Seven years ago I touted the opening of the food emporium Providore Fine Foods on NE Sandy Boulevard as "a whip-smart move" on a street formerly known more for its drug dealers, dive bars and ladies of the night than gourmet delights. Partnering with a roster of providers who have deep relationships with local farmers and suppliers, customers have found the kind of high quality, thoughtfully sourced products they can't find anywhere else.
To celebrate, Providore is pulling out all the stops this weekend, showcasing the sunniest of the season's produce, a Citrus Fest that includes:
A wide-ranging citrus tasting at Rubinette Produce with every kind of sunshine-y mandarin, tangerine, kumquat, pomelo, orange, lemon and lime they can get their hands on.
Two x Sea will be sampling their McFarland Springs trout spread, and will have citrus-inflected mignonette available to accompany their impeccably fresh oysters, plus citrus-marinated fish to take home and enjoy.
Revel Meat Co. will be offering samples of their beef hot dogs and a selection of their house-made sausages, all made from meats sourced from local small farms.
Lovely lemon curd brûlée citrus tarts, along with Meyer lemon madeleines from Pastaworks, plus Meyer lemon sheet pasta. The salad case will be filled with citrus-inflected grain salads—the orange, tinned-octopus and chorizo salad looks crazy good—and Pastaworks head baker Kathy High is making her legendary birthday bread pudding, servings of which will be given away on Saturday. And don't forget to look for the free tasting of Hungarian wines in the Wine Room!
Portland cooks and makers rejoice! After months of fits and starts on their expansion plans—the pandemic has wreaked havoc on construction schedules and state agency certifications alike—Revel Meat Co. and Two x Sea have finally filled their cases and staffed their counters at Providore Fine Foods on Northeast Sandy Boulevard.
"We’re happy to announce that after many months, the debut of their full-service meat and seafood counter at Providore is here," said Kaie Wellman, co-owner of Providore along with her husband, Kevin de Garmo and their business partner, Bruce Silverman. "The 'protein' corner of the store has been transformed into a mecca for those who want to work closely with their local butcher and fishmonger to source top-quality, small-farmed meat and sustainably caught seafood."
While the original plans calling for an oyster bar have been scotched, there will soon be seating in the new wine room—it's taken the space once occupied by the now-closed Nomad. There are grab-and-go goods aplenty, from salmon cakes, fish croquettes and fresh oysters to marinated chicken skewers and housemade sausages ready to take home and throw on the grill, and Vannatter says to look for holiday specials appearing soon.
A huge problem with our food system is that shoppers are often misled about what they're buying. Tilapia, a common farmed fish, is mislabeled as more expensive snapper—an analysis by the Guardian newspaperof 44 studies found that "nearly 40% of 9000 products from restaurants, markets and fishmongers were mislabelled." The same misinformation is presented to consumers regarding the sourcing, feeding and slaughtering of beef and pork.
Both purveyors have a stated mission to offer transparency and traceability to Portland cooks. Want to know where a piece of fish in the Two x Sea case comes from, the name of the boat that caught it and how it was caught? Just ask. Lauren Vannatter of Two x Sea said, "We'll tell you the real story instead of the made-up story."
Similarly, Revel's Ben Meyer is committed to tossing out what he calls the "smoke and mirrors" of the meat business, including being able to tell shoppers the name of the farmer that raised the animal, how it was raised, what it ate during its lifetime and when and how it was harvested. Like butcher shops in your grandparents' time, you'll be able to see Revel butchers breaking down primals and sub-primals of beef and pork into steaks, chops and roasts, and even butchering a whole lamb.
How about braising a beef neck, buying a whole pork belly for bacon or pig trotters to simmer with a pot of beans? You'll be able to preorder all of those and get them in a day or so. (Me, I was excited to hear that after the holidays—please let it be true, kitchen gods—I might be able to obtain the main ingredient for Hank Shaw's blood sausage, and even order the fourth stomach of the cow called the abomasum, so I can tempt my friend Paolo to make his favorite Tuscan sandwich, lampredotto.)
