Kosher Quest in the Beaver State

Oregon has cultivated a national reputation for culinary excellence. Portland in particular has become the darling of the foodies. As Eric Asimov wrote in The New York Times, “Portland has emerged from its chrysalis as a full-fledged dining destination.” With the advent of the city’s burgeoning foodcart culture, Portland has taken its love affair with food to the next level. U.S. News and World Report recently ranked Portland as the number one city in the world for street food.

And Oregon’s devotion to all things local, sustainable, organic and cruelty-free has been repeatedly but affectionately lampooned on TV’s Portlandia. With a relatively modest Jewish population, how do kosher-keeping Oregonians fare in this dynamic and rapidly evolving food scene? In Oregon epicurean opportunities abound for the kosher locavore. From the orchards of the Columbia River Gorge, to the award-winning vineyards of the Willamette Valley and the wild rivers teeming with salmon, Oregon offers an abundance of food choices that fall within halachic guidelines. 

Oregon’s numerous farmers markets offer a dizzying array of fresh produce. Oregon Kosher, a local nonprofit dedicated to the promotion of kashrut, has certified dozens of local products kosher. As Oregon Kosher’s Executive Director Tuvia Berzow explains, “At the end of the day, it’s a community service we feel blessed to provide.”

Portland, with the highest concentration of Jews in Oregon, naturally has the greatest access to kosher food, and that population is growing. In April The Jewish Daily Forward reported, “Young Jews are flocking to Portland, lured by a hip lifestyle and laid-back culture.” With nearly 50,000 Jews living in a city of more than half a million, kosher and kosher-style food is a small but vibrant part of the overall food culture. Portland is home to several excellent Jewish-style delis such as Kornblatt’s Delicatessen and Kenny and Zuke’s that serve traditional Ashkenazi fare, while employing a devotion to quality and locally sourced ingredients that reflects the region’s culinary mindset. Forward article on the revival of Jewish deli observes that “…in smaller cities like Portland, Kenny and Zuke’s doubles as a communal Jewish space and a popular restaurant…” Just in time for Mother’s Day, The Forward even crowned Mother’s Bistro owner/chef Lisa Schroeder “Portland’s Unofficial Jewish Mother in Chief.”

Bagels also generate an inordinate amount of attention from the press in Portland. The sale of Portland’s beloved Kettleman bagels to Colorado-based Einstein Bros. Bagels was dubbed BagelGate by Willamette Week. The silver lining was that it sparked an artisan bagel renaissance in Portland. Located in Portland’s Old Town, Bowery Bagels makes hand-rolled, New York-style bagels using locally sourced ingredients; they are boiled then baked and are certified by Oregon Kosher.

The Bridgetown Bagel Company, a food cart on Sandy Boulevard, makes boiled bagels that are so delicious, my son Leo exclaimed, “Wow, that’s better than ice cream!” Jonathan Park, who used to bake the challah at Kettleman Bagels, is now baking his own bagels right in his tiny food cart. As Jon explains, “We designed the cart with kosher in mind, with the baking and retail separate.” When sold unsliced, the bagels are parve and pas Yisroel. All containers, bags and utensils are not only compostable, they are made here in Oregon!

Portland Rabbi Shlomo Davis certifies Bridgetown Bagels, which will soon add rugelach, hamantaschen and fresh-baked challah. If you need something local to spread on your bagel, Eugene’s Springfield Creamery makes Nancy’s organic kosher cream cheese using milk from the Kesey family farm. The creamery also makes Nancy’s unbeatable kosher yogurt and sour cream. Why not complete the bagel hat trick with some lox from the Smokery? Proprietors Michael and Rhona Jacobs not only make the best kosher smoked salmon and sable in Portland, all of their fish is caught using sustainable hook and line methods. Their Oregon Kosher-certified fish is available at the Hillsdale and Portland farmers markets, Food Front and Whole Foods. Their Maplewine hot-smoked wild salmon, brined in maple syrup and Blackberry Manischewitz, will have you shouting l’chaim!

The only fully kosher restaurant in Portland, Café at the J is located in the Mittleman Jewish Community Center. The warm, friendly service and delicious food will keep you coming back. This dairy café boasts a diverse menu. Breakfast offerings include Bowery bagels with a schmear, eggs, granola, yogurt and fruit smoothies. Lunch includes soups, salads, sandwiches, pizza, quesadillas and daily specials. Stop by on weekdays between 2:30 and 3:30 pm for coffee happy hour for half-price coffee drinks. Don’t forget to check out their delectable meat dinners on Tuesdays!

If you’re looking to tame your sweet tooth, why not head out Beaverton way and drop by Krispy Kreme’s only area location certified by Oregon Kosher? Be sure to bring the kids to watch the donuts being made! A profusion of shopping opportunities beckons the savvy kosher consumer. Many area grocery stores have made a substantial effort to expand their kosher offerings in recent years. As Sue Fishkoff notes in her excellent book Kosher Nation, “Today one-third to one-half of the food for sale in the typical American supermarket is kosher.”

