For regular visitors to the Oregon coast, there is big news in the culinary realm this summer — news that may be heard from Newport north through Depoe Bay and Pacific City, all the way to Cannon Beach.
Here’s one news byte: Justin Wills, the coast’s most acclaimed young chef and a former James Beard award nominee, celebrated the renewal of his five-year lease on Restaurant Beck, at the Whale Cove Inn above Depoe Bay, by opening a second restaurant in the Nye Beach neighborhood of Newport.
Here’s another: John Newman, who established his gourmet reputation at the Stephanie Inn before opening his own restaurant, Newman’s at 988, in 2006 in midtown Cannon Beach, has joined the Kiwanda Hospitality Group to help launch its new venture. Newman will be corporate chef in charge of the expansion of the coast’s best brewpub, the Pelican Pub & Brewery, to a new Cannon Beach location next spring.
It’s not as if the coast has been hurting for great places to dine. Beyond the fish-and-chips shops and casual steak-and-seafood joints, there is no shortage of creative cuisine in the towns between the California border and the mouth of the Columbia River, from Brookings all the way to Astoria.
I took a week in late July to make the 350-mile drive up U.S. Highway 101 from redwoods country to the land of Lewis and Clark, past beaches and fishing harbors, rocky seascapes and sand dunes. Along the way, I reviewed the fine-dining options in each town. I revisited establishments that I’ve enjoyed in the past and discovered some new ones.
Brookings, a town of about 6,500, is only about 7 miles north of the state line in the most southwesterly corner of Oregon. It is known, among other things, for its production of Easter lilies, the trumpet-shaped heirloom blossoms of which come in many colors.
The Black Trumpet Bistro serves Italian-style dishes, from pastas to chicken Marsala and veal Piccata, in an intimate and colorful space right on the main street. It also has an excellent wine list.
Another restaurant, the Art Alley Grille is my favorite place to dine on this part of the coast, but it’s only open four nights a week for dinner. Chef-owner George Rhodes is proud of his close relationship with area farmers and fishermen. He translates that into a menu that ranges from Angus beef Wellington to harissa grilled shrimp. Guests enter off a ground-floor alley directly below an art gallery filled with paintings and photos.
In Gold Beach, best known for its jet-boat trips up the Rogue River, I love to visit Anna’s by the Sea when it’s open: Wednesdays through Saturdays. This quirky spot, a block off Highway 101, and therefore a little hard to find, boasts “nouvelle Canadian prairie cuisine” as prepared by owner-chef Peter Dower, who is also the waiter and maître d’. Try the local black rock cod, if it’s available, with succotash or however else it might be prepared. The menu is determined weekly, or even nightly, depending upon what is available. The well-considered wine list carries mainly French and other European varietals.
The little harbor town of Port Orford is home to Redfish, which offers a view unparalleled on this section of the coast. In a building shared with the beautiful Hawthorne Gallery, a showcase that wouldn’t be out of place on the Big Sur coast (where it has a sister gallery), a wall of windows looks westerly across a historic beach toward the distinctive (and eponymous) Redfish Rocks. The ever-changing menu is highlighted by a fresh catch Française, dipped in egg and sautéed over gnocchi.
Bandon has only 3,000 year-round citizens, but the resort town has three restaurants where I could dine on a regular basis. The new owners of Allora Wine Bar are taking its direction away from Italian coastal cuisine to a farm-to-table approach using seasonal produce from local purveyors. Look for duck breast with local berries and mushrooms, house-made desserts and a fine selection of wines.
The Loft was opened in 2010 by young chef-owner Kali Fieger, and it has been an outstanding addition to the dining scene. Located on the second floor of a historic dock building in Old Town Bandon, it offers a variety of dishes that are both classic and innovative, such as Moroccan spiced lamb belly and roasted butterfish.
Edgewaters is a more traditional steak-and-seafood house, a shingled building at the west end of the Old Town harbor. With a view across the mouth of the Coquille River mouth to a historic lighthouse, guests enjoy such dishes as the local favorite, seafood Romesco.
Coos Bay, the largest coastal city with 16,000 people, is a workingman’s town, built around the fishing and logging industries. I haven’t found a lot of outstanding dining here. Until recently, my favorite spot has been the Coach House, located in the southeast corner of the community across the Isthmus Bridge. A loggers’ bar when it was built in the 1950s, later a steakhouse with a country-and-western band, it gradually added a garden patio. Since 2000, it has served the shellfish and barbecue-driven menu here that prevails today.
