Portland, Ore., may be known as the City of Roses, but it was savory salt, not fragrant flowers, that attracted me to one of the Pacific Northwest's most delightful destinations. Although the bordellos, gaming halls and opium dens that catered to lumberjacks are long gone, it is still possible to indulge in the city's salty side — with savory seasonings and a soaking pool. The tab for two excluding airfare and car rental: $215 for a king room with private bath at the endearingly funky Crystal Hotel and $130 for a hearty dinner of shared plates at Ava Gene's.
The Crystal Hotel, built in 1911 to lodge lumbermen, blends period charm — most guests still share bathrooms — with themed rooms named for entertainers who have performed at the nearby Crystal Ballroom. The hotel's best feature was its most unusual: a saltwater soaking pool in which guests can unwind. In case you forgot to pack one, swimsuits are sold in the lobby.
The plates of homemade pasta at Ava Gene's are sized for sharing. I found that to be the best way to savor the variety of locally sourced food. An "aggressively seasonal" menu in the fall incorporated artichokes, lamb sausage, nectarines, sheep cheese, squid and zucchini, many seasoned with Jacobsen salt. Plates cost $11-$36 each. Or consider a family-style meal for the entire table at $78 per person.
You don't need to drive 80 miles to the coast for a taste of the finest sea salt. Jacobsen Salt Co. hand harvests salt in Netarts Bay and sells its full line of products at its Portland store/warehouse. Knowledgeable employees foster a "try-before-you-buy" attitude, offering samples of items such as pure sea salt and crystals infused with black garlic, habanero pepper or Pinot Noir. I quickly got hooked on the salty caramels.
THE LESSON LEARNED
Although the A and B streetcar lines link downtown with Jacobsen Salt, you'll want a Lyft, Uber or taxi ride to get to southeast Portland's Division Street, where an eclectic mix of bars, restaurants and boutiques await.
Crystal Hotel, 303 S.W. 12th Ave., Portland, Ore.; (503) 972-2670. Wheelchair accessible.
Ava Gene's, 3377 S.E. Division St., Portland, Ore.; (971) 229-0571. Wheelchair accessible.