My plane from Oâ€™Hare landed in Portland at 10:40 am on Thanksgiving morning. I found the car (actually the big white truck we use to transport things to our family motel) that my mom and sister had left at the airport for me and drove straight to Cannon Beach.
We have a big family home on the quieter North end of the beach, which my grandpa used to visit with his siblings and parents as a child. One year his mother purchased it without telling her husband, and itâ€™s been my familyâ€™s pride and joy ever since.
Our Thanksgiving dinner, prepared by my Mango Mama and my sister Flava Flav, was awesome, but then, so are most meals we eat at the beach. I guess it’s because all of the wonderful cooks in my family are relaxed when they come here and like to spend extra time on the meals. Nearly all the meals I’ve eaten at the beach have been home-cooked, in part because of this love of cooking, but also because there are no worthwhile restaurants in town.
One exception is Sleepy Monk Coffee, a wonderful roaster and coffeehouse, owned by our beach neighbors, Victor and Jane. My family members have spent countless lazy afternoons sampling the different blends and chatting with Victor and Jane as we waited for our coffee to be measured and weighed. Visitors can watch Victor roasting the organic, fair-trade beans through a glass window. Jane makes some of the most beautiful lattes I’ve seen, in addition to delicious muffins and breads. A top-notch coffee shop like this one is a rare find, especially in a small seaside town.
Another worthy spot is Seashore Bagels, just across the main drag from Sleepy Monk. These guys make the best bagels Iâ€™ve purchased in Oregon. Thatâ€™s not saying much considering the bready, puffy, weak-excuses-for-bagels most often available here. But these are indeed exceptional. Their dense, chewy consistency is a result of the fact that theyâ€™re boiled in the manner of traditional bagels instead of being baked like regular bread as many of the “fagels” are prepared. The downside to Seashore Bagels is its inconvenient hours and its severely limited supply. The shop opens at 10 a.m., a late hour for any place vending breakfast staples. My dad (Daddy Salmon) has also been turned away many a morning when he wanted more than a dozen bagels, as the person behind the counter protested that there would be none left for the other customers.
On the way home from the beach on Sunday, Daddy Salmon, Flava Flav and I stopped off at the vaunted Northwest fast food chain, Burgerville, for some sweet potato fries. Burgerville is at 39-restaurant chain in the Northwest Oregon and Southwest Washington. It runs on wind power, recycles its oil into biodiesel and provides all its employees with comprehensive healthcare. Burgervilleâ€™s menu uses all local, sustainably grown ingredients, including fresh Country Natural beef. In addition to the Tillamook Cheeseburger and other beefy standards, menu items include halibut fish and chips, a smoked salmon salad and some of the best milkshakes (made with fresh fruit) available in the Portland area. There is also a changing seasonal menu, featuring fresh strawberry shortcake, Walla Walla onion rings and this seasonâ€™s specials, the pumpkin milkshake and the sweet potato fries.
The sweet potato fries come in a large cup and are enough to make a lunch all on their own. They are earthy and deep in flavor with only very light oil and the perfect amount of salt. The larger ones are rich and filling, and the smaller are delightfully crispy. There is no need for ketchup or anything else on these fries. If anything, I might try mustard or vinegar to offset their sweetness. Flava Flav and I shared one order. It was the perfect snack.
That night my parents, my grandma (Trader Joanna), my sister and I met up with our good friends Brownie Benefactress and Mr. Slow Food and Empanada Boyâ€™s twin sister and brother-in-law, Sushi Sister and Croque Monsieur. We dined at the Savoy Tavern & Bistro, a hipster hangout and cheap eats destination on Portlandâ€™s Southeast side. This was my first time visiting, but Mango Mama, ever the hipster, had brought Flava and Daddy Salmon there before.
The restaurant started off on the wrong foot by failing to listen to its voice mail where I had followed instructions and left my reservation for our large party. There would still be room for us, we were assured. We sat at a low table near the window of the dimly lit room while we waited for a few parties of smartly clad diners to clear out and leave. The decor here is simple with mid-century furniture and walls hung with mirrors and painted an orangish-brown
When we did sit down, about 20 minutes later, we ordered a couple bottles of a nice Rioja ($36 a piece). The wine prices here are a little more expensive than the menu, with most prices falling in the $30-$38 a bottle range. All entrees are priced at or below $12.
It was quickly apparent from the fried cheese curds at the top of the menu that the Savoy is owned by a Wisconsinite. (I can’t escape them!) We shared a couple orders of those, which arrived in footed metal dishes with silver skewers for stabbing the curds. Sushi Sister and Croque Monsieur, the two with the most cheese curd experience agreed with me that these were a fairly standard varietyâ€” chewy and warm on the inside and crisply fried on the outside. Next came some nice fresh butter lettuce salads for those who had ordered them. I tried some of Flava’s, and it seemed tasty enough.
Our entrees took a while to comeâ€” do not come here if you want fast serviceâ€” but they eventually arrived. The entrees listed under the top part of the menu come with two sides, such as mac and cheese, polenta, salad or greens. I ordered the mussels (see top photo), which came in a garlicky broth with toasted garlicky bread. Mussels are a favorite of mine, but these were the large meaty variety native to Oregon, and I think I prefer the smaller French ones for the moules marineres preparation.
I tried some of Flava’s mac and cheese and some of Sushi Sister’s meatloaf, neither of which was very inspiring. Both the meatloaf and polenta cake on Sushi Sister’s plate were oddly tiny portions. I think my favorite of the other entrees was the flat-iron steak, which Mango Mama and Croque Monsieur ordered. Mango Mama’s was a nice, tender medium rare. She got a side of crispy fries and some tasty greens. It was fried chicken night, but all the fried chicken was at the other end of the table, so I never tried a bite. Mango Mama said it was just so-so.
For dessert we ordered the tiramisu, the pumpkin pie and the cherry pie. The pumkin pie was very basic and nothing special, but I liked the light and flavorful tiramisu, which came in a mini loaf pan and was enough to share with everyone. I also enjoyed the cherry pieâ€” a nice Wisconsin touch. It was more tart and lively than the cherry pie I tasted at the White Gull Inn.
Savoy Tavern was enjoyable, with hearty food and very decent prices, but with so many wonderful Portland restaurants, I don’t think I’ll be going back again in the very near future. All in all, though, it was great to be back in the Northwest for the weekendâ€” both for good food and for relaxing family time.
Sleepy Monk Coffee
1235 S. Hemlock
Cannon Beach, OR 97110
1188 S. Hemlock
Cannon Beach, OR 97110
Burgerville (various locations)
9385 SW Allen Blvd
Beaverton, OR 97005
Savoy Tavern & Bistro
2500 SE Clinton
Portland, OR 97202