Fort George Brewery and Public House

I really should do a post ranking chicken strips from all major grocery stores (one of my lesser known areas of expertise), but, first, I will do something far more respectable and review the chicken strips at Fort George.

Jen with Fort George chicken strips

If a restaurant that promises to be even halfway decent has a chicken strip special, I can’t help myself. I will get it. And, eat it. And, usually love it. In fact, chicken strips have to be pretty bad to be considered bad by me. I am fairly forgiving in this area. So, with that caveat, I will say this…

The chicken strips at Fort George are formidable. They are only on the menu one day a week, and our friendly server noted that everyone comes in on Tuesdays just for the strips. Not sure if “everyone” is more discerning than me, but when it comes to chicken strips, it is definitely a possibility. So, even if you don’t trust me. Trust “everyone.” Those strips are good. And, the Quick Wit is a delicious accompaniment.

Michael with Fort George bockwurst

Michael was a little more creative and ordered the bockwurst, which paired excellently with his seasonal ale. I can attest that he enjoyed both. I did not get an opportunity to try the bockwurst, but I trust his opinion. He doesn’t just indiscriminately like all bockwurst.

Note: In the interest of full disclosure, Michael and I visited Fort George Brewery and Public House in March 2009. It is entirely possible that certain things have changed. For example, Tuesdays may no longer be chicken strip day. So, you might want to do some research ahead of time. I can safely guarantee that the beer is still noteworthy. And, if they have chicken strips on the menu. You should get them. Seriously, they are a cut above the rest.

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The Chowder Bowl

Chowder Bowl, you were the reason I wanted to go to Newport as a child. There was something magical about a grilled cheese sandwich after pushing through the cold wind along the surf . Yes, a grilled cheese sandwich on the coast. For those of us Oregonians who were finicky eaters as children, we always had grilled cheese at the coast. Seafood was still a little scary. But, that grilled cheese paired perfectly with the mineral and salt left in my mouth after too long on the beach.

Armed with a more adventurous palate, I returned to The Chowder Bowl for the first time in nearly 15 years and discovered that it is even more magical than I remembered.

Stormy Tuesday nights in mid-December are not a particularly popular time to hang out in Newport, so I was among very few patrons seated at the wood tables with embedded sea scenes. The tables are the same ones that enchanted me as a child: whales and porpoises in a lighter wood swim through the dark cross-grain under moons.

The menu is more extensive than I recalled, which is probably more a result of my only seeing grilled sandwiches on it previously. I almost went for the fish and chips with a cup of chowder, all hallmark dishes, but decided to go with my gut instinct: fried oysters. (What can I say, I like oysters.)

RIP Nye Beach Chowder Bowl

“Good choice!” My server noted then added, “I love those. They are the freshest thing on the menu. They come from our bay and were just shucked this morning.” She motioned out the window to the Newport Bay, which is just over a hill through the darkness. Pleased, I sat in anticipation of my meal and read the brief notes about the history of The Chowder Bowl on the wall.

Apparently, The Chowder Bowl closed down for a short time after my last visit only to be re-established within a few months. It was hard for me to imagine Newport without The Chowder Bowl, and I gave a rather curious thanks for not having ever traveled here when it was closed.

My oysters came out in short order, along with this ridiculously heavenly garlic bread that is light and fluffy on the inside toasted just so on the outside. But, make no mistake, the oysters are the main show here.

They taste fresh and are free of any sand grains (something that seems to inexplicably plague many fried oyster dishes along the coast). The breading suits them well: not too heavy or greasy and with a pleasing blend of spices. Eating those oysters, I stopped caring about what people think of a lone woman in a restaurant gorging herself on fried food. While I wasn’t exactly eating with haste – I had to savor each one – I also wasn’t stopping or slowing down. The server checked on me, and we had a friendly chat about how supremely awesome the dish was, then I just kept eating. At the end, there were still one or two oysters left over. My inability to cram those orphan oysters down disappointed me. I wished I could teletransport them to Michael so he could also enjoy them.

All in all, The Chowder Bowl will remain one of the main attractions in Newport for me. One day, I might even try the grilled cheese again. But, for now, I will go for the oysters. Those perfect, succulent, dream-haunting oysters.

