It’s late September and I am sitting in a warm bakery in North Portland, OR, waiting for the weather to make up it’s mind. It’s that time of year when one day it will be warm, sunny and 74° and the next the sun doesn’t even show up to work. Today started out dark, cold and foggy. I could see my breath, but I could barely see 4 feet in front of me. Then came the infamous midday “sun-breaks”, a phrase used only in the Pacific Northwest. And now, it’s cold and blustery again. It’s not looking like it’s going to cheer up out there, so I do what the Portlander inside me must do. I order another steaming hot Americano and a cookie to comfort myself.
The coffee is as strong as it is black, and the cookie is soft, crumbly and reminiscent of those old fashioned iced oatmeal cookies I loved as a kid. The bakery I am in feels comfortably familiar. It feels like it’s been here for years, which moves it up on my list as one of The Best Bakeries in Portland, Oregon.
When I moved away from P-Town 3 years ago, Seastar Bakery wouldn’t open for another 2 years. This got me thinking, how can a new spot feel so lived-in and homey? Is it the food, the furnishings, the people, the wood fired pizza oven that fills the place with the warmth and smell of a campfire? Yes. All of those. And, it’s the weather.
Cozy, neighborhood bakeries and coffee shops are where Portlanders seek solace from the elements outside. We treat ourselves to a double shot of espresso and/or a fresh baked, consoling cookie as a way to momentarily forget that soon we will be trudging back through that ankle deep rainwash, in nothing more than a hoodie, hole laden skinny jeans and a pair of canvas Chucks, all while getting pelted every which way with rain/hail/sleet/sunshine. Although Portland weather is straight up skitzo, true Oregonians are inherently equipped to deal with it. Umbrellas are for tourists.
Pacific Northwesterners are a hearty people, but we require cozy spaces and comfort foods to get us through the long, drizzly winter months that often last well into June. Seastar, along with a long list of the Best Bakeries in Portland, took note and created local hubs that offer all of the soothing amenities Stumptowers require.
As a Portland veteran of 13 years, I am always excited to check out what’s new in the Portland pastry game when I visit. I have my usual haunts; Grand Central Bakery (my all time favorite bakery and often my very first stop), Spielman Bagels (seriously the best damn bagels on the left coast) and Woodlawn (a coffeeshop and bakery where I spent most of my early blogging days, pounding out keystrokes, editing photos and eating all of the pastries).
I’ve curated a list of what I believe are the Best Bakeries in Portland. There is a lot to see here, so pace yourself and plan a trip to the Rose City in March so the only thing you’ll feel like doing is hopping around town and sinking into one bakery after another. See for yourself. Visit Portland and sip on that Stumptown as the skies pour down while you enjoy the best bakeries in Portland.
Best Bakeries in Portland, OR
Grand Central Bakery – My all time #1 favorite bakery on earth. When I first moved to SW Portland (ok, Tigard) in 2001, GCB at Multnomah Village immediately won my heart. When my car was stolen the morning of a job interview, or that time I got T-boned on the way to take my finals for college, GCB was my comfort and recovery food.
As we moved all over Portland, there was always a Grand Central Bakery nearby and it was our Jam (especially the Jammers) morning, noon and night. Piper Davis who owns and operates the GCB is my personal dough guru. She is a pastry genius and the person I look up most to in the bakery game. Plus, she is super down to earth and one of the coolest business owners around. The Grand Central Baking Book is my personal baking bible and was really what got me into baking in the first place. With detailed instructions, pretty imagery and delectable recipes, it’s one of the most approachable, well-written cookbooks around. Numerous Baking The Goods recipes have been inspired by The Grand Central Baking Book, including this recipe for Huckleberry Jammers. I could write an entire post on my love for Grand Central Bakery and Piper, but I will just show you some pics of some of their yummy offerings. GCB has locations peppered all throughout Portland and Seattle. Go there the moment you arrive in Portland and every day you are there.
Faves: Jammers, Scone, Bacon Egg Bolo, Como Bread and the BLT (only served during tomato season).
