Given its location on SE 13th Street across from the Sellwood Library, it's tempting to imagine the Savory Spice Shop as an annex to the public library: a walk-in, fully fragrant reference room of spices, a place where learning delights the mind and the senses. And though the Spice Shop doesn't lend out its offerings, they do let you taste samples to your heart's delight (or 'til your tongue is exhausted).
Anne and Jim Brown are the owner-operators of the shop, which opened in September 2012 but feels like it's always been there, in the best possible way. They cultivate a small town general store atmosphere, and share a pharmacist's careful knowledge of the nuanced uses of their wares. While spices aren't exactly over the counter drugs (and nothing in the shop is illegal), but they are an exotic world about which most of us know very little.
The Savory Spice Shop is a perfect place to go learn about life beyond salt, pepper, or "Italian" seasonings. Even BBQ rubs have their own section in the store. Walk in and you'll get a quick introduction from Anne, Jim or any staff on hand, asking if you've been there before and orienting you if you haven't. The shelves and displays are organized by region and type of cooking: the aforementioned BBQ is joined by sections on curries, herbs, chilis, baking spices, and more.
Hard to find and little known spices are in the "exotic" section – including Asafetida, a garlic substitute often called for in Ayurvedic cooking and that I'd been searching for in vain at Portland groceries and co-ops for ages. Most of what is in the store is also available online.
Specialty gift boxes span many genres – kits for better baking, curry lovers, and even Bloody Mary connoisseurs. You can also make your own gift kit of whatever pleases your palette.
The best thing is being able to taste each spice; displays are informative about ingredients, origins and uses for each spice or spice blend, but nothing beats sprinkling a bit on your hand and testing it out. I'll admit, though, that I steered clear of the chili samples, except the "family friendly fajita" blend, which I tried and liked enough to buy some of. The hottest chilis were on the top shelf, safely out of reach of children!
All spices are available in various sizes, pre-packaged or not, and even in 1/2 ounce packets that are perfect for taking home and experimenting with. The smallest packets usually cost $1-$1.50, so spice experiments are all the more enticing.
Savory Spice Shop
7857 SE 13th Ave.
Portland, Oregon 97202
Monday-Saturday: 10 am – 6 pm
Sunday: Noon – 5pm