Fried Oysters with Chips and Garlic Bread

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From November 11, 2009:

November through April is what I lovingly refer to in my job as “travel season.” The season typically starts off with a series of regional meetings across the state then moves into sites visits, peaks in January with more regional meetings plus site visits, and then peters out after April with the last round of regional meetings. During this time, I criss-cross the state in both directions and reignite a deep loathing of I-5 between Salem and Portland, which marks the last painful leg of so many journeys. But on the first day of travel season, today, I have no loathing, only the joy of getting out of the Metro area and into the wide spaces and small towns that make up the Oregon of my youth. Let’s call it Real Oregon. As most of the folks outside Portland think of it.

The first stop back in Real Oregon is NoHo’s, which I should probably count as cheating as the small restaurant chain (there are three of them) started in Portland. However, NoHo’s opened its Medford location doors several years ago and has developed its own uniquely Medfordian vibe such that I feel justified in assigning it a place in Real Oregon.

My colleague, Matt, and I had originally intended to eat at the hotel’s sports bar, Characters. Characters features some potentially dynamic live acts on the weekends. However, after walking into Characters on this Wednesday evening, Matt and I were struck by the lack of characters in the bar, the strangeness of only having one of the three giant screen televisions on (and that it was tuned to Dancing with the Stars, which was, well, surprising in a sports bar), the excess of chairs and tables for the five people now occupying the space and the lack of any staff in the barren landscape. Although, to be fair to the staff, we did not wait long to see if they would appear. Before the desolation of the place could permeate our souls we made a bee line out the door.

NoHo's Hawaiian Cafe in Medford

Hungry, after nearly six hours on the road, we started circling Medford. There were the many chain and wannabe chain options at the various plazas, centers and malls that line Biddle Road, none of which appealed to either of us. We started back toward Medford’s downtown in search of a fish restaurant I had gone to last fall. The search was aborted when I saw the signs for NoHo’s. The promise of giant plates of hot Hawaiian food was too good to pass up.

Back to the aforementioned Medfordian vibe of this NoHo’s. I have picked up take-out at several restaurants around Medford now and have learned to recognize the uncomfortable foyer of those restaurants as the awkward take-out space. These foyers are somewhat akin to an industrial mud room: no decorations, just carpet and unassuming bench shoved in a corner. In addition to the liminal take-out space, the rooms of the restaurant are a little too open, a little too bright and the decor a little too pastel.

Spicy Korean Pork

After a short while standing awkwardly in the take-out room, my colleague and I were seated on chairs painted with smiling suns. As we perused our menus, I too started to smile. The food sounded like everything I had hoped and dreamed of: spicy korean pork, char-grilled teriyaki beef, pupu platters, ribs of all sorts.

My primary recollection of NoHo’s in Portland was that the portions were enormous. I remembered oval platters with enough food to feed a family of four for a day set in front of each diner at the cozy Clinton Street location. Medford did not disappoint in the epic portions arena. Even Matt, who is nearly twice as tall as me, couldn’t finish his spicy Korean pork. I made an impressive showing with the teriyaki beef, but still had to leave some deliciousness behind.

Leaving food on the plate in no way means it was lacking in any respect. The grilled meats are tender. The spices meld into pure joy. The whole thing make my belly feel complete. On the whole, I was deeply satisfied with my first dinner of travel season. It’s going to be a good year.

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Once upon a time, all the kids from Corvallis High School would rush out to lunch at American Dream Pizza. The beer crust slathered in garlic butter then dipped in ranch was sublime. That crust crunched perfectly. The toppings, which you could also get on salads, made you love eating anew: pesto, feta, artichoke hearts, crisp pepperoni. The cookies were perfect mounds of chocolate studded dough. American Dream was dreamy. Many of my happiest memories of high school are indelibly linked to its flavors.

American Dream Pizza in Downtown Corvallis

Like most Corvallites who have relocated to Portland, I have always maintained that the American Dream on NE Glisan is vastly inferior to the Corvallis flagship. Recently, however, I have been forced to admit that either a lot had changed in the past 10 years, or it wasn’t as good as I remembered it.

The dough. It used to be thin under the toppings and thick and crunchy like a breadstick on the edges. Now, it is all thick and a little soggy. There’s no snap as you bite, no crunch. Not even to mention that the taste is decidedly sweeter than I remember. What happened to that sourdough meets beer bread flavor?

The topppings are still lovely, but they seem more commonplace than a decade ago when feta and artichoke hearts on pizza were still novel. And, seeing them sitting atop that lackluster crust opens a sad place in my heart and belly.

I am holding out hope for the cookie. It is chock full of chips and relatively thick. But I don’t think I can eat it here. It’s all so dissapointing. If that cookie breaks my heart, I won’t be able bear it.

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Trail to tide pools at Devil's Churn.

