I go out for breakfast less than any other meal, which is surprising when you consider how much I love breakfast foods. Of course you can get them at places like IHOP or your friendly neighborhood truck stop all day and all night, but it's just not the same. Unfortunately I'm just not a morning person...except on vacation, when I tend to rise with the Sun. There was no debate about where we would be having breakfast; a mutual friend told us we NEEDED to go to a particular place. That's how it was worded, "you guys need to go". And I wasn't about to argue with her, because she's taller than me and would just bop me on the head.
I fell in love with La Maison as soon as I saw it. How could I not? It's just so damn charming. It was also busy, so I put my name on the waiting list. The interior is pretty cozy, so we decided to wait outside. It was a brisk early Spring morning, so by the time we were seated coffee was a necessity.
Not that it wouldn't have been anyway. Luckily, the coffee was very good. I also ordered a glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice which, due to La Maison's commitment to using fresh, local, organic produce (and eggs, which will be important shortly), might be the best OJ I've ever had.
They also bake their own bread products, which results in a very tempting pastry display at the front counter.
After we had ordered our food, our waitress brought us each a bowl of sliced fresh bananas in cream, topped with toasted hazelnuts and brown sugar. It's nothing that ever would have occurred to me to put together, but it's delicious. If you're just looking for a snack, you can also just order this separately.
Boring people that we are, both of us ordered omelets and chose a croissant for our side. My dining companion picked the Provence, a three-egger (as all the omelets here are) stuffed with grilled ham, fire-roasted peppers, onions, and imported gruyere cheese. She loved it. I tried a bite of it and thought it was pretty good as well, but it wasn't as good as mine.
The Paris omelet is a little simpler, being stuffed only with French brie cheese. Of course, then it's wrapped in prosciutto. And I don't mean perfunctorily, the thing is more or less completely encased in prosciutto. Pretty much every bite is going to have prosciutto on at least two sides, sometimes three. Then, just for good measure, it's garnished with fresh chives. It's arguable whether this is the best omelet I've ever been served in terms of flavor (lots of different things you can put in an omelet, after all), but it's definitely among the very best. It's certainly the best-executed one I've ever had. As a bonus, it also led to the most food-porny picture I've ever taken.
Just look at that, would ya? The cheese is almost liquid. That one bite is almost totally wrapped in porky goodness. And the eggs! You can tell by the dark yellow towards the center that the omelet was cooked JUST enough for them to completely set, leaving them moist by not runny. It was perfection, I can't think of any better way to describe it. And let's talk about that croissant. A buttery, crispy, delicious shell containing layer upon layer of flaky, paper-thin goodness. Do I even need to say that the softened butter and marionberry preserves were great accompaniments? This was hands down the best meal of this trip. I can't recommend La Maison heartily enough.
We decided to walk off some of our breakfast by strolling along the bayfront until the fishy smell drove us away.
|And let's not forget the horrifying song of the sea lions...|
The roommate suggested checking out Yaquina Head Lighthouse while we had some time and energy to burn.
It was a nice hike. We walked, we took lots of pictures of the ocean...
...and we chatted. Primarily about the sign we saw as we were turning onto the side road that took us to the lighthouse. It was a sign showing the distance to Tillamook. We had both looked at each other at the same time, and I asked her if it was just the name of a town, or if it was where the actual cheese factory is located. She said it was the latter, and that despite her best efforts she had yet to make it out there. We had originally planned to go to Rogue's brewery that afternoon, but Tillamook was a tantalizing option. After all, one of our earliest bonding moments was over how much we both loved and miss the Swiss Village Cheese Factory in Nampa. Still, Rogue was just over the bridge in South Beach, and Tillamook was over 70 miles away. Cheese freaks though we both are, we had just had amazing omelets with amazing cheese for breakfast. Did we really want to add another 140 miles of driving to this trip considering all the time we had spent in the car the previous day, not to mention all the time we would be spending in the car the following day? Was it worth it? Was it necessary?
At least it's a gorgeous drive. You start off by going through a few coastal towns, but eventually you move away from the water and into farmland. You'll know you're getting close because the amount of milk-producing livestock you see in the fields around you increases a LOT. The Tillamook Cheese Factory doesn't look particularly impressive from the outside, but once you get inside it's a different story. There's a lot to do and see.