Calling Providore's partnership with these two purveyors a "perfect marriage," Wellman added that "their sustainability standards are unmatched anywhere. These guys walk their talk."
When the founding partners launched Providore, Wellman said that it was intended to become a vortex for people who love to cook and who care about where their food comes from, and this latest expansion is the long-planned next step in its evolution. "It's a community of like-minded businesses and business owners," she said. "It's the antithesis of a grocery store experience. It's a place where customers come in and are surrounded by real food and high quality products from small producers they can't find elsewhere."
I just got word that I can unburden myself of a secret I've been keeping for almost two months, one that is going to make my life—and hopefully the lives of many other fans of local meat—so much more delicious. Fans and those whose lives were bereft when Ben Meyer closed down Old Salt, his palace of sustainable meat, can now rejoice: He and his partner in Revel Meat, James Serlin, have just signed a lease and stocked cases of their local meat inside Providore Fine Foods.
Kaie Wellman, co-owner of Providore and longtime Portland specialty grocer, Pastaworks, with her husband, Kevin de Garmo, and Bruce Silverman, termed the partnership a "perfect marriage."
Bringing Revel Meat to Providore continues the group's commitment to partner with providers who have deep relationships with local farmers and can give customers the kind of high quality, thoughtfully sourced products they're looking for, Wellman said. "Partners who excite us are the people who are as passionate about food as we are."
Serlin echoed that excitement, saying it was Providore's roster of partners like Rubinette Produce, Little T Baker and Hilary Horvath Flowers that made it an ideal choice for Revel's first retail outlet. "It's a big deal for Revel to be associated with Providore," Serlin said. "The idea behind it, as a place where people can come to get the best produce, meat, fish, cheese and bread, is a perfect fit."
Beef and pork from local farms like Pat-n-Tam's Beef in Stanfield, Campfire Farms in Mulino, Rieben Family Farms in Banks, and 6 Ranch in Wallowa County will stock the big meat cases on the west end of the store with both frozen and fresh cuts. Don't see what you're looking for in the case? Revel will also be happy to accommodate orders for custom cuts—I've already put in my order for some beef neck—with pickup available at Providore. (Read more about Revel Meat and its mission to rejuvenate local meat processing.)
And who will be occupying the coveted space recently vacated by Flying Fish Company? None other than Two X Sea (Two By Sea) the Bay Area fishmonger born in 2009 out of owner Kenny Belov's frustration with the lack of honesty and accountability in the seafood marketplac and fair pay for the fishing industry.
"The only way to change wholesale was to become wholesale," said Belov, who has been selling seafood to top Portland-area restaurants for more than four years. All of Two X Sea's suppliers must answer specific questions before their fish are accepted into its program: Who caught the fish? Who was the captain? What's the name of the boat? How was the fish caught? Was the fish caught on purpose (as opposed to it being bycatch, which means fish caught while targeting other species)? Belov believes that those answers give an opportunity to share with consumers all of the information about every piece of fish in the case.
"Their sustainability standards are unmatched anywhere," Wellman said. "These guys walk their talk."
Belov said that architectural drawings for the new space are being completed, and he's hoping for Two X Sea to open in late spring. Plans include an oyster bar and a menu that showcases the offerings in the fresh case. He said it's an opportunity to expose guests to preparations of seafood that they might also make at home, and he's excited to see what chef Jacob Harth—chef at the much-lauded Erizo and who will compose Two By Sea's offerings—orchestrates in conjunction with Providore's other partners.
Wellman said that Pastaworks, with its nearly 40 years in Portland, and now Providore, are set to move to the next level in its evolution as a vortex for people who love to cook and who care about where their food comes from. "It's a community of like-minded businesses and business owners," Wellman said. "It's the antithesis of a grocery store experience. It's a place where customers come in and are surrounded by real food and high quality products from small producers they can't find elsewhere."
