington Park MAX station, located 260 feet underground beneath the Tualatin Mountains. Portland’s only completely-underground subway station is the deepest in the country, and the fifth-deepest in the world. Impressive!
After exiting the MAX train, I looked around for the stairs, which I generally prefer to elevators. At the time I had no idea I was so far underground! Giving in to the inevitable, I took the elevator, whose 26-story ascent to the surface takes only 25 seconds. Of course they wouldn’t have stairs! The country bumpkin in the big city strikes again!
Wandering dazed into the daylight like a mole from its hole, I was so shocked to see low-hanging fog! This was the second time in a row that The Weather Channel app had promised me a sunny morning in Portland, but when I arrived after a couple of hours of travel, I instead found unphotogenic overcast skies the entire morning! Seems like their forecasts are turning out to be disgustingly worthless.
Right next to the elevators in Washington Park is the bus stop. After a short wait I took Bus 63 to a stop in a residential area. I had seen on a map that there is a short trail through the forest from there to the Japanese Garden. The trailhead had some sort of confusing message about it being closed, but I was glad that I ignored it, because it wasn’t. Weird! second breakfast, like any respectable hobbit. When the doors opened I was the only visitor! I suppose that all of the other ones, living in Portland, took one look out the window, saw the fog, and decided to roll over and sleep in instead.
I felt so unmotivated to take yet more pictures at the Japanese Garden that I almost left as soon as I arrived, without taking any. But I managed to persevere and find inspiration. In the end I was glad I stayed, and during that hour I got some decent shots. For all of the details, see my article Seeking Inspiration at the Japanese Garden. International Rose Test Garden is just a stone’s throw from the Japanese Garden — both located in Washington Park — and only a couple of miles from downtown Portland. Established in 1917, it contains over 7,000 rose plants of approximately 550 varieties.
I wandered among the rows and rows of roses, keeping my photographic eye out for unique shapes, colors, composition, and lighting. The overcast sky made this last criterion more challenging. Even with all of the abundance, after a while the flowers all started looking the same. You can read all of the details of my time there in my article Portland’s International Rose Test Garden. Pioneer Courthouse Square where I changed trains. The last stop of the MAX Green and Yellow Lines is the southern end of the Portland State University campus at the corner of SW 5th Ave and Jackson St — the PSU South MAX Station.
By this time I definitely had a rumbly in my tumbly, so the first order of business was to find somewhere decent to eat. Using Google Maps on my iPad Mini, I found that there was a row of Portland food carts — there’s an app for that! — just a block away on 4th Ave between College and Hall streets. Now the hard part was to decide which one to buy from. The Couscous Factory, one of the first places I passed, had an interesting-looking menu. But there were many other choices, so I decided to look at all of the carts before making a final decision.
While I was standing in front of the Sultan’s Kitchen cart, about 10 feet away near the gutter, the man inside (Sardie) called out to me in a loud voice that I should come closer to try a sample of his food. I was so shocked that I was frozen, like a deer in the headlights! There’s that country bumpkin manifesting once again!
I kept standing there, horrified that I was being singled out like that in public, and he kept cajoling me to come have a taste. Finally, as he held out a small sample tray, I sheepishly crept foward to take it. It contained a few pieces of chicken smothered in a tomato sauce, and topped with what I thought was sour cream, but turned out to be some sort of plain yogurt sauce.
The food wasn’t bad, but I wasn’t crazy about the flavor of the tomato sauce. As I was finishing the few bites, my mind was racing to figure out how to tell him, without offending him, that I didn’t want to buy his food that day. After mumbling my thanks, I told him that I wanted to see all my options, and quickly continued down the street. The Couscous Factory I ordered item #4-1 — Grilled Meat Over Rice — only to be told that the rice wasn’t ready yet, and would I have couscous instead. No problem, I like couscous. The college-aged cashier was very friendly, but it seemed like her first day on the job. Once I was handed my order, I crossed the street to eat outside in front of the PSU Engineering Building.
It took only a couple of bites to become very disappointed! The chicken was not grilled, but seemed like it had been way overcooked in a crock pot. The couscous was mixed with a strange-tasting sauce and lots of chickpeas. Under one piece of chicken was what appeared to be half of a boiled potato. The salad wasn’t bad, and the unexpected piece of crustless quiche was pretty good, but all in all it seemed like leftover cafeteria food. Also, it wasn’t very warm, and I always try to serve food at home as hot as possible.
I finished all the salad and quiche, ate a bit of the couscous and a bite or two of chicken. All the rest went into the trash ... what a waste ... of both food and my money! Luckily I had bought a Coke to wash it all down. I would have been a lot better off with Sardie’s Turkish food!
