Last weekend, between September 12 and 15, the annual food festival Feast Portland welcomed over 21,000 attendees to culinary events around Portland—from large-scale events with plates by over 130 chefs, to the smaller Dinner Series dinners, and the many pop-ups and smaller events throughout the four days. Feast Portland says the festival raised $78,450 for its two affiliated charities: Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon and Urban Gleaners.
Mercury restaurant reviewer Andrea Damewood and I (Thomas Ross, senior cocktail correspondent) took different approaches to this year’s festival: She went to a handful of dinners and medium-sized events, while I mostly went to the larger events like the Night Market, East Coast vs West Coast competition, and an extremely rainy and half-outdoor Brunch Village. After a day or two to detox, we met for an online chat to dish.—Thomas Ross
Thomas Ross: Let’s have a Post-Feast Digestif!
Andrea Damewood: Excellent title.
TR: It almost rhymes!
AD: *almost* So, this was your first feast, yes?
TR: Yeah, it was. Crazy. Do you know how many people go to Feast every year?
AD: Yeah, they sent out a recap email of attendees yesterday and I think it's around 21,000.
TR: I believe it—even considering the lines standing in the pouring rain for a quarter of a Fried Egg I'm In Love bacon egg sandwich at Brunch Village... which honestly would be a good name for Portland if Portland, Maine ever sued and we had to change.
AD: It's amazing how people queue for things that are very easy to get in town at the larger events. If we were Brunch Village, I would have to give up my citizenship and move to Soup Suburb.
TR: At least for brunch, we're used to it. It's like the Portland pastime, since we haven't had a baseball team in a while.
AD: So, as a first timer, what were things you think were worth it?
TR: That's a tough call—it's weird going on a media pass because I have to constantly be like, "Would I pay upward of $100 for this experience?" But I was pleasantly surprised by how interesting some of the panels and interviews were.I saw a great Drink Tank talk about tropical drinks (supposedly beyond tiki), with reps from Palomar, Seattle’s Navy Strength, and Glady’s in Brooklyn, NY.
AD: Yeah, the large events are kind of tricky in that way—crowded, and weird lines. But I've also had some of my favorite Feast memories at Smoked, including gnawing on ribeye bones poached from the Country Cat, and trying the first dish that turned into Eem.
TR: Ah, to be there when Eem was but a gleam in the eye of Earl Ninsom! But yeah, I had a few great bites at the Night Market, actually.
AD: Which ones did you loooooveee?
TR: Honestly I was shocked to love oat milk ice cream from Frankie and Jo in Seattle. And Rachel Yang's spicy chicken on a skewer at the Night Market was amazing—made me wonder why I don't go to Revelry more.
AD: TBH, I forgot if it was even still open! Hi over there, Revelry!
TR: It is a nice reminder for people like us—media folks who have to go to new places all the time—that the restaurants we really like still exist.
AD: I went to the Franklin and Friends BBQ "fun size" event at Wayfinder, and I think those events kind of hit the sweet spot. Still a line to get your grub, but not so chaotic. PLUS it's cheaper than flying to Austin to try that brisket—and you'd have to wait in a line that Screen Door could only dream of.
TR: It's true, I think one reason East Coast vs West Coast felt underwhelming is that so many of the "East Coast" chefs were Portland-based. But at Brunch Village, I had a falafel-coated quail egg from Reem's California, and now it's on my list for next time I'm in Oakland.
AD: Yeah, I think this year overall Feast was a bit light on the visiting talent? It was very cool to see the locals and the visitors mesh their styles for the Feast dinner series.
TR: Yeah, you actually went to some of the dinners—how were those? Sitting down to eat feels like a luxury if all you do is the big events.
AD: It's a mixed bag! You kind of get FOMO sitting for three-plus hours knowing there's lots of action happening somewhere else! I went to the Joy of Cooking Dinner with Naomi Pomeroy and Michael Scelfo from The Longfellow Bar in Cambridge, and the Zero Proof dinner on Friday, with a ton of big names. They're still pretty large dinners, and so the challenge for the chefs is to do something that seems fine dining while also almost having to make it a catering event.
TR: Not sure I should admit this as predominantly a cocktail writer, but the Zero Proof dinner sounded amazing after the afterparty Thursday night. But so did coconut water and lime juice and a very dark room to drink them in.
AD: I maybe did a shot of whiskey before the zero proof dinner since I was going to have to sit by strangers for four hours. I may need to think about my life and choices.
TR: No, that seems right. What was the best thing at the Zero Proof dinner?
AD: The drinks at Zero Proof were from Eric Nelson of Eem/Shipwreck. Some actually just tasted like coconut water, so I got those recovery vibes. There was one that used "champagne acids" that made it taste really like a pét-nat, but alcohol free. As far as food, Michael Solomonov from Zahav in Philly did a veal with apricot that was a delight, and Gregory Gourdet did a slow-cooked salmon with XO sauce that I really loved.
AD: There were really weirdly long pauses in courses though, and Gabe Rucker's foie gras dumpling skins were chewy and pigeon tough. Like I said, these can be hard to pull off!
TR: It's true. It's not the ideal way to engage world-class chefs, but if it's the only way....
AD: Did you meet anyone cool? For example, I got to hang out with former Food & Wine editor Dana Cowan. She was really nice and I was surprised I got to eat snacks with a Top Chef judge.
TR: Haha, I did not meet cool people. Not that I knew were cool, anyway. I saw a LOT of people who looked 100 percent beaten by life until they suddenly perked up to deliver into their phone's front-facing camera a monologue about how amazing Feast was. I've never been around that kind of influencer culture before, and it was a trip.
TR: The first person I met on my way into East Coast vs West Coast was a woman who glommed onto me because she wanted to buy my media badge. She said she "invests" a lot of money into food festivals because she's a food blogger, but she works two jobs to do it. The grind is real.
AD: WHOA, I've never had anyone offer me graft for my badge!! Intense! It's wild seeing how many white women in wide-brimmed hats with blog names like FoodCuteBellyLovePie make this a priority. I always wonder how much influence they really have? Like are they all following each other? Or are there swaths of food consumers out there who are following?
TR: Well, I eat everything FoodCuteBellyLovePie eats. But I'm just trying to get a retweet.
AD: I'm finally feeling recovered, thank goodness. And I'm already excited for next year! I swung toward just doing dinners and special events this year, which is very cool, but next year I'm going to try and do a 50/50 mix. And encourage people to buy tickets for those fun sized events. I really do think they're the way to go
TR: That makes sense. I definitely learned that "all you can eat" and "all you should eat" are very different. It felt like everything at East Coast vs West Coast was a sandwich, and even at quarter-size, that's a lot of bread.
AD: Oh yes, it took me about two or three years to learn that you *can* just take one bite and move on.
TR: I've never learned that. It's like spitting at wine tastings—I was raised by my very frugal rancher father. The only thing he ever spat out was chewing tobacco.
AD: Lolz. I still don't spit out booze.
TR: Chew is probably the least appetizing image for a conversation about food. Oh well, what's done is done. This is why they don't put me on a Feast stage.
AD: Not yet. Not till there's a REAL "beyond tiki" drink talk that really gets outside of the box.
TR: Just me in a kiddie pool filled with whipped egg whites and maraschino cherries drinking a bottle of Fernet-Branca.
AD: Isn't that the cover of a Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass album?
TR: It is, and the litigiousness of the Alpert estate is the only reason I haven't made it happen. Oh, that reminds me, they still did those little fireside chats even in the pouring rain at Tom McCall park, and they just packed the audience in under the stage tent. It was adorable. Nice to see that people still braved that horrible, muddy Sunday to hit the Big Feast.
AD: OK, I've got to sign off, but I'm getting nostalgic for this year's Feast fest already.
TR: It's true, I barely even want to eat a full, cohesive meal anymore.
AD: I've been steaming broccoli, for God's sake
TR: Next year I'm bringing a selfie stick. Unless Instagram and Facebook actually do get rid of likes, in which case, I assume the food festival industry will fold like so many rain soaked folding chairs.
AD: I await the post-social-pocolypse.
TR: Cheers to that.