Devour 2012: Specialty Markets

Top Picks:
  1. Benessere Olive Oils and Balsamic to taste them all.
  2. Bob’s Red Mill Whole Grain Store
  3. just for the smell of it.
  4. Cacao to discover a new world of chocolate.
  5. Cheese Bar to taste the wares of America’s top cheesemonger.
  6. JC Rice Noodle for the best deal in town.

Alma Chocolate

140 NE 28th Ave., 517-0262, 

[CHOCOLATE] Nestled between well-known eateries along bustling Northeast 28th Avenue, this charming little chocolatier's boutique is your palate's sensual delight and dentist's worst nightmare. Rose-water caramel sauce, ginger-almond toffee, Mexican truffles, Thai peanut butter cups and a thick habanero caramel drinking chocolate that will banish those rainy-day blues. Proprietor Sarah Hart started out five years ago by creating gold-painted chocolate molds of spiritual icons, and you can still find a shelf dedicated to edible renditions of La Virgen de Guadalupe, Shakyamuni Buddha and sheela na gigs in a corner of the shop. NB.

Shopping list: Imported salt, 6 ounces of cacao nibs, a habanero caramel crown and a tin of Spanish pimentón.

Benessere Olive Oils and Balsamic

907 SW 9th Ave., 206-5317; 1428 NE Broadway, 281-6389,

[NONESSENTIAL OILS] This specialty oil and vinegar store opened in downtown to very little fanfare last year—kind of surprising for a fat- and flavor-focused business in a food-obsessed city—but is absolutely worth discovering. Sampling cups, large metal casks and unobtrusive staff leave customers free to taste their way through every one of Benessere's vast array of liquid treats. Olive oils range from a basic house blend to infused concoctions like blood orange and basil. The butter extra virgin olive oil is outrageous. Vinegars and balsamics run a similar rainbow of fruit flavors, from fig to blackberry ginger, with several aged varieties. There's also a range of other high-end oils, including truffle, porcini and roasted French walnut. Best of all, you can mix any of the products to make your own custom blend. Mushroom, sage and white truffle oil, anyone? RB.

Shopping list: Bottles of flavored olive oils (200 ml) and balsamic vinegars.

Bob's Red Mill Whole Grain Store

5000 SE International Way, Milwaukie, 607-6455. Closed Sunday.

[FLOUR] With its weekday factory tours, gigantic antique millstone and oversized red barn décor attracting tourists and carb fiends, the bucolic headquarters of Bob Moore's flour empire is basically the Tillamook Cheese Factory of Milwaukie. It's also a bulk-bin wonderland that scoops out pound upon pound of beans, oats, brownie mix and, of course, flour made of everything from green peas, potato, quinoa and amaranth to even good old wheat. What Bob's lacks in bargains it makes up for in endless selection. After eyeballing the rows of packaged organic flours, date crumbles, soup and pancake mixes and, more recently, a whole aisle of gluten-free products, collapse out on the patio with a house-baked muffin alongside the couple on one side wearing motorcycle leathers and the Quaker wife and her brood on the other. KC.

Shopping list: Twenty-five-pound bag of garbanzo-fava flour, gluten-free brownie mix, Bob's Red Mill ball cap.


414 SW 13th Ave., 241-0656, and 712 SW Salmon St., 274-9510; 

[CHOCOLATE HEAVEN] One sip of Cacao's spicy, dark drinking chocolate is enough to erase that awful Portlandia skit from your memory. It bathes your tongue in velvety chocolate richness with a tiny cayenne kick. But don't stop at drinking your chocolate when you head into Jesse Manis and Aubrey Lindley's mocha-toned storefront. They carry an enticing collection of bars, drops and more from global and local chocolatiers. Local confectioner Cocanu's Moonwalk bar features cacao nibs and Pop Rocks. A Byrne & Carlson bar is beautifully jeweled with slices of fruit. A truffle from Central Point's Lillie Belle spread combines smoky blue cheese and milk chocolate. Behind the glass case, try a Batch PDX Joyful Almond square—a top-dollar version of the similarly named candy bar. Or sample the rich, buttery and slightly spicy ghost-chili caramel from Seattle's Theo Chocolate. DC.

