They say that the dream of the 90's is alive in Portland, and nobody embodies that ephemeral dream better that Carrie Brownstein, co-star of IFC's new show Portlandia. With our fair city's rep on the line, I decided to sit down with Carrie to find out where she really hangs in PDX, the perfect gift for Lorne Michaels, and why Yelp is so cool!
Don B: Carrie! You’re the hometown hero in IFC’s new show Portlandia! How long have you lived in Portland?
Carrie B: This will be my 11th year in Portland, and I have lived in the Pacific NW my whole life, so I’m definitely a northwesterner.
DB: Which sector of Portland is the best? NW, N, NE, SE, SW? Why?
CB: I think right now it’s a tie between N and NE Portland.
DB: Why is that?
CB: I live in NE Portland, so I love my neighborhood and I like the walks I can go on there. I love the way N Portland has changed in the last couple of years. You have Mississippi Ave and Williams and there are these amazing restaurants and stores that have cropped up over there. And of course Portland, with it’s great public transportation, has sent the max line along Interstate and all of a sudden it’s like we have reached out to N Portland and it feels like a great place to be.
DB: Alright, so what are your favorite restaurants and hangouts up there in North-Northeast Portland?
CB: I love this restaurant called Tasty n’ Sons. The people that run this restaurant, Toro Bravo, which is a tapas place on Russell, opened a tapas-style breakfast place called Tasty n Sons. It’s amazing food. It’s the best way to eat breakfast, because when you go with a group of friends and… instead of getting this one heavy dish and then you look around and you regret that you ordered eggs and someone else got pancakes or French toast, you just get these amazingly delicious small plates inspired from southern-style American cooking to Moroccan flavors. And all the dishes are just thoughtful and rich, but not overbearing. There’s a line around the block every time you go there which is a little annoying but that’s the price you pay in Portland for all the great food.
Also Burnside has been recreated, and there’s a great new store called Haunt. It’s a local designer Holly Stalder. She is just an amazing designer that’s been in Portland for 15 or so years. There are also some local jewelry makers and a hat maker that reside in there as well. And there’s a store right there called Stand up Comedy that’s real great. It’s a clothing store.
I love Screen Door, which is also on Burnside, and I love ¿Por Que No?, which is on Mississippi. There’s a great food cart almost anywhere in Portland. But there is definitely a handful. There’s this great egg… breakfast sandwich food cart [The Big Egg] in North Portland as well. I could go on and on. Portland is crazy with food right now.
DB: You just rattled off at least 4 of the restaurants that are on Yelp’s Top-10 for this year, so I think you picked well. I love all of those restaurants. Okay so you have to send Lorne Michaels a thank-you gift for producing the show. You want it to be totally “Portland.” Where do you buy it? What is it?
CB: The obvious thing would be to get him some coffee, and Stumptown is obviously the preeminent brand here in Portland, but I think I would send him a basket of coffee from the various local roasters. I would include Ristretto, and I would include Coava, which I believe is on Grand in Portland. So I’d give him a whole basket so he could decide for himself. But also just to show off the fact that Portland boasts not one but a handful of great coffee roasters and they all have a unique philosophy and flavor and variety. There’s also Courier coffee too. I would just overwhelm him with coffee, I think.
DB: Good call. I’m drinking a cup of Courier coffee right now and it’s delicious.
CB: Yeah that place is SO good.
DB: You’re in a new band – Wild Flag. What’s your favorite venue to play music in Portland, and why?
CB: Doug Fir is my favorite venue. Sadly Portland is losing a couple of historic venues like Berbati’s Pan is closing and Satyricon is closed [ed. – Both are now closed], but in terms of a great space that has good sound which, ultimately, that’s not just important to the band, but that’s important to the audience too - to be able to go to a venue that actually knows how to design the space for music. And I think Doug Fir on Burnside is the right size. It’s always nice to see a band in a fairly intimate sized venue that’s not too cramped and not too big it’s just a nice room and it has the restaurant upstairs and a good bar. It might be my favorite place.
DB: And it’s my favorite place to see a show too! Ok. Can you name any real-life influences for your skits in Portlandia? Are there any specific businesses that are so off the charts that they just had to be parodied?
CB: What’s interesting is that I think it’s hard to go anywhere in Portland without… I think all of us that live there, we share a sense of how precious and special that this place is, but that we all know that there’s something a little bit silly about it. I was in Courier Coffee the other day and they know that it’s amazing that they deliver their coffee beans by bike, but they’re also aware that it might seem silly to other people. So I can’t say that there’s a singular person or business.
