This past September we had the pleasure of entertaining out-of-state family and, thus, took the requisite trip to the coast. Our destination of choice: the lovely Newport, Oregon. I love the Oregon coast. I’m also firm believer that a trip to the coast (or any trip for that matter) takes a little planning and preparation (i.e.bringing snacks – duh). However, the planner of this particular trip was less concerned about itineraries, agendas, and ensuring the availability of food during standard meal times. So, a two and a half hour car ride and a late start to the coast without stopping for lunch on the way, meant a few starving and crabby travel companions. But we were in Newport, which does not have a shortage of good restaurants. So upon arriving, we headed to the old, historic waterfront which seemed like the most promising place to find a top-notch lunch.

After some walking and peeping in a few places, we ended up at the Rogue Brewery. Not being from Oregon, I hadn’t realized that Newport is where Rogue Ales was born – exciting! And on top of that, it was September 11th which meant that Rogue was serving up commemorative free tasters of American Amber Ale – how patriotic (um yeah, just go with it)! Red meat and beerseemed to be the name of the game, so I ordered a hamburger and the Mom Hefeweizen.

Now, these people are serious about beer. When my naked hefeweizen arrived I asked for a wedge of lemon – which I just always assumed was an unspoken accompaniment – the waiter tilted his head to the side and asked me sternly if I had, “even tasted it yet.” Silly me. When I recovered from the shock of being scolded on an empty stomach, I said something super clever like, “the beer doesn’t need a lemon, I do”. Nevertheless, I was brought lemon wedges and the beer was delicious.

My hamburger and fries were also tasty. So much so that I had to be reminded to take a picture of my meal before I ate everything on my plate. My lunch companions ordered a sausage with sauerkraut that came with potato chips, and a grilled salmon sandwich. Both meals received satisfactory marks but I think my burger was the best of all three options. That being said, there are about six pages of menu for food and four pages of beers and liquors (I know, Rogue is a distillery, too!), so I’m certain anyone can find at least one pleasing thing to eat.

After our meal we headed across the street to ogle the sea lions and listen to them bark as they pushed each other off the docks. Our original plan was to go to the aquarium but, having gotten a late start, we arrived only half an hour before it closed (hello, agenda?). So, we drove to Devil’s Punchbowl, which is always pretty awesome, and then began our journey back to Portland. It was a long day and I was glad we chose to re-fuel at Rogue.

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My first job was at a walk-up Dairy Queen on the strip in my hometown in Illinois.  I served dipped DQs, blizzards, and Mr. Misty’s from what was essentially an air-conditioned, cement shack.  In my first week, I learned how to make the layered bumps and the little swirl on the top of the ice cream cones, I learned how to use the machine to blend candy into ice cream (kind of dangerous!), AND I received my “bottomless” employee cup: a plastic mug with one of those vinyl, sticky labels that comes out of the hand-held printing wheel-thingy.  My label read S I G N E.  That’s my name, I used to work with Jen and now we’re pals.

Best job EVER!

Thus began my love affair with soft serve…and soft serve related mad science.  I always wonder if giving one’s employees free rein to combine different flavors is really a secret strategy to have one of them discover the next sensational flavor combination and then claim the intellectual property rights.  More likely, bosses just figure, “These people are going to steal from me anyway, why not just give them free ice cream and call it a day.  How much ice cream can a 17 year old girl eat anyway?”  To this I laugh maniacally.

So, naturally, with such a rich history of soft serve adventures, I feel it’s necessary to begin my GastrOregon blog-sitting by writing about Scotties Drive-In in Forest Grove.  Scotties is a soft serve induced flashback.  Sitting over a little hill and just before Pacific Avenue turns into Hwy 8, is a cute, drive up cafe with a blue and red marquis that says things like, “Congrats Donna and Jeb” or “Way to go Vikings.”

So cute, you could eat it up

I think the term “drive-in” might be a bit of a misnomer because, as far as I can tell, there’s no car-door service.  That’s okay though because you have the option to either enter the cafe, order at the counter, and sit in one of the yellow booths, OR walk up to the window (staffed byplucky high school students) to place your order.  I recommend the window option because it’s near and dear to my heart.  Don’t be offended when they close the sliding window after you order – they’re just trying to keep the AC in!