Shopping list: Drinking chocolate, top-quality baking chocolate, organic, stone-ground Taza Chocolate, Askinosie dark-chocolate bars.

Candy Babel 

1237 NE Alberta St., 867-0591, Closed Tuesday.

[CANDY LANDS] Still craving European sweets after returning from several years abroad, Amani Greer decided to remedy Portland's lack of shops selling hard candy. Jars of gummies and jawbreakers line the walls, and sampling is encouraged. Don't forget to try the latest cotton-candy offering—the heavenly confection is made fresh daily in funky or classic flavors including chai, lychee and butterscotch. Mix and match treats to your heart's content, as most everything is sold by the pound. MHW.

Shopping list: Rhubarb sours, gummy fighter jets, lemon sugar skulls.

Cheese Bar

6031 SE Belmont St., 222-6014, Closed Monday.

[CHEESE, BEER] Steve Jones' fabled cheese case is filled with a personally vouched-for selection of amazing fromage from small producers across the globe. Jones, who was named the best cheesemonger in the country at the 2011 Cheesemonger Invitational, is particularly taken with Alpine "mountain cheeses," which, he explains, refers to anything produced when animals graze exclusively at higher altitudes, and therefore on fresh, green grasses, yielding cheeses with a nutty, rich, funky flavor. The fact that I can now listen to this kind of information with a beer in my hand is truly marvelous (six rotating taps, plus lots of bottles). Oh, and did I mention the other case full of Olympic Provisions sausages? I know. Mind blown. KC.

Shopping list: American artisan cheeses, Big Bear Black Stout on tap, honey.


817 SE 34th Ave., 894-8980, 

[SODY POP] Past the soda fountain, candy stands and hyperactive hoards of squealing sugar-fueled children, some 300 different types of pop line the fridges at this new Belmont shrine to monosaccharide. No longer must Portlanders trek up to Pop Culture in the 'Couv and fork out an 8 percent sales tax to sate their cravings for Dublin Dr. Pepper, Pop Shoppe or Moxie. In addition to formidable collections of root beers, colas and ginger ales, Fizz stocks plenty of obscure and oddball bottles, like Rocket Fizz's cucumber, Lester's Fixins buffalo wing, and Scotty's butterscotch flavors. The candy selection is less outlandish, but you'll find a few surprises amongst the packets of M&Ms and gummy bears, including a good range of retro offerings (Goo Goo Clusters, candy cigarettes, Mallo Cups) and a handful of foreign imports (mostly from Cadbury, Mars, Nestle and Kinder). RB.

Shopping list: Blenheim Ginger Ale, Mason's Root Beer, bulk candy ($6.99 per pound).

Food Fight

1217 SE Stark St., 233-3910, 

[VEGAN] The vegan stalwart of Southeast Stark Street's vegan mini-mall calls itself a grocery but, with its small produce case and immense selection of cruelty-free junk food, more resembles a 7-Eleven run by PETA. A selection: vegan nougat, Inka Plantain Chips, Ricemellow Creme, vegan hot-cocoa mix, vegan brownie mix and vegan haggis. Beyond the racks of bags and boxes of things that are good for your karma but probably bad for your waistband are a deli case, plenty of faux cheese and meat products, and big cans of "complete whole food health optimizer." BW.

Shopping list: Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks, Tofurky jerky, Bob's Red Mill textured vegetable protein.

Foster & Dobbs Authentic Foods

2518 NE 15th Ave., 284-1157,

[SPECIALTY FOODS] If Portland had a day spa for food, Irvington's little Foster & Dobbs would be it. You don't have to hunt to find edible artisanal treasures here; just relax and scan the rows of specialty oils, eclectic wines and jars of honey harvested everywhere from Spain to backyard beehives in Ballard, Wash., (Bh Honey) that line the wood shelves. Or pluck a Vosges bar or Pure Dark chocolate disc from atop an antique desk at random. The lovingly curated shop carries most everything you need to make a Eurocentric ingredient whore happy, including a half dozen fancy salts spiked with the likes of hibiscus and fennel, weird Japanese bamboo salt sticks and a fridge case bursting with Salumi and Fra'Mani meats, duck confit and a nice rotating mix of Euro and local cheeses. Foster & Dobbs hosts free wine tastings every Friday afternoon. KC.