Everything Jewish on Southwest Capitol Highway offers Portlanders the city’s largest variety of kosher meats, including Wise Organic Chicken. Humanely raised, certified kosher and hormone-, antibiotic- and pesticide-free, this chicken will brighten any Shabbat table. Most of the beef is also free of antibiotics and hormones. You will also find a wide selection of fish, snacks, candy and other grocery items. Store director Rabbi Chayim Mishulovin explains, Everything Jewish is more than just a Judaica and kosher store, it is a resource for anyone who wants to learn more about Judaism and kashrut. We try to keep our meat prices the lowest in town. Our goal with the food is to make it more accessible for Jewish people to try out kosher.”

Albertsons on Southwest Beaverton Hillsdale Highway has the only fully kosher deli and bakery in Portland. With a wide selection of kosher meat, frozen foods and an entire aisle dedicated to kosher food, if you can’t find it here chances are you can’t find it in Portland. East Coast faves like frozen Carvel ice cream cakes, rainbow cookies, Fox’s U-bet and Bosco chocolate syrups are all here. The deli stocks an array of fresh salads, sandwiches and meats. Kosher rotisserie chickens are available on Friday mornings as is fresh-baked challah from the bakery.

Andrew Hostettler, who works in the deli, knows firsthand the important role that Albertsons plays in the Jewish community. “Years ago, I lived in an area with very few kosher options. I once stopped by the Albertsons Kosher Deli when I was passing through town. I was very excited to have access to kosher food. Now that I work at the deli, I see people who come to town and are also very happy to see what we have. … It makes me feel good to help Jews keep the mitzvah of eating kosher.”

A number of other groceries are also great sources for kosher food. Fred Meyer has done an outstanding job updating its kosher sections to include a more varied selection along with an expanded Passover display. Not only does Trader Joe’s carry Empire kosher chicken and turkey, and Teva’s kosher ground beef and steaks, dozens of the store’s grocery items including cereals, candy, cookies, beverages, snack foods, condiments and breads are certified kosher. Zupan’s has a nice array of kosher cheeses as does Elephant’s Deli, which carries kosher Point Reyes Original blue cheese and Redwood Hill raw milk feta.

Food Front in Hillsdale and on Northwest Thurman has a kosher bulk foods section, many kosher dairy items and an extensive selection of kosher fish such as Blue Hill Bay pickled herring. New Seasons is a great source for kosher turkeys, smoked fish and kosher baked goods from the Schwartz Brothers Bakery located just across the Columbia River in Vancouver, WA. In the dairy aisle you’ll find Organic Valley Milk that comes from Oregon and Washington cows and is certified by the Orthodox Union.

For Shabbat Portland’s Challahman bakes fresh challah each week in limited batches. They are available at Lamb’s Thriftway and Food Front. When in Eugene be sure to stop by Alexander’s Falafel cart at the University of Oregon for a kosher treat. Oregonians searching for locally produced kosher wine have two superb options. AlexEli Pinot Noir Kosher, Oregon’s first kosher Pinot Noir, is produced in the heart of the Willamette Valley. Washington’s Pacifica Wines makes a kosher for Passover Bordeaux called Meritage, which is available at Albertsons. Also for Pesach, Portland’s

Clear Creek Distillery has two kosher for Passover offerings, Kirschwasser, a clear cherry brandy, and Slivovitz, or blue plum brandy. Both are a perfect complement to your seder.Oregon’s penchant for progressive values is reflected in the rising demand for humane and sustainable practices in the production of our food. Elizabeth Schwartz, a founding member of Portland Tuv Ha’aretz (“good for the Earth”) explains that the organization “connects Jewish teachings and traditions with sustainable food and agriculture.”

Influenced by the Eco-Kashrut movement of the 1970s, the group has partnered with Sauvie Island Organics Community Supported Agriculture and has sponsored educational programs that promote issues of fair trade and social justice. Schwartz also teaches the Melton spotlight course “Kashrut and Beyond: Jews and the Ethics of Food,” which explores concepts of ethics and food through the lens of the Torah, Talmud and other Jewish writings. 

While Oregon may not be the first place that springs to mind when one thinks of kosher food, clearly there is a wealth of choices for those who seek it out. More local products than ever “answer to a higher authority,” to quote the old Hebrew National ad, and that number is growing all the time. The rising Jewish population, combined with our state’s thriving food culture, bodes well for the future of kosher food in the Beaver state.

Rich Geller is a Portland freelance writer.


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Rich Geller works at the Beaverton Trader Joe's and is a freelance writer living in Portland, OR. He has written for The Bloomfield Journal, The Hometown Crier, The Hood River News, The Rosette Gazette, The Jewish Review, Art and Artifact, Oregon Jewish Life, Arizona Jewish Life, and Metro Parent. As a student at Portland State University, Rich worked at both Ooligan and Collectors Press while pursuing a Masters in Writing with a concentration in Publishing. In the Spring of 2011, Rich's first book, WonderDads Portland - The Best Dad/Child Activities in Portland was published. Rich is married to Leslie Geller, and has three children, Leo, Ethan, and Sela.