Then comes the throwdown: "Nowhere else in the U.S. has this level of a food experience and offers customers this kind of engagement with their food."
It wasn't an auspicious beginning to a meeting. As I sat down to talk with Josh Alsberg, aka "Fruit Monkey" and proprietor of Rubinette Produce in the wondrous land of food that is Providore Fine Foods, he said he had sad news.
"Strawberries are done," he deadpanned.
My shocked expression caused him to quickly add, "I mean Hoods. The heat cut them off." Then Alsberg assured me that we will be seeing other varieties like Seascapes and Albions through the summer and into September, though the harvest this year is looking slimmer than usual—the word he used was "trickle"—so he's advising you strawberry addicts out there to get to the farmers' markets on the early side to get your fix.
In happier news, he said the bounty of other berries is about to bury us, and he's started to see raspberries, blackberries, tayberries and loganberries on farmers' fresh sheets. He expects marionberries and local blueberries to appear en masse by the 4th of July, and the "bloobs," as we refer to them here at home, should stick around well into August.
A caveat: Alsberg emphasizes that the summer's heat will affect all the berries—it can make strawberries more woody. He said the best time to buy berries at the markets is on the early side while they're still cool, then process them soon after you get home so they're not sitting around in the heat. As for freezing, his advice is to spread the berries out on sheet trays—the industry refers to it as "IQF" or "Individually Quick Freeze"—before freezing and bagging. (I hasten to add that Monsieur Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm would disagree…)
Alsberg also crows that "cherries are on!" and we should be seeing local—he includes Washington's Yakima-area fruit in that definition—red-fleshed varieties like Attikas, Royal Brooks and Chelans at farmers' market stalls. Pro tip: Alsberg shares that local cherries tend to be more expensive at the beginning of the season when the harvest is just getting going, so if you can hold off until after July 4th, you should see prices begin to drop somewhat. (Wink wink, nudge nudge.)
It's not all fruit out there, either, and despite his Fruit Monkey moniker, Alsberg is equally excited about the coming avalanche of vegetables about to bury us in local green (and yellow and red and…). We're in the throes of squash season, he says, with zucchini, crookneck, eight-ball (a type of ball-shaped zucchini), pattypan and costata romanesco (a ribbed green summer variety) flooding in. You'll also find alliums in abundance, with scapes of all sorts—leek, shallot, garlic, etc.—sticking around for a bit, soon to be overshadowed by fresh, as opposed to cured, Walla Wallas, red onions, scallions and fresh shallots.
There is the slightest whisper about local tomatoes starting to appear, but Alsberg said that it'll be mid-July before they'll be available in any quantity. Peas, asparagus and favas, those fleeting bright green delights of spring, are on their way out, as are the spring roots like radishes and turnips, but cucumbers are coming and local lettuces are in their glory right now. Romano beans and their compatriots are just starting to appear, as are all the herbs, including my favorites, basil and tarragon, along with local celery and carrots, as well as newer faces like sprouting cauliflower and purple sprouting broccoli (referred to as PSB in certain circles).
Alsberg didn't realize he'd made "ze leetle joke" when he said that "new potatoes are starting to turn up" (ha!), but shoppers should find yellow, red and fingerlings aplenty. With warming temperatures, rhubarb will be getting scarce, but don't despair, local eggplant is coming, as are melons (by the end of July) and apricots.
Other bits and bobs to look for include orach, a red-leaved plant in the same family as spinach and chard, and arugula. Local corn will be coming around the end of July, as will the plethora of peppers from sweet to hot. You'll start seeing plums in mid-July with the full panoply appearing in August along with table grapes.
My advice? Boot up your spreadsheets and make a plan to use some of this local goodness now with schemes to preserve some for winter!