Shopping list: Rick's Picks pickles, Parma hand-salted/cured prosciutto, molé chili and chocolate laced salami and tomato jam sandwich to go.

JC Rice Noodle

8405 SE Foster Road, 788-1668. 

[NOODLES, TOFU] This tiny shop on an unpleasant corner of Foster Road makes fresh, thin rice noodles—shahe fen, the kind used in pad Thai and chow fun—with a 33-foot beast of a machine that's just visible past the counter. You can buy the chewy, slippery noodles in 12-inch-square sheets, in rolls or chopped into inch-wide ribbons for 95 cents per pound. Use them the day you buy them; they dry out. JC also makes good, dense tofu ($1 per one-pound block) and soy milk, along with a brief menu of noodle dishes to order out or eat in, at the shop's video-lottery consoles. Why are there lottery machines in a noodle shop? It's Foster Road. BW.

Shopping list: Noodles, tofu, barbecue pork rice noodle roll to snack on in the car.

The Meadow

3731 N Mississippi Ave., 288-4633, 

[TASTE TICKLER] Salty, sweet, bitter: These are the flavors of the Meadow, a quaint little North Mississippi gourmet boutique that trades in salt, chocolate, wine, cocktail bitters, fresh flowers and very little else. The salt is actually the store's biggest attraction: a whole wall of high-end sodium chloride from all over the world that will make you feel like a philistine for ever letting a box of Morton anywhere near your food. Smoked salt, saffron salt, chocolate salt, pinot noir salt, and a Korean salt baked in bamboo which costs $29 for a tiny 1.2-ounce jar—what do you even do with these things? Ask proprietor and self-appointed "selmelier" Mark Bitterman, or if he's not around, buy a copy of his authoritative tome Salted. RB.

Shopping list: Salt starter set, Himalayan salt block, Xocolatl de David salted caramel sauce, Brooklyn Hemispherical Bitters.

Milwaukie Kitchen & Wine

10610 SE Main St., 653-3228, 

[PASTAWORKS SOUTH] After leaving Carafe Bistro, where he was chef for eight years, last May, Pascal Sauton did what a lot of guys do after a breakup: surround himself with his favorite things. His new deli, coffee shop and wine store is a very selective collection of the best Portland and France have to offer, with a small case of charcuterie by Chop, Tails & Trotters and Olympic Provisions; spendy jams, mustards and dry goods; and wines from the Northwest and France. Sauton and his chef friends teach periodic classes in the space, and he and former Caprial's Bistro chef Mark Dowers sell dinner entrees to go every evening. Don't leave without ordering a sandwich. The roasted lamb with piperade is extraordinary. BW.

Shopping list: Punt e Mes, Penner Ash Rubeo, Ristretto coffee, Xocolatl de David bars, Italian pasta.

Northwest Sweets 

740 NW 23rd Ave., 360-1350, Closed Tuesday.

[CANDY SHOPPE] The brainchild of confectioner Steve Gazda, this delightful shop looks like something out of a dream, as the all-white space sets off bookshelves full of your grandparents' favorite candy bars, gums and sweets. The assortment is ever-changing, and Gazda will happily tell you the history of most any item he carries. In addition to nostalgic favorites like Idaho Spuds and Necco-brand Sky Bars, Gazda has crafted his own caramels, chocolate truffles, palm-sized lollipops and other whimsies. Grab some candy buttons for yourself or a Cherry Mash for a nostalgic family member. As to Gazda's original creations, stick to the soft caramels, meltaways and uniquely flavored marshmallows unless you want to wreck your dental work. MHW.

Shopping list: Valomilk, candy cigarettes, vanilla-bean orange-blossom caramels and handcrafted marshmallows (recent flavor options included key lime, coconut or vanilla).

The Olive and Vine 

8711 N Lombard St., 285-2686, Closed Monday-Tuesday.

[SALT AND VINEGAR] The best part about visiting the newly opened The Olive and Vine, across the street from the St. Johns Twin Cinemas, is tasting all of the specialty salts and vinegars. Various salts are available to sample in small glass dishes, and the vinegars—ranging from Champagne to blackberry balsamic—are all laid out in sample dropper jars. Big glass canisters of loose-leaf teas also line the shelves of this tiny shop, along with imported olives and olive oils, tins of anchovies and more. Even though most of the products are on the spendy side, they're parsed out into small, affordable amounts—lots of tiny bags of salt for $2-$3—making it a great place to shop for culinary gifts. LC.