Now, I’ve been to Scotties several times and I have to say it’s fantastic.  Not only do they have every make and model of ice cream treats in every flavor of the rainbow, they also have burgers, fries, and other heart-stopping goodies you would expect from a drive in.  AND, they often make their ice cream flavors with fresh ingredients.  The last time I was there, my companion ordered a marionberry shake made with real berries!  It was tart, sweet, and purple; it tasted like summer.  I’ve also sampled their french fries which are of the thick cut variety; crispy on the outside and soft on the inside – quite yummy.

As a bonus, Forest Grove is only about 45 minutes away from Portland on Hwy 26 West and it’s a lovely drive.  If you’re headed to the coast for the weekend, antiquing, or just going for a spin to make sure that replacement master cylinder is working, I encourage you to stop at Scotties for a cone.  You will not be disappointed.

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Here’s the thing about Central Oregon – when oncoming cars pass each other, the drivers wave to you. The last time I had to go through an ordeal like that was the last time I was in a pontoon boat. I could stop right here and you could probably come up with the rest of my story for me. I should also explain that my name is Matt, and I work with Jen.

No one was watching when I took this picture

As I prepared for my mammoth drive from Portland through Condon and Fossil to John Day, and back to Portland through Monument and Long Creek, it was suggested to me that I log my eating habits (somewhat). I says to myself I says, “What a quaint idea”, and I laughed it off. But after 5 hours of driving the “Journey Through Time Scenic Byway”, every opportunity to stop seemed blog-worthy. My mind was spinning; Andrew W.K. sounded like a great idea to play with the windows down. Suddenly I was taking pictures of landscapes, outhouses, and my car next to outhouses.

Grub + Steak =

But I digress. This is about food, and I ate food in John Day. Upon stretching and settling in at the Best Western, I did find myself yearning for more than beef jerky and spearmint gum, which with a little help from lunch in Fossil (I found out later that Jen had already blogged about Big Timber Family Restaurant) was all that sustained me through the torment of waving with my hand on the wheel to complete strangers. The smell of sagebrush was in the air. My carefully mapped out venture to Grubsteak Mining Co. was in the cards tonight.

You know when you are hungry and you order something, but as soon as you order it you instantly regret it? Not because you’re worried about how it will taste, but that you know you probably shortened your lifespan and probably the lifespan of your future children? That’s pretty much the menu at Grubsteak. Matty Jr., I’m sorry but that was one hell of a Monte Cristo. And yes, those are gigantic tater tots and ranch dressing. Is there any better mixture of foods? I submit there is not. Needless to say after that feast I took a walk around the neighborhood because it hurt to sit down. Well played, Grubsteak. Well played.

Meat, grease, beer, pickle

THE NEXT MORNING
Fun fact: I love breakfast, and I had actually planned my breakfast for the next morning before I planned my dinner at Grubsteak Mining Co. The Squeeze-In Restaurant (don’t worry, that’s not the best name I have in store for you) was everything I wanted in a breakfast. Breakfast is greasy, it’s your choice of meat but you always choose bacon, and it’s a lot of food. One thought: Jen I don’t know how you take pictures of your food without having the locals stare at you. I was such a tourist…not that I blend in anyway. I am at my most content when eating breakfast, and as I mopped up what was left of my over easy eggs with my butter soaked toast I was oblivious to my short sightedness of only staying one night, because that means only one breakfast.

Pile it on!!!

LATER THAT DAY…

Did you know Monument has a food cart? I heard it was the talk of the town, and decided it would be a brilliant idea to meet my AmeriCorps member there.

Too scared to take a picture of the cart

I apologize for not taking a picture of the cart itself – I already felt like a tourist and the lady looked at me quizzically when I said I didn’t want anything on my hot dog. Not wanting to stir up any trouble, I didn’t push the issue by explaining that I was writing for a food blog, as it would seem my story did not match my entree. What can I say? I like my hot dogs naked. It’s the same as ordering a cheeseburger plain, so you can really judge for yourself if this is a tasty burger or if someone in back is smuggling in inferior goods. Moral of the story: If you’re ever in Monument for whatever reason, stop by the Chuckwagon.

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Cape Arago at Sunset

To anyone who has taken even a cursory gander over previous posts, my obsession with fried oysters is readily apparent. While I did make a noble effort toeat healthfully on the road this year, I could not deny myself oysters when traveling to the coast. And, I had been waiting for years to eat the perfect fried oysters in Coos Bay.

This winter was the fourth year I have conducted site visits in Coos Bay. Each time I visit, I am in town for exactly one dinner and one lunch. After consuming my first meal of fried oysters in the town at the unsurprisingly disappointing Red Lion restaurant, I vowed to find some exceptional fried oysters in the area. Hey, if you only have two meals per trip, they should be worthwhile. (And, lunch is always the Cafe Mediterranean. It may be perplexing that I eat falafel and lentil soup every single time I have lunch in Coos Bay. But, that’s where my people want to go.)