On my most recent visit, however, I discovered the Tokyo Bistro, certainly the best Japanese and sushi restaurant on the coast. Open for just over a year in the Empire District at the west end of Coos Bay, it sits on the road to Charleston and Cape Arago. Chef-owner John Luo serves not only fish fresh from the harbor, but also dishes like tempura baby octopus, homemade ramen and chirashi donburi, for those who know Asian cuisine.
Coos Bay wraps around North Bend, where my favorite dining spot is Ciccarelli’s, a downtown Italian spot with such additional items like French onion soup, steamed clams and New York steaks.
There’s really only one place worth dining in Reedsport, at the hub of the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. The Harbor Light Restaurant has stayed in business for 35 years, and it continues to do so with a menu that ranges from traditional steak and seafood to creative nightly specials.
Florence, whose 8,500 people live due west of Eugene, has seen some outstanding restaurants come and go in recent years. One constant is the Waterfront Depot, a quaint bistro in a 1913 train station (moved from Mapleton in 1972) that extends into the Siuslaw River on a Bay Street pier. The ambiance blends rusticity with elegance, and the prices are amazing: Not one entrée on the menu, which is scrawled upon a blackboard hanging on the east wall, is priced over $18 — including crab-encrusted cod ($14) and rack of lamb ($18).
The dunes end just north of Florence, giving way to spectacular seascapes that include the Sea Lion Caves, Heceta Head and Cape Perpetua. Small but scenic Yachats (pronounced “YA-hots”) anchors this stretch of highway. Its one unforgettable restaurant is Ona, whose spacious deck overlooks Yachats Bay. At my most recent meal, I enjoyed a thick albacore tuna steak, seared medium rare, served on a bed of spinach and shiitake mushrooms. Owner-chef Michelle Korgan also is co-owner of the Heceta Head Lighthouse Bed-and-Breakfast Inn.
Busy Newport was glad to greet Sorella, Justin Wills’ Nye Beach café, which opened in May. Specializing in casual, handmade Italian cuisine, Sorella offers pastas and pizzas made from scratch in-house, along with a couple of modestly priced entrées like chicken scallopini and pork loin with eggplant and sweet peppers (both $14).
While this isn’t a seafood house, there are plenty of those in Newport. I’m a fan of Georgie’s, adjacent to the Hallmark Resort on Elizabeth Street near the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse. The menu is traditional for a steak-and-seafood house, but the variety of fresh seafood is substantial, and recipes like the blackberry barbecue salmon salad and the New York steak Oscar with Dungeness crabmeat are a little out of the ordinary.
There are lots of casual restaurants down on the Yaquina Bay front, Newport’s biggest urban magnet for tourism, but none has fish of the quality served at Local Ocean Seafoods. The bounty served at this fish market and grill comes from the fishing boats moored right across the street. There’s intimate dining upstairs, but most walk-ins are delighted with the open doors and central open kitchen of the street-side café, whether they’re dining on black-cod tacos, Yaquina Bay oysters or weathervane scallops.
No other Oregon coast restaurant combines outstanding food with such an amazing view as Restaurant Beck, nestled within Depoe Bay’s lovely Whale Cove Inn: This bluff-top boutique hotel overlooks a remote cove inhabited by harbor seals — a panoramic view to which diners with window seats are readily entitled.
Wills and his wife, Stormee, established the restaurant in 2009 and named it for their son, Becker. Today he serves a short menu — typically three starters and five entrées — of dishes that blend Northwest, Pacific and Mediterranean flavors. A master of subtlety, he encourages a variety of flavors without allowing any to overpower a meal. One of my menu favorites is hamachi sashimi with mango gelée, basil leaves and Szechuan peppercorns.
Hidden off the highway just north of Depoe Bay in the resort community of Gleneden Beach, the Side Door Café is a hidden treasure. Ensconced in a former brick-and-tile factory beside the Gleneden Harvest Market since 1997, the restaurant serves a wide-ranging menu of steak, seafood and dishes like Oregon hazelnut-encrusted pork medallions.
The Bay House has been a fixture since 1978 on a tidal lagoon at the south end of Lincoln City. On my last visit, I sat in the dining room for pan-fried soft-shell crab, presented with a blood-orange, hazelnut and frisée salad. Together with a plate of ahi tartare, it was all I required for a superb dinner. Sometimes I prefer the spacious lounge, where I sip wine and order from a menu of small plates, including Manila clams with Andouille sausage and short ribs with parsnip puree.
Shingled Pier 101, a “deluxe” bar and grill recently purchased by the Salem-based McGrath’s group, has been a fixture since 1972. It sits near the mouth of the D River, claimed by Lincoln City locals as the world’s shortest river. The menu is well known for its surf-and-turf offerings, and the steamer clams are extremely popular.