Shopping list: Applewood-smoked salt, anchovy-stuffed Manzanilla olives, drinking vinegars, unusual baking extracts.

OTA Tofu

812 SE Stark St., 232-8947. Closed Sunday.

[SOY JOY] You can now buy this locally made tofu in many grocery stores around town, but the freshest (not to mention cheapest) slices still come straight from the original factory, quietly tucked away behind the Slammer in inner Southeast. Bring your own container (otherwise they'll give you a soggy paper Chinese takeout box) and fill it with huge hunks of soft Japanese tofu, perfect for making miso soup or agedashi tofu. Fair warning: Even the "firm" is pretty fragile, so you'll need to squeeze the water out very carefully to do any sort of vigorous cooking with it. Or just buy the tasty pre-fried squares, which are ready to eat—though they probably won't last the trip home. RB.

Shopping list: Firm and soft tofu, fried tofu.

Penzeys Spices

120 NW 10th Ave., 227-6777; 11322 SE 82nd Ave., 653-7779; 11787 SW Beaverton Hillsdale Highway, 643-7430;

[SPICES] If it's ground, dried, cured or macerated for use by human beings, this spice mecca probably carries it—online if not at one of its retail shops. The Wisconsin-based company is known for seeking out the best varieties of vanilla bean, Turkish Aleppo peppers, curry mixes and Szechuan peppercorns and selling them at surprisingly reasonable rates. Penzeys' Portland outposts are packed with tidy wooden crates and bins of more than 250 spices and herbs. They smell like a particularly festive day in heaven. All of Penzeys' wares come with detailed labels, with samples stored in apothecary jars so you can take a whiff of the stuff yourself. BW.

Shopping list: Penzey's chili seasoning, crystallized ginger, orange extract, Chinese cassia cinnamon, a "Kitchen of Provence" gift crate of spices, packed with Turkish bay leaves and cinnamon sticks in place of Styrofoam peanuts ($132.99).

Real Good Food

833 SE Main St., 5-7 pm "most Mondays" and once a month at the PSU Farmers Market.

[OLIVE OIL] Jim Dixon sells really, really good olive oil from Italy and California (and sometimes sea salt, balsamic vinegar, farro, haricot beans and hot sauce) from a table at the Portland Farmers Market and out of a tiny warehouse at his Southeast Portland Activspace. His prices are pretty reasonable. If you're into oil in a big way, he'll sell you a share of his next shipment at a discount. BW.

Shopping list: Excellent olive oil, heirloom brown rice from California.

The Spice and Tea Exchange

536 SW Broadway, 208-2886, 

[SPICES, SALTS] This high-end spice shop doesn't have the breadth of Penzeys Spices or the obsessive depth of the Meadow, but it has a super-accessible location—making it a fun, chic place to taste and sniff your way through the world, and buy a few small gifts while you're at it. Ivy O'Brien's crimson-colored Old World boutique (part of a small Florida-based chain) boasts all the sweet, savory, herby basics, plus funky-flavored sugars and lots of cooking and finishing salts. But its secret weapon is a wall of spice blends the crew grinds fresh every week, from Thai coconut rub to za'atar blend. KC.

Shopping list: Mini microplane; big chunk of Bolivian rose salt; dynamite herbes de Provence blend; and beer extract powder, just because.

Stone Cottage Herbs

3844 SE Gladstone St., 719-6658,

[HERBS, SPICE, TEA] It didn't take long after the closure of Limbo, Southeast Portland's beloved bulk-spice emporium, for a new business to step up and fill the shop's very large shoes. Joshua Stephens, himself a former Limbo employee, opened Stone Cottage a stone's throw up Southeast Cesar Chavez Boulevard with all of the old market's spice inventory and none of the often iffy produce. With some 900 medicinal herbs, teas, specialty salts and spices from ajwain seed to wintergreen leaf, nearly all of them organically grown or foraged, Stone Cottage offers an even larger selection than Limbo. Customers are welcome to bring their own containers. BW.

Shopping list: Powdered cinchona bark to make tonic water, fair trade cinnamon, honey so local it doesn't have a label.

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