Like nearly every other citizen of our great state of Oregon, I made my way to the coast over the weekend. I know this is not hyperbole, because I couldn’t find a single vacant camp site from Seaside to Florence on Saturday night.
But for the one lame child who had to stay behind while the Pied Piper pulled the rest of us all out to the cliffs, here’s what went down.
I had my fill of creamy summer local oysters, supping them raw at Shucker’s Oyster Bar in Lincoln City; raw and sandy at Pacific Oyster in Bay City; and fried and not very good in Newport upon learning the film I had been envisioning, Steamed Ginger Oysters at the Noodle Café, would be delayed due to it being the restaurant’s night off. Oh well.
I ate gross taffy at the human zoo they call Seaside, including flavors called Molasses Mint, Black Widow (licorice and redhots), and Ocean (which stained my tongue dark blue and freshened my breath with peppermint). Also had a good bowl of pho, surprisingly, on The Prom. Fleeing the floaters and the sinkers, I peered in the windows like a creeper at Seaside High School, hoping to catch a glimpse of the ghost of James Beard, who held cooking classes there back in the day.
On hikes, I snacked on the first blackberries of the season; salmonberries, which are like many tender young things much prettier than they taste; and thimbleberries, who do redheads proud. Hey, and I felt kind of pleased, too, that I am finally Oregonian enough to recognize many of the edible plants that hug the waterways.
Fate smiled upon me because I saved a beached anchovy’s life, tossing it back into the sea. It presented me with a couple of days in Nehalem and Manzanita, exploring the coastal communities there. We take for granted our extensive farmers market system in Eugene, so it’s invigorating to see the vibrant buzz of a new farmers market in a small community. I chatted with the Master Gardeners and the crepe makers at the market, making off with a pint of boysenberries, and visited the folks who own and run R-evolution Gardens, who founded said farmers market a few years ago.
R-evolution Gardens is an organic, off-grid farm in Nehalem producing lovely sound vegetables and, from what it looks like, a future herbal medicine line. An entire drying table of calendula reminded me of little petals of the sun being preserved for winter, and in a way, it was. On the lower parcel of the farm, nestled along a clear clean river, everyone’s summer fantasy of ratatouille was ready for harvest: already lush heavy peppers, fat sweet onions popping out of the soil, monster summer squash plants, long vined tomatoes, an impossible amount of humid nightblue eggplant.
I really try not to romanticize farming, but Jesus, it is hard with this place. Co-owner and farmer Ginger Salkowski has appeared in the Greenhorns: 50 Dispatches from the New Farmers’ Movement, and seems cut from the same tough cloth as Greenhorns founder Severine von Tscharner Fleming, as I recall from the panel we did together a few years ago at UO’s Food Justice conference. Co-owner Brian Schulz builds foraged and sustainable structures powered by solar electricity, including a Japanese bath house where I would have gladly spent the entire weekend and a Japanesque A-frame covered in forest that the farm rents out on airbnb.com.
Also of note was an excellent meal at Dinner at the Nehalem River Inn, a recently revivified restaurant run by a young and talented chef, Lee Vance, who uses produce from R-evolution Gardens and other farms and gardens within 10 miles of the restaurant. Yes, a farm-to-table restaurant 5 minutes from the coast! Standouts included a silky sweet beet soup crowned by a nasturtium, simple roasted bone marrow over toast, a lamb ragú with ricotta gnudi, and rather hearty, plump, excellent house-made ravioli filled with pork and morels, served over creamed carrot purée with English peas. A glass of lambrusco and a chèvre cheesecake in a warmly hued, cozy dining room certainly did not hurt matters, either. From the few menus I browsed online, it appears they almost always have a local fish and a salted chocolate pot-de-crème that I’m sad I didn’t try. The restaurant will reopen in a fab new building on the main drag in Manzanita, Laneda Avenue, right next to the farmers market, in fall, so check it out before the crowds figure out it’s the best thing going. Seriously.