Veteran chef Rob Pounding opened the Blackfish Café, near the northern end of long, narrow Lincoln City, in 1999, and its popularity hasn’t waned in the years since. Buying seafood directly from area fishermen, and vegetables and herbs from local gardeners, his sustainably organic menu features the likes of a Vietnamese prawn-and-noodle salad and a cioppino of Northwest seafood.
Pacific City is hardly a city, its population a mere 800. But the presence of dramatic Cape Kiwanda, from whose leeward side dory fishermen launch their boats and surfers find a consistent break, has helped a small resort community to develop. And it is here that the Pelican Pub & Brewery opened on the sand in 2005. The menu, which runs the gamut from Tsunami Stout-smoked ribs to malt-crusted salmon with sweet-potato quinoa cake, is enhanced by an extensive choice of craft beers produced in-house.
Tiny Netarts may be best known as the home of Netarts Bay oysters and the nationally acclaimed Jacobsen Salt Co., these products are nurtured in the pure, highly saline water. It’s also home to The Schooner, an institution since the 1950s — but one that only since 2009 has elevated itself from the category of beachfront dive to fine dining.
A team of investors led by chef Tom Flood added not only an outdoor deck and mesquite grill; they also installed wind-powered turbines while constantly striving for sustainability. An outstanding, locally sourced menu changes almost daily.
The “big city” nearest Netarts is Tillamook, a town of 5,000 home to the Tillamook Cheese factory. The place to dine here is the Pacific Restaurant, where chef-owners Nelia Serapion and Philip Biermann weave the Pacific Northwest into the Pacific Rim in such plates as Alaskan halibut dieppoise, Korean kalbi-style short ribs and the “Lolo Wahine Hawaiian burga.”
Cannon Beach has several fine restaurants. My favorite is the aforementioned Newman’s at 988, which occupies a bright and tiny yellow house in the heart of the mid-town district. Here, chef Newman focuses on the Mediterranean cuisine of southern France and northern Italy. My recent meal featured a lobster-and-hazelnut ravioli du jour, a grilled romaine salad and Columbia River sturgeon, pan-seared and served with a wild-mushroom risotto cake.
Newman will have his attention partially diverted to the new Pelican Pub, which will take over the former Dooger’s restaurant on Hemlock Street in downtown Cannon Beach. Renovation is scheduled to begin this fall, with opening projected for the following spring.
And then there’s the EVOO Cannon Beach Cooking School. For 11 years, owners Bob Neroni and Lenore Emery have blended culinary education with great ingredients and an ability to entertain. They don’t serve dinner; they offer “dinner shows.” Ten guests, by reservation only, gather around the kitchen bar as the couple describe their preparation of three entrées paired with wines, followed by dessert. For $149 a head, they leave with recipes and a great experience.
The family resort town of Seaside has Maggie’s on the Prom, a beachfront restaurant on the ground floor of the boutique Seaside Inn. Facing the Promenade walkway, and thus much easier to reach by foot than by vehicle, it offers a creative evening menu of Northwest cuisine that ranges from huckleberry razor-clam ceviche to apple-walnut-stuffed chicken.
At Baked Alaska in Astoria, chef Christopher Holen takes full advantage of the restaurant’s location atop pilings that rise above the Columbia River. A specialty is fresh seafood straight from local fishermen. Holen dusts yellowfin tuna with locally ground coffee before searing it rare; he flambés halibut in Applejack brandy and serves it on a bed of Fuji apples; he roasts Columbia salmon skin-on and presents it on a bed of quinoa with sautéed fennel, cauliflower and heirloom tomatoes. Baked Alaska also has a pizzeria, separated from the main dining area by a popular lounge.
Down the riverfront in Astoria, Ann and Tony Kischner’s Bridgewater Bistro occupies a spacious, fir-beamed dining room in the former boatyard of the Union Fish cannery. They’ve been in Astoria since 2007. Prior to opening Bridgewater Bistro, the couple spent more than a quarter-century operating the acclaimed Shoalwater Restaurant on Washington’s Long Beach Peninsula.
Diners come for the extensive selection of seafood-focused small plates accompanied by an impressive wine list.
Also in Astoria, Drina Daisy may be Oregon’s only Bosnian restaurant, bridging the culinary gap between Greek and Italian. Chef Fordinka Kanlic fled war-torn Sarajevo in 1999; today, she does all the cooking as her husband, Ken Bendickson, offers from-the-heart service in this small downtown cafe. I recommend rotisserie-turned lamb with a stuffed paprika and, for dessert, baklava dripping with honey.
— Reporter: email@example.com .