I think it’s just from growing up in the north west and there’s that same kind of… I mean, it’s just a self awareness we all have and we’re all grateful for the good fortune of living in a place like Portland but we’re all trying to do a good job and do well, but we all get really hung up on how to do well, and sometimes it’s stifling. So we’re skewering, or exploring, that kind of internal conflict between wanting to do good but not knowing how to do good all the time.
There’s no one that’s a target in Portland because we’re all those people. Even like a fixed-gear bike guy that Fred plays. When I ride my bike or when anyone rides their bike, there’s part of you that wants to be noticed for doing something awesome, so all of us have this fixie-bike-guy in the middle of our heads. Ha! So there’s no-one in particular I think it’s many of us, and more just dealing with underlying traits that exist in these sort of progressive, idealistic communities.
DB: I totally get it. Ok, when you have friends visit from out of town, where do you take them to truly experience the essence of Portland? So they just really “get it’?
CB: The first thing you do is take them to get coffee (as we discussed above). Then you take them to Powell’s. You take them to Jackpot Records and then you go to a food cart and get a great meal. Or sometimes you go out Sandy and get some great Vietnamese food.
There’s this great store downtown called Tender Loving Empire. You go to one of those stores that are kind of an amalgamation of Portland crafts. Tender Loving Empire does this great job of curating a lot of goods by local artisans. I think when you go to a place like that it shows off all of the ways that Portland celebrates itself and… it also doubles as a music label and a record store. I like these hybrid things like these new record store/bars that are opening up. I think there’s one on Killingsworth [Record Room] and there’s one on Belmont [Hall of Records]. You try to go to a place like that or maybe catch a movie at a brewpub like the Laurelhurst Theater.
You know people are always amazed at the cheap fun you can have in Portland, and that you can fill your day all over the city. That every neighborhood somehow feels special, and everyone’s really friendly. Sometimes I think you just take someone to a grocery store like New Seasons and that freaks them out and they get really excited and jealous. It’s so easy to impress people with Portland it’s almost embarrassing. Just a couple of hours in Portland and people start looking at cost of living and trying to figure out if they could relocate their whole life and move here.
DB: I’ve experienced that numerous times. It’s awesome. It makes you feel good to live in Portland. Ok, so this one’s going to go back... The ThunderAnt Katchenza piece - since I work for Yelp this piece kind of hit home a bit. What was your inspiration?
CB: First of all, we wanted to do something where we were in a kitchen, at a restaurant. And there’s that kind of self-righteousness or defiance that a lot of local businesses or restaurants have, where you’re trying to be so specific or so original that it can almost be alienating. People stop understanding what the food is about. Luckily for Portland it means that there’s also a lot of good restaurants and good food.
What I love about websites that rely on user commentary and user ratings is the sense of self-importance that a reviewer gets, and how there’s this little burst of instant fame you get... But at the same time I love reading [the reviews]. I have Yelp on my iPhone as an app. That kind of feedback is what lives on. A restaurant review comes out in a traditional paper or maybe on a blog, but it’s the restaurant reviews [on Yelp] that maintain the fluidity and that’s what you check back to see.
It’s so funny how it’s not just about the food. People really respond to how they’re treated by the wait staff, or how long it took to find parking, or what the person next to them smelled like (‘oh they were wearing too much perfume’). There are all these really elaborate things that affect these dining experiences, and that’s what’s cool about Yelp or Chowhound or the other blogs that tell you about a place… because that’s how people experience the restaurant. It’s not just what you ate. It’s what happens from the moment you walked in until you left.
DB: And finally, Portlandia is only 6-episodes long. What’s are you going to do next that shows off our fair city?
CB: Hopefully it will be another season of Portlandia. We have to wait a couple of weeks before IFC decides to green light another season or not, but we’re hoping it happens. And we’re really looking forward to working with the people of Portland again. It was nearly 100% local crew, we shot in about 68 different locations all in Portland, and a lot of the actors (except for the big guest stars) were all Portland cast & crew. There’s plenty more to explore in Portland via the odd and weird world of Portlandia.
DB: Awesome! I hope it happens too! Thanks for taking the time to talk with us Carrie!
CB: No problem, thank you!
--Don Bourasssa - Portland Community Manager - Yelp.com