Friday, July 24, 2009

Lunch on the Umpqua

The Schooner Café in Reedsport, Oregon, is a paradox.

Situated on the banks of the Umpqua River with a view of a rusting railroad bridge from an outdoor seating area, it calls to my mind the bayside restaurants on the Chesapeake. You know what I mean, the kind of place loved by the boating crowd who motor up to the dock for lunch and dinner, who toss on a tee-shirt to wear with their shorts, and who slip their feet into a pair of docksiders. I’ve enjoyed many a meal at such places.

So how do you explain that the café is only open from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.? Or that there are only four fish or seafood items on the menu? Or that nothing on the menu is fried? I explain it by describing the Schooner Café as a “women’s restaurant.”

There is a lengthy list of salads, many of which contain some form of fruit and/or nuts. There is the apple cranberry salad – mixed greens, sliced apples, slaw, dried cranberries, pecans, carrots, celery, red onion, and grilled chicken breast with poppy seed vinaigrette. There is the orange raisin salad – greens, mandarin orange slices, raisins, almonds, carrots, slaw, grilled chicken breast topped with red onion. Or there is the turkey delight sandwich – sliced turkey, cranberry sauce, cream cheese, and lettuce on hazelnut bread. This place is more of a tearoom than dockside seafood joint.

But whatever the Schooner Café is, our recent lunch was delicious. Chuck ordered the special sandwich of the day – the Grilled Gobbler. This was a version of the turkey delight with the addition of sliced apples and cheddar cheese to the turkey, cranberry, and red onion and was served perfectly grilled on sliced sourdough sandwich bread.

There is something about the denser texture of sourdough that makes it perfect for grilling since it develops a crisp almost crunchy exterior. The slightly sour flavor of the bread counterbalanced what could have been a very sweet sandwich with the apple, cranberry, and cream cheese.

With his sandwich he also ordered a cup of the café’s clam chowder (as did I with my meal). This was first class chowder although thicker than I like, but just what Chuck likes. The chowder was full of dairy—either butter or cream (and maybe both)—and loaded with tender clams; the creamy base had the requisite briny clammy flavor. In fact, had we had this chowder before our great chowder ranking, it just might have edged out Norma’s for second place.

My choice was the “manliest” item on the menu – the Fiesta Beefeater Sandwich. The same grilled sourdough bread encased thin-sliced and still rare deli-style roast beef, mild green chilies, roasted red peppers, red onion, pepper jack cheese, and chipotle mayo. This had enough “oomph” from the chilies, jack cheese, and chipotle mayo to be interesting without being mouth-searing.

With my sandwich, I had the choice of chips, slaw, German potato salad, or cottage cheese (I said this was a woman’s menu), and I chose the potato salad. Bad choice on my part. I should have gone with the chips. This was one of those very sour, very acidic, very vinegary potato salads. We were spoiled by Janis Dannenberg’s German potato salad, which is now the standard by which German potato salad will be judged.

Our original game plan was to share – we’d each eat half of each sandwich. It came time to switch. We each took a bite of the others and promptly switched back. We were both happier with our original choice.

The Schooner Café was a very pleasant surprise, given that we have been so unhappy with Oregon coast food and deserves a 4.0 Addie score.

After lunch, we walked around the waterfront area and came upon this totem pole in front of the Umpqua Discovery Center, which features displays and interactive exhibits related to the natural history and cultural history of the Lower Umpqua Valley and the Oregon coast.

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