Portland: Seastar Bakery

I found Seastar Bakery by accident, ambling back to our car after a Thai fried chicken brunch one lazy Saturday.  Like any good home baker, I cannot resist walking into a bakery I don’t yet know.  I’m always up for visiting the newest, buzziest, fanciest, or most humble or under the radar bakery.  If you bake it, I will come.

It was about 2:30 p.m., that Twilight Zone time between when Seastar Bakery cleans up and goes to sleep as a breakfast and brunch café offering toast, muffins, pastries and cookies, and turns into a pizza making pumpkin, Handsome Pizza.  A successful food-business model I’ve seen lately with increasing frequency (think, The Mill in San Francisco, Lodge Bread in Los Angeles, even Ken’s Artisan Bakery in its nascent days), this bakery becomes a pizza parlor when the sun goes down, although technically in this case we are really talking about two separate businesses.  For this write up I will focus on the bakery.

No one was there when we walked in on that day, so we took our time asking questions and sniffing around.  When I caught a glimpse of the giant brick wood-burning oven, the stacks of wood on the floor, and the giant wooden grain mill in the back of the bakery, I was instantly smitten.

I was also intrigued with the menu’s elaborate “Advanced Toasts,” the bakery case’s unusual offerings such as, “dive” (chewy granola) bars, wholegrain biscuits, mini sweet rosemary cornbreads, cocoa muffins, Lebanese zena cakes, babka muffins, Emmer coffee cakes, and diminutive savory baked dumplings.  Seastar was one of the lone non-Asian restaurants to offer a dumpling during this year’s Portland Dumpling Week, and turned out hundreds of mini leek potato knishes to dumplingheads like me.

I highly recommend the “Aunt Cookie,” which is a chocolate chip cookie,  but instead of having chips, what you really have is disks of chocolate, almost a mantle of chocolate throughout the center layer of the cookie.  When it cools it’s like biting into a chocolate bar inside your cookie.  Yes.

Seastar is in tune with the Portland ethos of working closely with local farmers, not only to procure vegetables and fruits, but also the grain that they MILL THEMSELVES into flour for their 100% naturally leavened (no commercial yeast) sourdough bread.  And by sourdough I do not mean the type of sourish “San Francisco” white crusty loaf you may be thinking of, but a loaf of bread that is made with a sourdough starter, and given a longer proof/ferment time than the standard hour or two.

You can enjoy their bread two ways, as a toast and/or buy joining their Bread CSA where you pick up a loaf a week.  Different week, different loaf.  Always a surprise, always outrageously flavorful.  In our home, in fact, more evenings than not our dinner is based on a slice of Seastar’s toasted bread. So far we’ve enjoyed such unusual combinations as Oat Porridge, Green Olive & Seaweed, Walnut Butternut; Seedy & Nutty Rye, Durum Corn, Kamut Sesame, and 100% Spelt.

The loaf that seduced us most and disappeared quickest was the Corn Durum, made of semolina flour.  It almost tasted like griddled polenta.  Hedgehog approved, too.

Probably my next favored loaf is that ever-elusive (to me, the home bread baker) porridge loaf.  Our inaugural CSA loaf from Seastar Bakery was a stone ground oat flour porridge loaf and it did NOT disappoint.

The real drama is with the Advanced Toasts, though.  These toasts are my secret to brunching well in Portland, without the wait and without the hefty price tag.

We’ve had everything from dilled beets to nut butter and dukkah, to Indian spiced butternut squash, to egg, bacon, kale, anchovy and parmesan on whole graint toast.

You can also make your own toast with options including coconut honey butter, raw honey, nut butter, seasonal fruit preserves, goat cheese, ricotta, cinnamon sugar or fried egg.  And all toasts are made in the wood burning pizza oven.  Order at the register, be seated, and your little masterpiece will be delivered to your table.  One thing I’ve never had before, but dreamed up on a make-your-own toast experiment, is a fried egg on toast with salt, peppre, butter and honey.  It was simple and satisfying.  Might even add it to the home repertoire.

My favorites so far have been the opulent sauteed apple with hazlenuts atop goat cheese sweetened and thinned out with honey; and the dilled beets with fresh dill, fried egg, and goat cheese.

Another wonderful thing about Seastar Bakery is you can get a nice hot drink of plain steamed milk with honey.  So comforting! It’s wonderful to have a bakery in town that not only makes delicious food, but is also using ancient and whole grains in their bread and baked goods, and committed to sustainability and supporting the local farmer.  Finally, anyone who mills their own flour gets big love from me.  I have a KitchenAid attachment mill, and that’s no quick easy work.

Seastar is located in Northeast Portland, on a block of Killingworth Street that happens to also be home to some other ridiculously good food.  It is far enough away from downtown Portland, and its surrounding more restaurant-heavy neighborhoods, that parking isn’t too stressful, and you can take a walk around the blocks and feel like you’re out in the sticks a little bit.  Whether you live in Portland or are just touristing, Seastar should go to the top of your must-visit list.

Seastar Bakery (1603 NE Killingsworth Street // 503.247.7499)

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