Eaten, Barely Blogged: Fresh Seafood and Forgotten Chains of the Oregon Coast
Because I enjoy generalizing and like seeing the world through my own experiences, I have no problem stating that Oregonians don’t really eat seafood. Not natives anyway. And Dungeness crab aside, local bounties don’t get their due either. You’ve probably had Washington oysters, maybe northern Californian (even in Seattle, some Humboldt Bay bivalves float their way onto menus) but do you even hear about Oregon oysters? I don’t. I don’t even know why.
Regional chain Mo’s and its famous thick, buttery clam chowder is probably the only coastal restaurant with name recognition. And this treatment from the Sterns in Saveur a few years ago is the only food-focused article on the area that I can recall seeing in recent history. It’s strange how so much coastal food is overpriced and geriatric and ‘90s continental crusted in hazelnuts. I just wanted to eat fresh fish, which is how I ended up coercing my mom and stepdude 75 miles from where I was staying in Nehalem, and my sister and her husband (even after a decade, brother-in-law sounds weird) 120 miles from their base in Eugene to Local Ocean Seafoods in Lincoln City for a belated Christmas dinner. (Yep, it’s now April–I’m determined to rein 2016 back in.)
I went a little nuts ordering half a Dungeness crab, grilled squid with feta and olives, seafood stews big enough for three, the fishwives (crab, shrimp, scallops, mussels, clam, fish that I don’t remember) and moqueca, a Brazilian spin, and of course poké, which perhaps, no surprise, is even a thing in small coastal towns. As it turns out, not only do Oregon oysters exist, here, from Netarts Bay, but Oregonians will eat seafood, raw even. (Ok, one tablemate ate a tempeh wrap but that’s in a different category than a fish sticks and fried shrimp-only lifestyle.) I am judgmental and often wrong.
* * *
Not to give Local Ocean short shrift, but driving down the winding 101 I was captivated by the number of fossilized chains, interspersed between the seemingly high number of chop suey joints and shops peddling myrtlewood trinkets. Lincoln County, Oregon, is a nostalgia hotbed I never knew existed. I did what I could from the passenger seat window.
Of course, there is Lil’ Sambo’s, which I didn’t snap, and takes pains to point out isn’t affiliated with the questionable chain that still has an outpost in Santa Barbara. It’s all tigers and butter and pancake folklore so…
Arctic Circle OMG. Super Utah chain, one of only three remaining in the Pacific Northwest. Home of fry sauce.
What?! There was a damn Sizzler less than two miles from Local Ocean, wind-warped coastal trees and all. I almost made my mom turn the car around. I was surprised to find out there are still ten Sizzlers in Oregon.
I was also recently sent the above artifact from a simpler time as a romantic gesture. It worked (duh).
Abby’s I can honestly say I had not given this pizza chain a thought in nearly 30 years. If I recall, it used to have a stagecoach logo. I also had a horrible obsession with a boy named Abby that lasted from 8th grade all through freshman year and the sign would make me think of him. (And now I’m obsessed with these kids’ menu illustrations.) There are a whopping 32 locations in Oregon, including Gresham, which was definitely the place for soccer team parties in the ‘80s.
The car was moving too fast to capture Izzy’s, but I couldn’t let everyone’s favorite pizza buffet go unmentioned. I was once asked how my meal was by Izzy Covalt, herself, even though I was a teen sharing plates with friends against the rules. That’s hospitality.