We arrived at the mouth of SE Portland to find an interesting gastro-community. Noble Rot is a lauded wine bar, and just down 28th Avenue, we spotted Ken’s Artisan Pizza, but the reason for our visit was Crema, a towering two-story grey edifice with decorative roll-up garage doors and patio seating that earned a reputation for serving some of the city’s best pastries and espresso drinks since 2004.
Owner Brent Fortune was a sensory judge at the World Barista Championship, so he was out of town in Copenhagen. Thankfully, Brent’s friendly front-of-the-house disciple, who used to make pastries and now works as a barista, provided plenty of useful info.
The four of us each ordered two pastries. That created a cluttered but delicious table. I was especially impressed with the Cinnamon Streusel Sour Cream Coffeecake ($3) with Marionberry, a slab cut from a ring, with a caramelized cinnamon streusel crust, and cake kept moist from the sour cream. Crema rotates different Savory Galettes ($3.50) onto their counter, and today’s version was stellar, featuring caramelized onions, Chevre and pine nuts. The Mushroom and Manchego Biscuit ($3) was far from fluffy, but had a nice crumbly texture. The Orange Ginger Scone ($2) was pretty good, flecked with orange peel, ginger and oversized sugar granules. I’d heard rumors that the Morning Bun ($2.75) is a Tartine Bakery knock-off, and it tasted that way. Granted, the pastry was still good, with a light cinnamon and orange glaze, but it wasn’t nearly as ethereal as the San Francisco original. The Raspberry Crème Danish ($3) featured big dollops of raspberry jelly and sweet crema.
Less than three hours after we left, I accidentally erased all the photos on my camera’s data card, meaning I lost the morning’s food and drink photos. I’ll mark it down to sleep deprivation. Whatever the reason, I still had a day to make amends. Also, a return trip to Crema was a pretty damn good idea.
The barista revealed that Fortune inherited a lot of the pastry recipes when he purchased the space that became Crema. He also has no head baker. Different people specialize in different baked goods. The kitchen may be fractured, but Fortune’s crew clearly takes their roles seriously. Crema is one of the better bakeries I’ve been to on the West Coast, and a place I’d frequent if it was in Los Angeles.