No matter how you say it, spring in the Northwest is a much-anticipated season. Gardeners are getting out their seed packets and determining how many yards of compost their backs can withstand—see this post about holding off on the tomatoes for now—and cooks are dreaming of the bright green herbs and greens that will soon festoon their tables.
Seeing nettles and fiddleheads already popping up in my social media feeds, I figured it was time to talk with produce guy and fruit monkey Josh Alsberg of Rubinette Produce about what he's seeing on his local farmers' fresh sheets. So grab a pencil, kids, it's time to make our spring farmers' market shopping lists!
Josh knows my weaknesses, so of course the first thing he pulls out is the list of the various raabs, rapinis and rabes on offer. We could both hear Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm snorting that the only true raab comes from turnips, the rest are the inflorescence of plants, defined as "a group or cluster of flowers arranged on a stem that is composed of a main branch. Morphologically, it is the modified part of the shoot of seed plants where flowers are formed."
So, with that, in alphabetical order, look for these inflorescences at the markets: bok choy, brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, kale sprouts, mizuna, red choy, spigarello, tatsoi and turnips, among others.
Josh notes that each tastes slightly different depending on the parent plant's particular flavor profile, but all have that amazing, vibrant flavor and crunch when pan-fried—I like to brown a little homemade bacon and chopped garlic first, then add the greens, chopped or not—or, in the case of the bigger sprouts, roasted quickly in a hot oven.
As for other greens, look for watercress, various mustards, mizunas both green and red, arugula, and a new one to me, wasabi arugula—Josh said it has the tangy bite of that Japanese root. (Note to self: must try.) Lettuces are just barely coming on but will be available shortly, and spinach, which is a bit more cold-tolerant, is here now.
With spring running about a month later than last year, wild things are going crazy trying to catch up. Look for the aforementioned fiddleheads, as well as "triangle leeks" or wild onions, which have a curious folded vertical green, as well as nettles. These will be available at the markets, but if you're headed out on a hike, here's a guide to foraging wild onions and garlic.
Calçots, that spectacular Spanish scallion relative pioneered in Oregon by Manuel and Leslie Recio at their late, lamented Viridian Farms, are appearing, too, so make some salbitxada sauce and throw a spring calçotada! Spring onions like Walla Walla and red onions should be appearing soon, but green garlic is here now—use them like scallions or make a pesto to toss with pasta or serve it alongside grilled meats and fish.
Dribs and drabs of local asparagus and purple sprouting broccoli—refer to it as PSB if you want to sound cooler-than-thou—are just now coming into season, but Josh advises that you need to get to the markets early to get the little asparagus available, at least for the next couple of weeks before the full harvest comes in.
Bundles of fresh spring herbs like parsley, oregano, chervil, thyme and chives are beginning to show up, so chimichurries and other herb sauces are definitely called for. Microgreens and young shoots of favas and peas should also make your list. They will only get more abundant as the season rolls along.
Roots and More
Radishes, spring beets and the small, white hakurei turnips as well as their greens are terrific roasted and served with the herb sauces mentioned above. Small local bulbs of fennel will be here toward the end of the month.
One of my favorite vegetables-that-cooks-like-a-fruit, rhubarb, is flashing its red stalks, and Josh said a green variety that, unlikely as it seems, is a bit more sour than the red variety, is also being grown locally.
Look for local mushrooms like maitake and lion's mane are coming in from forests and fields, and I've heard whispers that this year's morel harvest may be a big one. Though Josh warns that false morels, or verpa bohemica, a species of fungus known informally as a "false morel" is sometimes sold as a true morel, so be sure to ask your vendor.
Still two to three weeks off, according to Mr. Alsberg. Look for them at the end of April or the beginning of May. He said that Unger Farms in Cornelius is the driver for strawberry season in the Willamette Valley, and the first to appear will be Albions, followed by Seascapes. The first Hoods will most likely be available around Memorial Day, though—and this is a mantra we should all take to heart—"everything is subject to Mother Nature."