Ken’s Artisan Bakery – Ken Forkish is legendary, and so is his bakery on NW 21st in Portland. It’s been around for years, and the guy knows a thing or two about Flour, Water, Salt & Yeast; he literally wrote the book on it. The breads are beautiful and the laminated doughs are flawless. As if that weren’t enough, the sister restaurant in SE Portland, Ken’s Artisan Pizza, cranks out some of the best wood fired pizzas I’ve ever tasted in my life. Pop into Ken’s Artisan Bakery for a breakfast pastry and make your way to SE for dinner at Ken’s Artisan Pizza. It’ll be one of the tastiest days of your life.
Faves: Any of the croissants, country blonde bread, seasonal fruit tart. Ken’s Artisan Pizza – Arrabiata (Margherita with Calabrian peppers)
Little Red’s Bakeshop & Café – My girl, Jenni, opened Little Red’s Baker earlier this year. She and I had a cyber-introduction over the world wide web via a mutual friend years ago. We quickly became baking buds despite never actually having met in person. This past Spring I had to opportunity to pop into her brand new, beautiful bakeshop and meet her in real life. I basically bought one of everything she bakes and I gotta tell ya, girl has some serious skills. Little Red’s Bakeshop & Café is located in what was once a pastry desert along the Max line in SW Portland. This part of town was in desperate need of baked goods and boy did Jenny bring the goods. Pop in for one of her, cute as a button, rotating whimsical sugar cookies like these owls. What a hoot!
Faves: Decorative sugar cookies, Fauxeos (faux Oreos, with sprinkles!) and the Oregon Trail Cookies
Saint Cupcake – I know what you’re thinking, Cupcakes are sooooo early aughts. I can’t argue the fact that cupcakes may have run their course as “the it dessert”. However, Saint. Cupcake has stood the test of time and keeps making cupcakes that delight even the most cynical of trend haters. Saint. Cupcake has a very special place in my heart as we celebrated with a giant tower of Saint. Cupcakes at our wedding way back in 2006. It’s an adorable spot, all dressed in spots, that brings nothing but smiles and sprinkles.
Faves: Toasted Coconut Cream Cupcake, Carrot Cake Cupcake, Chocolate with Hot Fudge Cupcake.
Spielman Bagels – They started out as a coffee roaster and slowly began baking bagels. While they do roast a mean bean, the bagels are downright delectable. When I first started visiting this father and son operation in a teeny tiny 700 sq. space on SE Division in 2011, they were roasting coffee in the doorway and cooling bagels on every square inch of counter surface. You’d literally have to step over bags of beans to reach the tiny bagel bar. You’d better have been there early because they sold out quick! If you were lucky enough to squeeze onto a stool in the back with a Seinfeld mug filled with Spielman’s homebrew, you could reach over and pop a tape of your choosing into the tape deck while the owner chatted you up, mostly about what a proud Dad he is. It doesn’t get anymore neighborhoody than that. They’ve grown up a bit, moved across the street into much larger digs, and expanded to 2 more locations in NW and NE Portland, but the bagels still rival those of NY and put everything else in town to shame.
Faves: Salt n Peppa Bagel, toasted with plain cream cheese and tomato with a large cup of house roasted coffee.
Baker & Spice – This well known bakery in the Hillsdale neighborhood of SW Portland is neighborhood staple. They’ve been serving up some of the tastiest pastries Portland has to offer for years. This is one of those places where, I imagine, everybody knows your name. Julie Richardson, the owner and brilliant mind behind one of my favorite cookbooks of all time, Vintage Cakes: Timeless Recipes for Cupcakes, Flips, Rolls, Layer, Angel, Bundt, Chiffon, and Icebox Cakes for Today’s Sweet Tooth, is always glad you came. I’ve met her a time or two at The Cakery, her cakeshop/baking supply store/cooking classroom and she is literally as sweet as pie. If you find yourself on the outskirts of the Southwest side of Portland, this is where you will feel right at home.
Faves: Vintage Cakes by Julie Richardson, Maple Twist and the Whoopie Pies.