You see the gift shop first, which is a little odd. After that you go upstairs where there is all kinds of informational signage, monitors showing educational stuff, interactive computer terminals, displays of trophies and ribbons Tillamook has won...
And of course lots of great views of the cheese-making process. After that you are spit out into the most chaotic sampling system I've ever encountered.
Seriously, there's a line of six containers with little cubes of cheese, and plenty of toothpicks for sampling them. But not everybody wants to try everything, so you're constantly being pressured from behind to keep moving. Either you're going to miss things, or the flavors are all going to start blending together because you're not able to finish chewing and swallowing one sample before having to move on to the next, or you're going to wind up standing at the end with your hands full of of hors d'oeuvres and trying to remember which one is which. After that you end up in the gift shop that really matters. Walls lined with refrigerated recesses containing pretty much the entirety of the Tillamook catalog. Cheeses in blocks, slices and shreds. Gift sets with cheeses and cutting boards, crackers and knives. Yogurt, ice cream, sour cream, and butter. There are also some non-Tillamook items on display. Specialty cheeses from other local producers, smoked meats and seafoods, spreads and condiments, cookbooks, crackers, snacks, beverages...here, I'll just show you.
I still regret not getting the smoked meat and cheese "trail mix". Sigh. Moving on. After the comestibles market you enter the food court, which is comprised of a cafe, a fudge counter, and a ridiculously busy ice cream counter. Just like in the old Swiss Village days, we decided to get some hot cheesy goodness to go with all the cold cheesy goodness we had sampled and purchased. We placed orders with the cafe and found a table to spread out and admire our purchases.
For me, that was a bottle of what used to be called Dublin Dr. Pepper, a bottle of Mountain Dew's strange Dewshine product (purchased because it was the first time I'd seen it, FYI I do NOT recommend it), a snack-size bar of Hot Habanero Jack, a small block of Vintage Smoked Extra Sharp White Cheddar, and a wedge of their Four Year Vintage Limited Edition Extra Sharp White Cheddar, which apparently is no longer available. It's really too bad; if you've ever had the two year old version, which is available at pretty much every grocery store and is one of my favorite cheeses in the world, you can imagine how good the four year old was. Back to the hot food. Tillamook's Creamery Cafe actually has a fairly diverse breakfast menu. Obviously there are breakfast sandwiches and burritos with cheese, scrambles, omelets, and the like, but there are also pancakes, biscuits and gravy, oatmeal, and even steak and eggs with no cheese in sight. Once lunch service begins though, it's pretty much all about the dairy. Deep fried cheese curds, bread with cheese dipping sauce, cheese soup, mac and cheese, cheeseburgers, waffle fry nachos, bacon and cheese tots...and of course a selection of interesting interpretations of grilled cheese sandwiches that really test the definition of the name. We both went the grilled cheese route.
The roommate, a huge pepper jack fan, picked the Taco Jack sandwich: taco meat, pepper jack cheese, avocado, and usually tomato but she despises them, on white bread. I didn't try it because I loathe "taco meat". Not the meat you find in actual tacos mind you, just that wet, over-seasoned ground beef paste you find at places like Taco Bell. She seemed happy enough with it, and she ordered it with a side salad to kind of balance out all the bread, butter and cheese we'd been consuming.
Not me, I'm a good Idaho boy. I got tater tots alongside my Centennial Grilled Cheese sandwich, the only one on the menu to feature a sharp cheese (actually a blend of sharp cheddar and medium white cheddar), plus it's served on sourdough, which I like a lot better than plain white bread. Yummy stuff all around, nothing mind-blowing, just a classic grilled cheese featuring really good butter and cheese.
Once we had finished lunch, we just had to check out the aforementioned ridiculously busy ice cream counter. I mean nobody was buying fudge, the cafe was doing slow but steady business, but the ice cream counter looked like that the entire time we were there. And it wasn't even a hot day!