I love Yachats. Spring breaks in elementary school were spent at the Yachats Inn back when it was still a motel, swimming in the heated in-door pool, hiking around Cape Perpetua, and watching the sunset over the rocky coastline. Later, cute, hippie cafes and shops were established, beckoning our family to linger in Yachats for coffee and astrology readings.

When I planned my March coast trip (which started with an unexpected stopover at Spirit Mountain Casino), I was bound and determined to get back to the sweet hamlet of my childhood. Unfortunately, by the time I got to Yachats the sun was already setting, and I realized I had no clue where to eat dinner as an adult. Mainly, I was incredibly bummed that my beautifully appointed hotel housed a full serivce spa but offered no food whatsoever. My dream of sinking into my bed to watch the sun drop into the ocean while someone quietly brought me room service (I imagined it would be a sauteed white fish with rice) was not going to materialize. And, so I began my ritual hunt.

View from room at Overlook Lodge at Sunset

Yachats is primarily situated lengthwise along 101 with the center of town criss-crossed by sharp angled streets hitting the highway. Almost as soon as  you realize you are in the center of town, you are already hitting the deep curve that takes you across the river and out of town. All this makes for very difficult dinner cruising. Especially if you have low blood sugar and just finished conducting a seven hour compliance visit. However, after a number of death-defying u-turns, I scored a parking place in front of the Drift Inn and crossed my fingers.

The ambiance invites you to share dessert with friends of all generations. The singer-songwriter on stage looks like a family friend, the one who got up early when you were camping to start the stove and get everyone coffee. The patrons glow with wholesomeness.

Mermaids of the Drift Inn: Coven of Empowered Sea Vixens or Nautical Brothel?

And, there is a voluptuous mermaid and her coven of wise merwomen reprinted everywhere imaginable: on the wall, on tags for the homemade sauces, on the menu. She seems to have just emerged from the tide pools to find her mermaid daughter being lovingly groomed by the Grand Crone Mermaid. This scene is undoubtedly supposed to say something empowering about the feminine power of the ocean or somesuch, but I could’t help thinking the scene came across a little more like a nautical brothel moment featuring a grey-haired, half-fish madam. I chided myself for entertaining such un-wholesome thoughts, and turned to the menu.

While I had been dreaming of gently sauteed or grilled fish, price dictated something fried. I opted for oysters. They come with grilled polenta and vegetables, which sounded reasonably healthy. While I waited for the plate to arrive, I watched the woman in the booth in front of me enthusiastically cheer on the songster. She appeared to know all his songs without appearing to be his friend. I found this curious in such a small town. The songs themselves pondered father-son relations, husband-wife relations, other family members and other family members relations and there were some musings about the forest and nuclear fall-out in there too.

Fried Oysters, Grilled Polenta and Vegetables at the Drift In

After a song or two, the oysters with polenta and vegetables arrived. Visually, it was not the most impressive. Everything was soggy and seemed to be melting into each other. But the oysters were passable, and I enjoyed the polenta more than I expected. It has a satisfying texture, which made me feel like, yes, I am EATING. However,  the real treat was the lemon custard pie I took back to the hotel room to enjoy to the sound of the ocean. The weight of the slice was impressive, the crust thick and flakey, the lemon custard powerful and dense.

Overall, the service was very pleasant and prompt. The food was decent but nothing to scream about. But, I did like the feeling of being transported back to the warm, safe place I remembered from childhood. A place where everyone seems to care for their brother, sister, mother, father, friend, grandmother mermaid, forest, nuclear waste site. And, that was nice. I just wish I was as innocent as I had been at that time too.

Close-up of Mermaids: See that one on the right looks awfully saucey

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A review from the archive:

Jen unhappily stuck in snow at Spirit Mountain

I have never stepped foot into a casino. Twenty-eight years on this planet, and I have never done Vegas or any of the local casinos that dot the reservations of Oregon. Until an ice-packed Highway 18 brought my journey to Lincoln City from Portland to a dead halt in front of Spirit Mountain Casino at 8:30 AM. After an hour hunkering in my rented Prius in the parking lot, I finally ventured over the snow-covered space to the front doors.

My first surprise was that the smoking ban in Oregon doesn’t apply to the reservations. The main gaming floor still reeks with a smell I had happily and quickly forgotten. Thankfully the non-smoking areas are fairly well identified, so I was able to make my way over to the venerable Cedar Plank Buffet. So far as I can tell, I am the only individual under the age of 50 in the entire place. Did I mention it is now 9:30 AM on a Monday morning? A snowy Monday morning in March?