My proclivity for oysters has propelled me to restaurants up and down the Oregon Coast. Typically, oysters are some of the freshest items on the menu. So, they are a safe bet. Plus, virtually anything good tastes even better fried. On the Southern Oregon Coast, it seemed that Charleston, the town on the ocean just west of Coos Bay/North Bend, would have lots to offer, especially given that it is renowned for their seafood. So, I thought my quest to find my perfect oysters in the Coos Bay area would be easy. Not so.

Marine Mammals of Simpson Reef

My search began with the February 2008 trip to a place recommended by Rachel Ray, The Oyster Cove Grille and Bar. It sounded promising. I arrived too early (they open at five), and killed time by meandering up the Cape Arago Highway in driving rain, stopping to bolt from the car and read educational markers about Simpson Reef. By the time I returned, I was soaked and ready for my plate of dreamy fried oysters.

The inside of the Oyster Cove Grille and Bar is all lovely dark wood and sweet tables with white linens and small bouquets. I felt odd throwing my soaked rain jacket over the seat and taking a table all to myself. Additionally, I was the only one in the restaurant, and I discovered after sitting down how expensive it was.  To be honest, what I remember is the awkwardness. The meal was forgettable. I paid too much for what I hoped would the ultimate dish of fried oysters and was left feeling robbed.

The next day, a local told me I had gone to the wrong restaurant. “There is another place. Just to the left after the bridge.” I vowed I would go there next time.

Unfortunately, the next time I didn’t make it as far south as I had intended. Instead, I ate in Yachats and had sub-par oysters in a restaurant decorated by a repeat pattern of saucy looking hippie mermaids. That was March 2009. A sad time.

And, so March 2010 came around. It was my last visit to Coos Bay for my job. I had to find my oyster place. I knew it was supposed to be. And, I was ready.

As my colleague Matt – to whom I had relayed the trials and tribulations of my search – and I crossed over the bridge into Charleston, I eagerly looked to the left. I had been waiting for this moment for three years. Rays of light would come down from heaven to shine on the house of my perfect oysters. There would be a bugle call signaling that I had finally arrived. Or, at the very least, there would be a weather-worn clapboard building with the signature blue metal roofing of the coast with a sign out front heralding a name based on a provincial maritime pun.

No. There was a pile of burned rubble.

High Tide Cafe's Jaunty Sign

I don’t know that I can adequately articulate the disappointment that swept over me. At first, I refused to process it. “Well, let’s drive around and see if they were talking about someplace else.” No. They were not. “Let’s drive up to Cape Arago and see if things are different when we come back.” They were not. The giant pile of rubble was still there. Still charred. Still disappointing.

Slightly down the road from the ruins of my perfect oyster house, was another restaurant with an appropriately pun-based coastal name, The High Tide. From the outside, it looked either closed or exceptionally sketchy. Turned out to be neither of those things, but it also wasn’t particularly good.

My tiny plate of fried oysters were not only lackluster, but expensive. All in all, they made me even sadder. My colleague’s dish was equally boring and over-priced. I have since been told they make decent fish tacos, which I suppose are just fine. But, I wanted fried oysters, my perfect fried oysters. And, that was too much to ask of Charleston.

I end with a plea: If you know of a place in Charleston (or nearby) that has those perfect fried oysters – the ones that are crispy on the outside, luscious and juicy ocean on the inside – please tell me. I can’t let go of the hope that my oysters are there, even though they may have literally gone up in smoke.

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Rice Bowl with Tofu and Veggies

I like cows. I especially like eating cows. But, sometimes, I need some tofu.

Reverend Horton Heat’s famous “Eat Steak” starts off as a cheer for eating beef: “It’s a mighty good food.” Then, about three-quarters of the way through, it takes an abrupt turn with the stanza:

Look at all the cows in the slaughterhouse yard.
Gotta hit’em in the head, gotta hit’em real hard.
First you gotta clean’em then the butcher cuts’em up,
Throws it on a scale, throws an eyeball in a cup.

Now, I have been accused of having an over-active imagination, but that “eyeball in a cup” makes me gag a little. And, even though I was in prime Central Oregon cattle country (only 70 miles east is Les Schwab‘s famous ranch, where he cultivates the cattle that will become the “free beef” for tire sales around the state), I needed a break from beef. That is how I wound up at Soba on the south end of Redmond eating tofu and veggies over rice.