The roommate opted for mint chocolate chip. Her nostalgia was a little offended because the ice cream itself wasn't the usual garish green (Tillamook has stopped using artificial colors), but of course it still tasted great. I went with a chocolate malt that I didn't bother taking a picture of because it came in a generic paper cup, but it was still yummy. It's funny, I always think of Tillamook when I'm at the store buying cheese or butter, but never when I'm buying ice cream. That's going to have to change.
After that was the return trip to Newport. The plan for the evening was that the roommate would be going out with friends to drink a reasonable amount before coming back at a decent time (insert Cheshire Cat grin here), and since she loathes anything seafood related I would have the chance to hunt down some shellfish for dinner.
Local Ocean Seafoods was the restaurant I had wanted to hit on my previous trip to Newport, but hadn't made it into town early enough. In the meantime, my mother and sister had been there and came back with hearty recommendations.
In addition to their full menu, they also have what amounts to a small market with take-and-go fresh local seafood. Unfortunately the weather wasn't quite nice enough for them to open up the giant garage-style doors at the front of the restaurant to let in the sea air. They weren't particularly busy on this occasion, so I was able to ask for a table without irking the hostess rather than sit elbow to elbow at the bar with the other solo diners.
I decided to start my meal off with an Oyster Shooter, which is apparently kind of a thing in the area. It's an amazingly fresh and delicious local oyster in a shot glass with cocktail sauce and a little lemon. It was interesting, but I think in the future I'd rather just have the oyster.
Next came the Roasted Garlic & Dungeness Crap Soup, which my mother had loved so much that she immediately tried to copycat it when she got home. Local Ocean's version has the advantage of incredibly fresh crab, but other than that I'd have to say Mom's was better. This just didn't have a whole lot of flavor. When the name of your dish leads with "roasted garlic", I expect that to be a real flavor punch, or at least detectable. When all was said and done, it's a pretty standard chowder (it uses a clam base), but with big chunks of dungeness crab instead of clams. All in all, probably not bad for $7.50 a cup, it could just stand to be jazzed up a bit.
And now we come to the main event: the Crab Po' Boy. Per the menu, dungeness crab and green chili avocado puree on grilled parmesan-crusted hoagie, with fries. The crab, aside from the one tiny piece of shell, was great. I loved the puree, and even the hoagie roll was good. It's a solid dish. It also royally pissed me off.
Why, you might ask (or might not, doesn't matter)? Well let me put it to you like this: have you ever been to Louisiana? I have. It's the home of the Po' Boy. I'm a person who tends to take language fairly seriously, especially when it comes to the names of things. In the context of food, let me give you some examples. What Panda Express serves is not "gourmet", no matter what their signage says. Despite their menu descriptions, nothing at McDonald's is "artisan". Unless you're drinking gin and vermouth, STIRRED together, you are not drinking a martini, I don't give a shit if it's served in a martini glass or not. And what you're looking at in the above picture certainly ain't a Po' Boy.
A Po' Boy is basically a type of submarine sandwich, typically served on baguette-ish French bread, and the SMALL ones are about half a foot in length. No matter what size you order, you can generally count on them being fairly stuffed. A quick trip to Google Images will show you what I mean. You'll notice in the above picture that that each half of this sandwich is about the same length as the business end of a fork and not much wider, which basically makes this a crab sandwich served on a glorified hot dog bun. It's good, no doubt about that, but it's in desperate need of a better, more accurate name. As is the case with 90% of the places you can order a Philly Cheesesteak, New York Pizza, or Italian Beef, the place selling it relies on you not knowing any better. If I hadn't been eating so well all day I would have left the restaurant still hungry and even more irritated, but as it was I couldn't even finish the fries. Price tag for the crab dog? $17.00.
So, yet another overpriced, less than satisfying meal at the bayfront. I'm beginning to think that all the places in that area of town are nothing more than tourist traps, since the further I get from there the better the food and the prices seem to get. There's one other place that I want to try, and if they fail to impress I'll probably just write off the bayfront altogether. After a walk along the beach, I went back to the hotel and stayed up far too late watching The Walking Dead until the roommate made it back, at which point we both went to sleep in preparation for nine hours of driving the next morning. And thus endeth day two.