Roman Candle – When I heard the mind behind Stumptown Coffee had gotten into the bakery game, I knew it was gonna be legendary. When I discovered that they are serving up beautiful squares of Roman style flatbread pizza served with fancy scissors to slice off bite sized bits, I fell head over heels. They pair that with an icy cold Rainier Beer and won my heart for life. The pizzas are amazing and the pastries are pretty damn great too. The best news of all? Now that PDX airport has a Stumptown Coffee just inside the security gate in the ABC concourse, you can get a Roman Candle Croissant or a savory sando to take on take along with your cup of Stumptown and enjoy at 30k feet.
Faves: Pizza Blanca with Arugula, Pizza Pomodoro, Croissants.
Blue Star Donuts – When people think of Portland, Voodoo Donuts is always top of mind. Here’s a little insider secret, no one who actually lives in Portland goes to Voodoo. That is, unless it’s 4 am, they’re drunk and get rewarded with a bucket of donuts that were about to be dumpster food. I don’t eat donuts often, but if I am going to have a donut, it’ll be at Blue Star. Made with alluring flavors, high quality ingredients, and carefully crated dough, Blue Star is doing the old fashioned thing and making donuts that just taste good. Imagine that.
Faves: Buttermilk Old Fashioned, Hard Apple Cider Fritter, Lemon Poppyseed.
Bakeshop – Kim Boyce opened this charming little bakeshop in NE Portland in late 2011. This was just before I moved away from Portland, so I didn’t get to enjoy it as much as I’d hoped before moving. But, I’ve been back a few times during visits and I’m always amazed by the organization of the space and the orchestral movements of the bakers just beyond the counter. Kim has an incredibly informative book filled with rustic pastries and pretty, soft filtered photos called Good to the Grain: Baking with Whole-Grain Flours. I highly recommend this book for any home-based baker. The last time I was in, Kim came over and introduced herself as I snapped a couple of images. She was a joy to speak with and her passion for pastry was evident. I love meeting people who love food just as much as I do.
Faves: Kouign Amann, Iced Oatmeal Cookies and the Nutella Puff (pictured).
Woodlawn Coffee and Pastry – I spent many a rainy day holed up in Woodlawn sucking down the coffee, pastries and free wifi. This is another one of those neighborhood spots that feels authentically Portland. So real in fact that once when I was typing away at my computer, I looked up to see Fred and Carrie popping in for a coffee while they were shooting an episode of Portlandia just outside. If that isn’t real deal Portland, I don’t know what is. The pastries are expertly made in the open kitchen at the back of the space which fills the cafe with that magical smell of sugar, flour and butter becoming one. The rustic pastries are wholesome and comforting, just what you want in your neighborhood. The baristas are always friendly and usually bump some good jams in the afternoons. Hang here for the afternoon and feel the Portland.
Faves: Almond Bostock, Breakfast Plate, any and all of the pies and a hand crafted Americano.
Maurice – Portland is full of those rustically clad cafes, coffeeshops and bakeries that just make sense. But, Maurice is not that. Maurice has a lighter air; a softer and more refined approach both in the cafe space and in their pastries. It’s quite refreshing among a sea of reclaimed wood and crumbly desserts. The bright white, clean lined, modern yet old-world interiors bring brightness even on the darkest of downtown Portland days. The desserts are delicate and elegantly displayed under bell jars in the well-lit pastry case. You just feel fancier stepping in here, and once your pretty little pastry arrives at your table, you feel like downright royalty. This just goes to show you that there is room for everyone in Portland and on my list of The Best Bakeries in Portland.
Faves: Black Pepper Cheesecake, Currant & Rosemary Créme Scone.
Pix Patisserie – Pix was my go-to late hour nightcap spot for years. With a French inspired menu, dim lights, decadent desserts and a glass of bubbly, it just made you feel sexy. We lived in NoPo so the N Williams Pix was our spot. That location has since closed but you can still get intimate with their menu at the red-hued, East Burnside location. It’s the best place to go after a romantic dinner when you want to keep that romance and the bubbly flowing. Share something rich and decadent with your honey and you’ll both get lucky.
