Summer is road-trip season, so we're taking a culinary tour of America. But because Portland is a city of immigrants from other states, we don't have to leave town to do it. We're traveling to 50 Portland restaurants to try one distinctive food from each state. Our50 Plates tour continues with a chicken fried steak from Alaska, which joined the union on January 3, 1959.
The state: Alaska, the largest and least densely populated state in the union. Much of Alaska is still covered in untamed forest and tundra, though there's always someone trying to build a pipeline to capitalize on the state's rich supply of oil. Back in the lower 48, the state rather resembles a modern-day Wild West, full of gun-toting dog sledders and mavericks, where the midnight sun will drive you crazy if you stay there long enough. Of course, the state's populace isn't all grizzled trappers and infamous politicians: TV painter Bob Ross learned his painting technique in Alaska, and Miami Heat point guard Mario Chalmers is an Anchorage native.
The food: Both tender and lean, reindeer (or caribou) meat has long been a staple for the Inuit. It became a major source of sustenance for settlers as well, when whaling grounds began to dry out. These days, reindeer meat isn't quite so common, but packaged reindeer sausage, now a sweet and spicy delicacy, can be found in any Alaskan grocery store—or Costco.
Other foods considered and rejected: Wild berries, smoked Alaskan salmon, King Crab, a loaf of sourdough bread.
Get it from: Beez Neez Gourmet Sausages (440 SW 3rd Ave, beezneezsausages.com), a normal-looking hot dog truck that places Alaskan reindeer on its menu beside the typical brats and Polish dogs. The reindeer, which comes fresh off the grill in a chewy bun, can be ordered mild or hot, with optional onions and jalapenos. The hot version has a rich, smoky flavor with a forceful but unintrusive kick. A complimentary condiment bar comes complete with pickles, sauerkraut and nearly a dozen sauces; while Beez Neez recommends one of their many mustards with the reindeer, "pretty much anything but ketchup" will do. Just be careful about that jalapeño, which is grilled and served whole on the side. When I finally mustered the courage to fold it in with the heap of other condiments, it took a whole bottle of cane-sugar Dr Pepper to relieve the overpowering heat.
Click on the map to see each state's distinctive food and where to get it in Portland.