When I am back in Portland I have a main partner-in-crime when it comes to a lot of my eating out and especially when it comes to gluten-free eating. A lot of the Portland posts from this summer were with her. This partner-in-crime was telling me for a while about a place called Petunia’s downtown. She said it had some of the best gluten-free baked goods in Portland. The thing that really sold me was her description of a cookie sandwich with something like peanut butter ganache inside. It sounded pretty good and since she’s a recent gluten-free (thus very familiar with regular gluten-y food and what I assume to be a higher standard of “good” gluten-free food), I took her recommendation seriously.
We hang out often enough that we don’t usually plan eating adventures days out in advance, but instead are like “we should check this out” and end up doing it pretty quickly. Petunia’s was similar. We decided either the day before or maybe even that morning to check it out one afternoon. The holidays (with the time change thrown in) have made all the days blend together, but I am pretty sure it was Monday that we went. Instagram confirms that the main pic below was posted 2 days ago. And I am pretty sure it’s Wednesday Christmas Eve today (when I started writing this)…
Anyways we went some afternoon in the not so distant past. Petunia’s physical space is for lack of a better word very “cute.” It’s very bright and everything is presented really well (especially the baked goods). One of the best things about Petunia’s is how incredible everything looks. Getting things right with gluten-free baking (much less vegan baking on top of that) is hard on many fronts- taste, texture, appearance, etc. You wouldn’t guess any of this stuff is gluten-free/vegan from the looks of it.
A lot of things caught my attention, especially the cakes that were on display right in front of you as you walk in. There was a big chocolate cake that caught most of my attention first and then a turtle cheesecake. There was a menu hanging above with information about vegan ice cream (made out of coconut milk) and ice cream sandwiches. I knew that was a must. I tore my attention away from the cakes to look farther down the display case and weigh all my options. There were a number of cupcakes, cookies, and other baked goods. I also saw the cookie sandwiches (with fillings instead of ice cream) that my friend had been talking about.
“Luckily” there were a number of fruity/nutty/spice flavors (like pumpkin, apple, coconut, ginger) that are less my style, so I was able to focus on the chocolate, vanilla, peanut butter, caramel kind of items. This was probably more of a mental/reassuring thing, because there was still tons of things to order. But in my mind it was win to be able to eliminate some things (and not be tempted to just get one of everything). I placed my order and I am not sure whether to be half proud or half ashamed. Half proud that I limited myself (I didn’t get absolutely everything that caught my interest). Half ashamed that I still got a lot (as the picture below shows).
I went for an ice cream sandwich, which you order with your choice of cookies and ice cream. I went with the salted chocolate chip cookies and vanilla ice cream in the middle. The cookies were almost perfect I would say. I would not guess they were gluten-free or vegan. Gluten-free products are getting to where they are almost exactly like regular gluten items. On taste and appearance that’s certainly the case with this ice cream sandwich and I would say on texture it was pretty darn close too. I have had the coconut milk ice cream before (since everything is also vegan), so it wasn’t a surprise. You can definitely tell it’s not dairy ice cream. However, I felt the flavor added a nice touch to the cookie. I think they complimented each other well and my friend agreed. The cookies in general are a good size (and thus the ice cream cookie sandwiches are as well). I ate mine with a spoon, which worked pretty well. Towards the end the melty ice cream made the last bites a little messy, but kind of extra delicious.
The other item I got and that I ate in the store was the turtle cheesecake. This caught my attention from early on. I love cheesecake and I also really like the turtle flavor. This though was where I was a little disappointed. The texture and appearance were spot on. However the taste was off. Off in that it didn’t taste like normal cheesecake. It had a distinct and different flavor. I think this makes perfect sense though. When you’re doing vegan, it’s really hard to duplicate a dessert that is so dairy heavy. With something like a cookie you can mix ingredients and flavors to where whatever you use as butter/egg replacements isn’t as noticeable. That’s really hard to do when it’s just pure dairy (the cream cheese) that’s the main focus and flavor of a dessert. I sometimes scrap the cream cheese part off cheesecakes, so I am very much used to and was expecting that cheesecake flavor. If you’re vegan I think this could be a great option. I was glad I at least gave it a try.
After those two very large and sugary desserts, my mouth had that sort of dry cotton feel after you’ve had a lot of sugar. I was also pretty full, so I got the rest to go. What was left was a Cookie Monster Babycakes (cupcake), a chocolate chip sandwich cookie with vanilla and ganache filling, and a Whoa-reo sandwich cookie with salted peanut butter filling.
The Cookie Monster Babycakes was a chocolate cupcake with I’m guessing cookie dough flavored frosting and some cookie dough on top. The cupcake was moist not too crumbly. I think it did really well on texture and appearance. It wasn’t super sweet. More of a dark chocolate, kind of subtle, flavor. The frosting however was very sugary. What I have found with vegan cupcakes is that the frosting does tend to be very sugary (to compensate for the lack of dairy). The sweetness hit me kind of hard. I think if you have this, definitely try and get a good ratio of frosting to cupcakes. It’s worth the risk of getting frosting on your nose to bite vertically vs. attacking it from an easier angle and getting a bite of mostly frosting or a bite of mostly cupcake. I would put this more in the middle of the spectrum between tasting like a normal cupcake and noticeably tasting like a gluten-free/vegan cupcake. The level of sweetness made it mixed for me, but I do think both vegans and non-vegans could enjoy this (more so than the cheesecake).
I tried both cookie sandwiches and I think my favorite was the chocolate chip cookie with vanilla and ganache filling. The cookie part was delicious and from a bite of mostly cookie, I think it tastes pretty similar to regular gluten cookies. It also has a nice balance and taste when combined with the vanilla and ganache filling. The Whoa-reo cookie is similar in taste to the chocolate of an Oreo cookie, but is more soft and chewy (vs. hard and crunchy like an actual Oreo). My first bite was mostly cookie and I wasn’t sure about my first impression. However as I finished it and especially as I got more cookie and the salted peanut filling together, I became much more of a fan. I think the Whoa-reo cookie is an example of the great skill and combination of flavors that Petunia’s employs to make gluten-free/vegan taste more normal and delicious. When it’s all together you realize it’s kind of quite a masterpiece!
I was glad to have visited Petunia’s and tried several things that got big thumbs up! I also like that it’s downtown. Surprisingly I find that a lot of gluten-free places are not in downtown or the Pearl (perhaps because of rent). It’s a nice gluten-free option if you’re in the area and I really liked the physical cafe and the vibe. Plus their presentation is really on point (as you can hopefully see in the photo below). For vegans, it’s definitely worth a stop! The pics I think are really awesome (more to Petunia’s credit than anything about my photography skills!).
Petunia’s Pies and Pastries- 610 SW 12th Ave Portland, OR