Coyote customers browse Cedar Plank Buffet menu

I do not have a Coyote Card. I am not even sure I know what a Coyote Card is. Is it a Casino brand credit card? A pre-paid card (although that probably wouldn’t be a good business plan for a casino)? Whatever it is, the Coyote Card is the most popular form of payment to enter the pantheon of casino eating, the most notable of which is the Cedar Plank Buffet.

After several minutes of darting about the maze-like buffet, which beckons you in with signs “to start anywhere!” I finally settled on a biscuit with thick gravy then tore into another line for a slice of bacon, picked up some industrial looking scrambled eggs and then discovered they serve fry bread with honey-butter in its own little corner of the American station.

Fry bread, eggs, biscuit n gravy and a solitary slice of bacon

It’s a buffet at a casino. There were certain expectations I had going into the experience. The Sysco eggs and meat, the gravy thickened to a lumpy paste left my stomach feeling a bit turned. I was hoping the fry bread would redeem the meal, and it did. Part of it may be that it is hard to screw up fried dough. Drop dough in a vat of oil and miracles happen (sometimes donuts, sometimes beignets, sometimes fry bread). But it really was the honey and melted butter that made it.

So far as I know, Sysco does not do fry bread much less honey and melted butter sauce. And if they do, please be so kind as to not inform me. Because it was perfection.

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Sometimes there is a kitchen so adorable in your hotel room that it forces you to eat in it. There are lovely applique curtains, green vinyl chairs from the ’50’s and contrasting red placemats. Inside the bedroom, there are fresh flowers in mid-century, American vases. Everything in the room implores: don’t leave; eat here tonight.

And, I listened. Instead of checking out the intriguing Omar’s, which seemed like too much work, I picked up deli food from Market of Choiceand settled into my perfectly (albeit loosely) coordinated room at the Palm Motel, also known as the Palm Cottages. The fact that the Blazers were playing their final game for the play-offs may have also influenced the decision.

The Delightful Kitchen in My Room at the Palm Cottages

 

PC Market of Choice is a grocery chain with a strong presence outside the Portland area. While I admittedly feel a deep loyalty to New Seasons, Market of Choice makes me pretty darn happy. Normally, I stick to their sublime chicken strips when on the run (grocery store chicken strips deserve their own post, so I am going to skip elaborating on them for now), but I opted for paremsan and sun-dried tomato pasta and grilled green beans tonight. There are times when a girl needs to take a break from fried food and meat, no matter how much she loves them.

Dinner from Market of Choice

The pasta was a bit on the heavy side, too much parmesan. Especially after a few minutes in the microwave getting all melty. But, the beans. The “grilled, Mandarin green beans” were killer spicy, which paired perfectly with sauvingnon blanc.

I ended the meal with a few pieces of Stone Ground Chocolate 60%, which I had been pretty excited about. Unfortunately, the whole stone ground thing seems to result in a chocolate that tastes as if it was literally pounded into granules that were then somehow bonded together to create a bar. In a word: chalky.

 

Camellia in a Built-in

But I am cool. Because the Blazers won. And, when I wake up tomorrow morning, the first thing I will see are fresh camelias from the garden outside. I love this place. And its kitchen that looks like a booth from the antique show at the Expo Center.

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First of all: There are no locks at Wilson Ranches Retreat. At least not on the guest bedrooms. And, while I think they exist on the front and back doors, there seems to be no reason to employ them. On the back deck, bobble-headed ceramic owls with yellow eyes do all the spooking that needs to be done.   Along the slopes behind the house, a large herd of black and brown cattle graze. Calves frolic in the stream cutting through the bright green floor of the valley. And the sky is lit from chalk blue to near black as the weather rolls between sunny and sleeting.

Second of all: This is serious dude country. The owners’ son scooted over to the Bed and Breakfast at 6:00 AM to ready our breakfast in starched Wranglers and striped button-up. The official story for his cooking in place of his folks was that his parents were needed in Portland, but I am guessing his father was pretty wiped out still from the “calving” over the past few weeks. Apparently, he stays up all night with the cows as they give birth. For a city slicker such as myself, that sounds exhausting.

The herd at Wilson Ranches.

Additionally, the other guests (long-time friends of the owners) showed me photographs of a cougar, splayed out triumphantly on the driveway of another rancher. One less big kitty to disturb the herd. I learned that if you do find yourself in possession of a puma carcass, your one responsibility is to send in a tooth for age verification. Fascinating.

 

Bobble-headed ceramic owl on the back deck.

