Megan Vargas' Guide to Portland Sweets
Megan Vargas is a great source to tap for some of Portland's best sweets. The nominee for Food & Wine's The People's Best New Pastry Chef award has been leading the pastry program at Andina since 2010, and was born and raised in Stumptown.
At Andina, Megan's Peruvian-meets-Pacific North West desserts blend familiar elements with surprising tweaks, like fried lúcuma (a tropical fruit native to Peru) ice cream crusted with quinoa and peanuts, alfajores (the quintessential Peruvian cookie), and cheese platters with cancha (corn nuts).
So, where does Megan go when a swiped spoonful of her house-made mango-lemongrass sorbet won't quell her sugar cravings? Find out below.
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Chocolate Raspberry Fool at Rimsky-Korsakoffee House: My quintessential Portland parents frequently brought us to Rimsky's as children and today, it holds the same charm. It is difficult for anything to stand out among the dangling feet in the bathroom, turning tables, the eerie dummy staring at you in the corner, and of course the live piano. However, the chocolate raspberry fool holds a life of its own and is the reason to come back. I honestly don't think I have had any other dessert there because the fool is just so satisfying. It is mystifying how it can be so light and creamy yet so thick and full of flavor. Just the right bit of sweetness, it is the perfect accompaniment to a cool evening of coffee and company.
Kouign Amann at St. Honoré (NW Thurman location): I'm not going to lie: I don't know how to pronounce the name of this pastry. I actually just point to it and tell the barista "I want that." It's okay. I will embarrass myself a thousand times over for this sweet and salty goodness. It has the richness of a block of butter but balanced with the airiness of your favorite croissant. The honey-like caramel coating over the top combined with the perfect layer of chunky sea salt tempers every craving you may desire. I like to give myself an hour to savor it at an outdoor bistro table, drinking an 8 oz cappuccino and reading my new (yet used) book from Powell's.
Gluten-Free and Vegan Chocolate Cupcake at Bliss Bake Shop: I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work here a few years back. The owners, Jen and Sarah, were on top of their game when it came to sharing cupcake goodness with the growing gluten-free and vegan crowd. The great thing about this cupcake is that there is no butter or flour to take over—chocolate truly is the star. Since no gluten is involved, the cake has a great crumbly texture and is super moist. The best part? You will have no idea that typically prominent ingredients are missing. Look past the "dietary" label and give it a go!
7th Heaven Torte at JaCiva's: I do not recall a single birthday that has gone by where I haven't had this cake. The smell alone when walking in is enough to make you weak in the knees. The 7th Heaven Torte lives up to its name. I cannot pinpoint my favorite part: is it the chocolate cake, the thick white chocolate mousse studded with chocolate chips, the gooey white chocolate frosting, or the chocolate sprinkles?! This is the one recipe I never want to learn how to make; I would hate to lose the deep mystery surrounding it. Unless you are feeding the masses, the six inch cake is the perfect size to share among family and friends. It should also leave enough left over to have a small slice today and tomorrow...possibly the day after tomorrow...
Conchas at Panaderia 5 de Mayo (SE McLoughlin): My husband introduced me to pan dulce about 5 years ago. At first I thought he was nuts...there's hardly any sugar and he eats it with an instant coffee. However over time, I cannot see a chilly morning without one. There is somewhat of an underground knowledge that 5 de Mayo has the best. The concha ('shell' in English) is made exactly as it should be. A light and fluffy bread with the right touch of the crunchy cocoa topping. The store opens very early (6 a.m.), and it is usually best to be there at that time since they run out quickly.
Mexican Candy at Su Casa Imports: Mexican candy is awesome because it is so different from what we consume here in the U.S.A. It is usually more tart and/or salty. I love Su Casa Imports since they have such a wide variety. You can also get candy in large bags, which is quite handy when you need 50 lbs to fill a massive piñata. Try the Vero Mango (mango lollipop with a chile coating) or Pulparindo (sweet and sour tamarind paste). One which holds a special significance for me is the Paleta Payaso. It's the first candy my husband introduced to me: a chocolate covered marshmallow with red gumdrop eyes and a blue gumdrop mouth.
Rose Garden Bubble Tea at The TeaZone: Sometimes when I just need a few moments away from the heat and chaos of the kitchen, I meander a few blocks down to The TeaZone. They have the best bubble teas I have ever had. The difference from everywhere else? They use actual tea in their product not powders or weird additives. My favorite is the Rose Garden: a cool green tea with the essence of rose. If I close my eyes for just a moment, I can envision myself in Portland's famous garden. A much needed meditation to bring me back down to earth.
Lemon poppyseed scone at Nuvrei: We live in a world of bad scones and it is difficult to find a good one. I love them almost biscuit like, really fluffy and buttery. Nuvrei's lemon poppyseed scone is great because the flavor really stands out and meets all my requirements. The best part are the corners of the scone where the texture becomes crispy and covered in icing. You can find them at their shop or do as I do, get them at Barista in the Pearl and pair it with one of their fantastic iced coffees.
Chocolate Chip Cookie at Ned Ludd: This is not a good chocolate chip cookie. It is the best chocolate chip cookie. It is baked and served in a cast iron skillet so it covers the definition of a warm and gooey. Served with cold cream, I like to completely drench it for the ultimate incarnation of milk and cookies. My husband and I cannot leave without ending the meal on this high and completely satisfying note, despite the ensuing food coma.
Buttermilk Doughnut at Tonnali's Donuts & Cream: One of the servers at Andina likes to bring Tonnali's in. I always eyeball the buttermilk doughnut and tell myself "just a slice Megan, just a slice". Funny how that slice always turns into the entire bar and I am fine with that! Nothing is better than that enlightening moment when you bite through the the crisp icing exterior and slowly make your way into the soft cake. Caution: upon consumption of this doughnut, you will never be satisfied by any other doughnut ever again. Eat wisely.