Soba started in Bend in 2003, then opened up locations in Salem and Redmond. As I have eaten at all of the locations over the years, I was under the impression it was a larger chain that it is. However, it truly is just the three.

The food is essentially cheap, fusion Asian cuisine, with offerings that zag from Thailand to Korea, hitting every major dish in between that is familiar to American palates. When looking for a high quality and/or authentic experience of any of the cuisines accounted for, I would not turn to Soba. However, when trying to identify a moderately healthy, moderately priced and well-sauced lunch, Soba does the trick. I generally stick to their rice bowls, which feature lean meats or tofu and plenty of vegetables.

And, when I am taking a break from eating cows in a place dominated by ranching, Soba is a welcome relief.

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Yes, there really is pho in Klamath Falls. And, yes, it really is good.

Pho Hung in Klamath Falls

There are certain dining experiences that are so mind-blowing, I have to let them marinate awhile. Pho Hung was such an experience.

The place defies every stereotype I had previously held of Klamath Falls. I was looking to eat somewhere “iconically K Falls.” I was tempted to try David’s Brawny Burgers, which admittedly looks formidable in the best way possible. But, I decided to follow up on the recommendation of one of the AmeriCorps members in the area and go for pho. (This may have also had something to do with the conversation with another AmeriCorps member about how much fried food I appear to consume while traveling.)

So, off to pho I went. This process involved driving up and down Sixth Avenue for about a half hour until I found this hole in the wall restaurant was closer to my hotel than I expected.

Interior of Pho Hung

I had seen some photos on Flickr of Pho Hung, so I at least knew what the place looked like and some ideas on what adventures it might hold. But, I still wasn’t quite prepared.

First off, the “false front” referred to on many reviews of Pho Hung on Yelp logistically refers to the fact that the door marked as the restaurant is sealed shut and the door to what appears to be an ultra-bright, sensory-overload grocery store is also the entrance to the restaurant. As I was beckoned down the rabbit hole, I passed through the hallway wall-papered with photos of take-out items from floor to ceiling, then emerged into a bright, tropical themed dining room in the back.

There are strands of Christmas lights everywhere plus fabric banners depicting various anime characters hanging on the walls. Plants (I was unclear if they were fake or real or a mix) vine up and down and around beams across the room. Yet, for as chaotic as the interior design is, the dining room exudes a clean, warm feeling, which is underscored by the exceptional service. Everyone working there checked in: about if temperature was alright for me, did I have a seat that felt adequately engaged with the rest of the restaurant and what kind of mood I was in and how could that be translated into the most perfect meal for me in the moment. Needless to say, I was charmed.

Pho at Pho Hung

My status as an outsider, and likely from Portland, was immediately noted and assessed. At first, my server assumed I was a veteran pho eater. Unfortunately, this image quickly dissolved when I proved less adventurous than recommended with my add-ons. The server explained: “You want it to be hot, but not too sweet. So, you take some of this [grabbing the black sauce] and then put in some of this [red to yellow stratified sauce]. Then, you can’t be too shy with these.” He proceeded to grab the cilantro and basil from my plate and rip them for me before tossing the whole heads of shredded herbs into the pho. “Now try it.” I nodded, “That is much better.” “See? You can’t hold back. You’ve got to go for it!”

It was a lesson in life: don’t hold back with the sauces you can’t name and the various herbs that seem like they would mix poorly. Just go for it, by the fistfuls preferably. The aggresive alchemy worked. I enjoyed that bowl of pho more than any bowl of pho I’ve had. I learned timidity and pho don’t go well together. If you don’t have the balls to try all the flavors available and create the meal you want, then you will be disappointed.

Thus, the pho of Klamath Falls kicked off the theme of my 2010: create your own reality. Thanks, Pho Hung.

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The Laughing Clam in Grants Pass

Hanging out with colleagues while on the road is a rare treat. Especially, when they are locals in an area that is less renowned for gastronomic delights, such as Grants Pass.

As my co-worker Matt and I were making our way north through the Rogue Valley for site visits, we had the fortune of meeting up with our friend and colleague, Kyle, who introduced to us to the Laughing Clam, a place with a healthy number of taps, and then directed us to the Circle J Cafe, with its gypsy vibe, both situated on G Street in downtown.