Third of all: Grandmother’s biscuit recipe puts all other recipes to shame. Light, fluffy, perfectly browned on the outside and flakey on the inside. Our chef noted to another guest that he only uses his grandmother’s recipe. Good move, cowboy. No need to mess with a good thing. The rest of the breakfast included scrambled eggs, “porridge” also known as oatmeal with “the fixin’s” (brown sugar, pecans, cranberries and raisins), fried ham slices, and homemade jam. It was decent, but those biscuits stole my heart.

And, because, fourth of all: Fossil is a ridiculously friendly place, the other guests found me a ziplock bag to take the leftover biscuits home.

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There is nothing quite like a BLT after a rousing training on the AmeriCorps Education Award and taxes. Especially if you’re the one giving the training. After settling in at Big Timber Family Restaurant, I opted against the much-recommended chicken ceaser salad wrap and cheeseburger with fries in favor of bacon and the intriguing “local hazelnut bread.”

Major points for the bread, I am a fan. Not sure it was the right choice for a BLT; I probably would do it with only butter in the future, toasted, maybe with a little honey. Nonetheless, it was excellent.

The bacon was fairly standard. When trying new places, I usually ask for the bacon extra crispy, but I didn’t want to seem too demanding. I regret that. Next time: definitely asking for the bacon to stay a little longer on the fryer.

BLT at Big Timber

Other folks (the ones who just endured my training on the AmeriCorps Education Award and taxes), selected the afore-mentioned wrap, a mandarin chicken salad (which was very quickly consumed by the orderer) and the chicken strip basket. The chicken strip basket looked delectable, and I will certainly order that next time. Although apparently this chicken ceaser wrap is phenomenal. I just couldn’t do a wrap in ranch country, which brings to me my next point: when in ranch country, eat things people you know have killed.

Seriously.

For dinner, one of the AmeriCorps members out here made an elk stir fry with meat from a friend’s hunt. Awesome.

Fossil Rod and Gun Club Meat Shoot flyer at the Fossil Mercantile

The elk was tender; the taste was more delicate than gamey. It was incredible. And the cook, Nathan, didn’t overwhelm the meat with too many spices. The vegetables simmered happily away in the elk juices, melding into a delightful experience.

My previous dinner in Fossil a year ago involved beef enchiladas with beef from the hostess’s ranch, which is all no hormone, range-raised and fed, and humanely killed in the field (apparently, the cows never see the interior of a building from beginning to end of life). That beef was also divine. Although slightly hidden inside the cheesy goodness of the enchiladas.

Fossil has been on the culinary map for a few years with Painted Hills Beef, which is decidedly superior. Although I would vote that most meat killed in the vicinity is many times better than what high-end Portland restaurants can offer. Unless the chefs have joined the hunting club and are hauling their trophies back to the kitchen. That melty taste of an animal that spent its life roaming the sage brush and experienced minimal stress in dying, that taste is sublime.

My recommendation: follow the signs for the meat shoot, and enjoy the rewards!

 

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When I was a child, I begged my parents to take our family on vacation to Fossil. This was largely due to my humongous obsession with dinosaurs, which was going strong from the age of three to nine.

There are many reasons why Fossil is one of the most exciting places in Oregon, but for the wee Jenny, it was all about the fossils. You can dig them up behind the high school. You can follow trails of them at the Clarno Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Park. You can buy them. The whole place is just flithy with fossils. That said, there aren’t any real dinosaur fossils. And that fact made me a little sad about our vacation. It was the kind of sad from occurs when reality hits an eight-year-old. And, that kind of sad is deep. Way deep.

Fossil Trail sign at Clarno Unit

So, when the opportunity presented itself for me to visit Fossil as an adult, I was intrigued but cautious. I vaguely remembered the high school and how different it was from the awesome scenes of dinosaur digs in the Gobi I had seen on NOVA specials (big disappointment). What little I did remember of the town was not all that special (probably, because my soul was crushed by the lack of stegosaurus remains).

In the twenty years since my first visit, Fossil has apparently not changed much. A fact I find noteworthy. And refreshing.

"Stay Alert" flyer at Clarno Unit. Snakes cower in the face of Adidas tennies.

 

 

 

 

The fossil beds behind the high school still bring in tourists. The Hancock Field Station near the Clarno Unit still hosts students in the OMSI summer camps. Rattlesnakes still pose a threat to unsuspecting individuals not watching their step or digging under their decks. And, the hardware store remains the only purveyor of hard liquor as part of the rural holy trinity of propane, antiques and booze.

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