Faves: Tarte au Citron, Big Cheryl’s “Gato” Cake, The Pixie, The Royale.
Lauretta Jean’s – Not to toot my own horn but I make a mean mother effin pie, y’all (see my Apple Cheddar Pie, Maple Bourbon Pecan Pie & Apple Persimmon Crumble Pie. I can say that now because I’ve made so many pies over the years and made it my goal to own that finicky dough. So, it takes something really special to grab my attention. Lauretta Jean’s is exceptional, with buttery, flakey crust baked to a that rich deep golden brown and filled with a variety of luscious fillings that put the comfort in comfort food. If you haven’t mastered pie baking yourself, this is where you need to be getting your inspiration. Don’t waste your time with anything else. Lauretta Jean’s is legit and brings it back Grandma style, in the tastiest way possible.
Faves: Tart Cherry, Peach Nectarine, Honey Hazelnut.
Little T American Baker – Little T Baker is guided by four elements: “flour, science, hands and heart” as they say. And you know what? You can taste it. Modern lines and simplicity make up the SE Division space, and I’d say the same goes for their menu. Old world techniques are used to crank out some of the best handmade breads in all of Portland. Naturally, the sandwiches are something to write home about. The pastries are pretty without being fussy and the ambiance is classy but not stuffy. A perfectly balanced spot for a casual lunch with friends.
Faves: Herb Slab Bread, Italian Salamis Sandwich, Croissants.
Seastar – If you read my post above, you know that I instantly fell for this place. It just has that old familiar vibe that reminds me so much of Portland. I cozied up in here on a drizzly cold afternoon and devoured a tasty little cookie and an extra hot Americano. By day this place serves baked goods and by night they fire up the pizza oven and transform into Handsome Pizza. While I was there, the pizza oven was just getting fired up for the evening and made for a really inviting ambiance and backdrop to my late afternoon snack. Cozy to the max.
Faves: Oatmeal Baklava Cookie. I wanted to try the toasts and come back for the pizza. Y’all will have to try it out and report back, please. 🙂
Lovejoy Bakers: While Lovejoy has all kinds of pastries and baked goods, I generally found myself coming here for lunch. My go-to location is in the Pearl District and sits right on the max line just before the Broadway Bridge near Jamison Square. It’s a nice part of town that always made me feel like I was in a bigger, more cosmopolitan city. Lovejoy is consistent and tasty any time of day and is an especially pleasant place to sit down for a long lunch with your laptop. Also, it’s one of those spots that always has Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup on the menu, which is something I crave 9 out of 12 months of the Portland year.
Faves: Grilled Cheese Sandwich and Tomato Soup, Sticky Bun, Pear Danish.
Bushel and Peck – If you know Portland, you know that back in the not too distant past, North Portland was not somewhere to be desired. It was rough. The skyline and the demographics have changed dramatically over the past 10 years. Some say for the best, and some disagree. While it’s still a highly contested debate to many, nobody can argue that the bakery Bushel and Peck is anything but good for the neighborhood. When I popped in, I had a hand formed, flakey biscuit with homemade red rooibos raspberry jam. They’ve got the biscuits dialed! The only thing that was missing was me ordering a biscuit sandwich. Next time.
Faves: Biscuits! Biscuits! All of the biscuits!
Pip’s Original Donuts – I’ll say it again, I don’t often eat donuts but when I do they are worth it. Pip’s Original popped up on NE Fremont when we were living in that neighborhood. Back then they were just slingin’ a couple of flavors of their bite sized donuts and their delicious home brewed spicy chai tea. Now they’ve got a whole mess of flavors and a line down the block. Hip, hip, hooray for Pip’s!
Faves: Just the simple cinnamon sugar donuts and a spicy chai tea.
And there you have it, my comprehensive list of the Best Bakeries in Portland as of September 2016. I’d love to hear about your trip to Portland, what you think of these pastry havens and if you have suggestions of where I should visit on my next trip to the Rose City.