The Laughing Clam racheted up its curb appeal by having a strategically placed shaggy dog lounging outside under the glow of microbrew neons. The promise of cute dogs plus good beer is irresistible.

The Laughing Clam lived up to its promise: a wide selection of micro-brews, especially from Southern Oregon, were offered. A young, convivial atmosphere dominated. It felt similar to some of the bars in Corvallis that cater to earth sciences grad students (yes, I mean, Squirrels). But, instead of discussing their dissertations on how ecological responses to the eruption of Mt St Helens have completely debunked the theory of primary succession as it was once hypothesized, folks at the Laughing Clam are just winding down from work.

Circle J Cafe in Grants Pass

The Circle J Cafe boasts the most remarkable collection of vintage and faux vintage figurine lamps I have ever seen in public (scroll to bottom). There were porcelein genies, fortune tellers, and stalking panthers to name a few. The food is a predictable. But, the line-up of sandwiches, pizza and salads is pretty solid. After a number of pre-dinner stouts, Matt and I both opted for salads. My caeser salad was most notable for its epic size and generous use of garlic. Matt thought his spinach salad was huge, but it turned out that the spinach leaves were quite fluffy, so it ended up being a more manageable size.

Overall, I must say that G Street is my new favorite place in the Rogue Valley.  I will be returning to both the Laughing Clam and J Cafe. There will never be another embarrassing Applebee’s moment again in this town (more on that later).

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One of the AmeriCorps members on my team recently commented that she was surprised I was consuming and reviewing so much fried food for GastrOregon, so I feel a need to document that I do eat good stuff too.

Case in point: Nibbley’s! The most recommended breakfast and lunch spot in K Falls. Ok, my BLAT still contains bacon. But, see, there are vegetables!

(Oh – they also have a celery seed dressing made in house that is to die for. It is available to take home too.)

Lunch at Nibbley's Cafe in Klamath Falls

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The Daily Bagel in Klamath Falls

Three-hundred and sixty degrees of snow dusted hills surround Klamath Falls. The city (it is a city) is clustered around a friendly historic downtown and the long stretch of Sixth Avenue, which reaches out from the center to the edges of town.

Arriving bleary eyed from the airport (they have two flights in and out each day from Portland and San Francisco), I hopped into my pop can sized rental car and followed directions to the city center.

After cruising up and down the main drags, I settled in at The Daily Bagel to kick start my day. In addition to the attractive typeface heralding their name, the Daily Bagel boasts a delightful selection of artisan bagels and some sweeter treats.

I had the raisin-oat, which was quite reasonable, and, unlike all the other artisan bagels I have had in the past three years, it did NOT cause me to break into full body hives. Go Daily Bagel! This curious turn of events could be related to a number of factors:

  1. It was a raisin bagel instead of blueberry bagel. While I am not generally allergic to blueberries, it is entirely possible that I am allergic to them when they occur in  artisan bagels.
  2. The Daily Bagels were not as artisan as the other artisan bagels I have consumed. For some reason, commercial, pre-packaged bagels do not provoke an allergic reaction. So, it is entirely possible that The Daily Bagel provides less of an artisan experience than I give them credit for.
  3. My overall sense of well-being was particularly high since I had just discovered that spending two days in Klamath Falls was not going to be so bad after all. Therefore, I didn’t have any stress induced histo-immune reaction to the artisan bagel.

Regardless, it is great to start the morning, and a trip, by taking in some majestic scenery and languidly consuming a quality bagel, especially one that does not cause a full body rash, before jumping into a day of meetings in K Falls. Highly recommended.

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Mix Sweet ShopOf all places outside the Metro area, I would argue that Ashland jives most with the tastes of Portlanders. The downtown is packed with cozy restaurants, breweries, independent bookstores, and clothing stores. The shopping district invite you to amble and linger without seeming like a contrived outdoor mall. If that is not enough, travelers from the City of Roses have yet another reason to feel at home in Rogue Valley: Mix Sweet Shop serves their beloved Stumptown Coffee.

Featuring a requisite orange La Marzocco, Mix Sweet Shop not only makes the coffee of choice for most Portlanders, they do it with the right machine. And, while I am aware there is a backlash against Stumptown rising up in Stumptown for expanding beyond the city, I still find its presence a reassuring welcome sign when traveling. The little swift carrying its banner seems to say, “You’ll like it here. Sit down. Stop thinking so much. We’ll cater to your kind.” Which, as I age, all sounds pretty good. Thanks for pandering to me. I will reward you with my patronage every time I return.

Inside Mix Sweet Shop

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