As I am writing this article I have taken a look at a picture on the Couscous Factory Facebook page, and I see now that what I was served was actually menu item #2 instead of the item #4-1 which I had ordered. Just by looking at the photo, I never would have ordered item #2. It is very disappointing that they would mess with me like that ... I’ll for sure never go back there! After wandering around the campus taking photos for nearly an hour, I felt that I needed something to wash the bad taste of that lunch out of my mouth — both physically and psychologically. I had read recently that there are over 50 active breweries within the Portland city limits, and many of them have brewpubs so customers can taste their wares.
A quick search on Google Maps showed that there were thin pickings in the PSU area. The majority of brewpubs in Portland are on the east side of the Willamette River. The ones on the west side are mostly in the northern part of downtown. But I did find that there was Rogue Hall — owned by Oregon brewer Rogue Ales — in the bottom floor of the Vue Apartments, so I headed that way.
During my fifty-plus years of life on this planet, I can count on one hand the number of times I have gone to such an establishment for only a drink and not a meal. Therefore, when I entered Rogue Hall this country bumpkin was totally clueless about what to do next. But one of the waiters had mercy on me and helped me out.
After reviewing my options, I tried a multiple-award-winning Hazelnut Brown Nectar beer, which turned out to be quite nice. I sat there at a small table, sipping away while reviewing on my iPad Mini the photos I had taken so far.
Still, since I am a clueless bumpkin, I had to ask the bartender when and where I was supposed to pay. At least I didn’t have my big hiking hat on this time, or I would have really looked the part!
That beer sure did do the trick! My body and soul were refreshed, and the bad taste left by The Couscous Factory was washed away. I was ready to continue my photo walk around the urban campus. For more details about my time at PSU, see my last article, Exploring the Portland State University Campus. By mid-afternoon I was starting to fizzle, so it was time to start wrapping things up. Making my way north along the South Park Blocks, I finally arrived back at Pioneer Courthouse Square. You can read more about this last part of my photo walk in the article Downtown Portland From Another Angle.
From there I took the MAX train back to the Beaverton Transit Center. While riding the WES train back to Wilsonville, I kept noticing the table of strange sculptures at each station. I guess everyone has to do their part to keep Portland weird.
I made it back to the Wilsonville Station about 10 hours after I had left it early that morning. But my outing was not over yet! For a number of years my favorite restaurant in Portland has been Der Rheinländer / Gustav’s German restaurant. During that time, the Gustav’s side of the business has opened in three other Portland-area locations.
I just found out that they recently opened their fifth restaurant, Gustav’s Bargarten, much closer to home. Keizer is a small, northern suburb of Salem, the state’s capital. That puts their Bargarten slightly less than halfway to Portland from my house in Albany.
Out of the five locations, this one is different from the others. Following the German beer garden tradition, rather than having lots of small tables, most of the seating in Keizer is communal — or as my son says, “Viking hall style.” Because I arrived by myself, the first questions I was asked was whether I wanted to sit at the bar or at a big table with other people. Hmmm ... not quite my style!
It was only 5:15, so neither was very crowded. After another deer in the headlights episode, I chose the bar. The country bumpkin was really on a roll that day! Once I started sipping on my stein of beer I began to recover.
When asked what food I wanted to order, I told them that what I was dreaming of wasn’t exactly on the menu. The closest item I saw was their Käsespätzle — spätzle (knöpfli) with melted Gruyère cheese and chopped bacon (see photo to lower right).
But instead of the cheese and bacon I wanted the cremini mushrooms and Hungarian paprika sauce that tops their Jäger Kalbschnitzel and spätzle, which I usually order when I eat at Gustav’s (see the next photo). In other words, I wanted that dish without the meat ... only the spätzle and mushroom sauce.
The barmaid-waitress replied that the cooks are not very keen on making non-menu variations, but that she would go and ask them. Soon she was back saying that there was no problem and they would do it for me. Hurray!
When a server brought the dish, it was all I could hope for — a plate full of spätzle topped with a generous serving of mushroom cream sauce. And the taste was heavenly! Soon there was a small crowd of employees standing around me, admiring the dish and asking me what made me think of it. It seemed that word had quickly spread around the restaurant and they were all very interested and amazed!
I wish I had taken a picture of it, but I will for sure next time. The barmaid-waitress told me that now that the cooks were agreeable, I would have to come back and order it in the future. I suggested that they add it to their menu, because I’m sure other customers would like to try it as well. If you are ever at a Gustav’s in the Portland metro area, be sure to ask for it, and tell them Brian sent you!
The beer and mushroom spätzle were a satisfying way to end a satisfying outing — plenty of good public transportation by train and bus, good food (lunch excepted), good drink and good photos ... nearly 300 of them. The best have been collected into four albums, one for each of the four locations I took pictures at that day. Here is a listing of the articles and albums: