How do you make a coffee shop stand out in a city full of them? Connect it to a motorcycle shop. Even better: custom-paint your espresso machine to resemble the colorful spawn of Lord of the Rings and a 1980s Heavy Metal magazine layout. That’s exactly what Thor Drake and his business partner, George Kassapakis, did at SeeSee Motor Coffee Co. (1642 NE Sandy Blvd., seeseemotorcycles.com). The original idea called for princesses and unicorns, but later became wizards, dragons and a flying 1980s Pontiac Firebird. When they were coming up with plans for the coffee shop addition to their motorcycle shop (something to keep them busy most the year when people can’t ride) Drake’s girlfriend proposed painting the espresso machine. The Linea espresso machine was given to Jason Prouty at Garage 31 Airbrush Studio on a Friday and came back the following Tuesday, freshly painted and easily the coolest and most original espresso machine in Portland. CODY NEWTON.
Best Reason to Drink More Coffee
Portland is hardly a city in need of more coffee roasters, but we’re willing to make an exception for this one: Happy Cup Coffee (happycup.com). The small Northeast Portland coffee-roasting venture stems from Full Life, a local nonprofit that provides employment and recreational opportunities for people with disabilities. The main goal in establishing Happy Cup was to create jobs for Full Life participants, who are part of a demographic for which finding employment is extremely difficult. “We figured if the jobs aren’t out there, let’s make our own and start teaching skills that are transferable,” says operations director Adam Bray. Employees not only learn production skills, but also basic communications and sales skills. After opening last November, Happy Cup currently employs about 15 workers and distributes its beans through local retailers such as New Seasons and Whole Foods, as well as a few small coffee shops. But hopes for expansion are high. And, even better, the coffee is quite tasty. EMILEE BOOHER.
Best Hyperlocal Bread
As recently as 30 years ago, farmers in the fertile Willamette Valley produced half of what locals ate. Globalization changed that, as farmers switched to more profitable grass seed. But without new McMansion lawns to seed, more Oregon farmers are again growing something useful. NatureBake’s Oregon Grains bread (naturebake.com) is the flavor of that change, sliced for sandwiches. Inspired by an Oregonian columnist who complained she couldn’t find any bread to eat on her 100-mile diet, NatureBake’s young CEO, Shobi Dahl (nephew to Dave Dahl of Dave’s Killer Bread), decided to ask local farmers what they could grow. “Flax, red oats, wheat,” they told him. “Perfect,” he said. “That’s a loaf of bread.” A full 95 percent of the ingredients in Oregon Grains—everything but the gluten, yeast and salt— come from within 100 miles of the company’s Milwaukie plant. It’s a good loaf, too—very similar to Dave’s Killer Bread, and much tastier than any grass seed. MARTIN CIZMAR.
Best Drinkable Dirt
So many things people think keep Portland weird are not actually weird. Even the phrase “Keep Portland Weird,” which was actually borrowed from Austin and is also used by the aspiring weirdo-meccas of Boulder, Santa Cruz and (improbably) Louisville, Ky. But Bula Kava House (3115 SE Division St., bulakavahouse.com) is genuinely weird. Not only because it’s the only kava bar within 1,000 miles, but because drinking an exotic intoxicant that tastes a lot like dirt is incontestably weird by any national standard. Kava is a mildly intoxicating beverage made from a Polynesian pepper plant. It gently numbs your mouth and provides a one-toke buzz that’ll make you chatty and, later, sleepy. Bula Kava House is a warm and friendly place to sit, sipping the stuff from a coconut shell cup and munching on island-y foods, many of which involve macadamia nuts. Again, don’t expect it to be tasty, but do expect it to be genuinely weird. MARTIN CIZMAR.
Best Hand-Made Food CartIf someone ever does Extreme Makeover: Food Cart Edition, they should talk to John Dovydenas. His cart-made sandwiches are great, but that’s not what makes his business special: it’s the 2½ years he spent meticulously building his cart, Picnic (1930 NE Everett St.), from scratch. Dovydenas documented the entire process on his blog, pdxpicnic.com, describing everything from the three days he spent making steel fastening brackets for the window shutters, sawing individual wooden letters for the signage (twice; he changed the font from Helvetica to Georgia and did it all over again), to installing the septic tank, in meticulous detail. The results are worth it: in a city full of sloppily painted trailers and shanty shacks, Dovydenas’s gorgeous turquoise-striped timber hut stands out as a real work of architecture. The DIY ethos extends to the menu as well: the honey comes from his backyard beehive, bacon is smoked in-cart, and he makes his own bread fresh every day. “I want to have a connection to everything,” he says. KIMBERLY HURSH.
Most Delicious Way to Destroy Your Teeth
For only 25 cents, Belmont’s idyllic retro soda shop, Cosmic (formerly Fizz; 817 SE 34th Ave., fizzportland.com), will add one-fourth of a teaspoon of “phosphates” to one of its many uniquely flavored sodas. The addition turns up the sour on an already delicious drink, magically enhancing all that it touches—everything on the menu, from a black cherry soda to a sarsaparilla float, tastes better. Despite the name, Cosmic uses citric acid (that’s the stuff coating the outside of Sour Patch Kids) rather than the phosphoric acid used in phosphate drinks when they were popular at soda fountains in the 1950s, though as your dentist will tell you, both are pretty terrible for your teeth. Maybe it’s all in my head, but I swear I can feel the enamel being stripped from my white-and-pearlies when I suck down a phosphate soda here. But let’s be honest: there isn’t a single sugar-loaded item in this shop that won’t lead to denture cream. Some just lead there faster than others. KIMBERLY HURSH.