With apologies to Mike I’m making this about the food in yet another “Get on Bike and Go” episode. I’m supposed to keep this blog “relevant” in the eyes of Google to attract clients to my custom jewelry design website, Gary Dawson Designs. And I’m pretty sure I’ve had a problem following rules since my earliest memories of toddling off to the outhouse so I’ll just go with the Free Beer Tomorrow theme and Google can jump off a high Oregon Coast cliff this time.
This past weekend I rode Poderoso, my trusty moto named after Che’s bike (featured in the movie, “The Motorcycle Diaries”) to meet my brother George at a location on the coast that I’ve known fairly well in different decades. It matters not what you think if Che Guevara, it’s the bike I’m idolizing here.
Charleston, Oregon is a tiny fishing village with a large commercial fishing fleet located about 8 miles from Hwy. 101 and beautiful downtown North Bend at the mouth of the Coos River drainage. With this information in place, take your mind back a couple of decades and visualize Red’s tavern, reputedly the most rowdy tavern in Oregon in its day. I worked on a very small salmon boat during one of my last summers of high school (early 70’s) and my captain was very stern in his warning, “Don’t ever, ever go into Red’s.” I note in trying to find a link here to some of the Red’s history that the legacy remains oral. Maybe that’s a book that needs writing since stories abound if you start asking around in the area.
So at some point after a bunch of cheap beer and a little good whiskey (I brought the whiskey!) my brother and I decide to go find some seafood. We ended up across the street from the old Red’s Tavern site in a place called “High Tide Cafe”.
I was skeptical, having spent many cold winter days in Charleston crabbing from the docks and in those days one was lucky to find anything beyond soggy French fries and yesterday’s fish, deep friend in old oil. But despite the exterior with its look of older Charleston, the place actually seemed to have some promise once inside. We sat at the bar facing an open kitchen, something you just don’t much see in a dingy tavern.
We were greeted by an appropriately wise-acre server/bartender and he helped me select the first decent beer I had that day, a local amber ale. I guess craft brewing has even penetrated here, a happy surprise! It didn’t take too long to decide what we wanted so with orders in, we settled into our beverages when the next surprise arrived, our cups of house-made clam chowder. This was the most herbal chowder I’d ever had and it surprised my palate. When queried, the bartender made us guess the herb. A heavy dose of thyme gives this chowder its very distinctive flavor. George and I ate about halfway through our meals and then swapped plates. Mine…a fried razor clam dish with fresh garden summer squash thoughtfully enough prepared to really capture my attention. How veggies are cooked and presented is one of my real tests of culinary care. There are a lot of good cooks out there in the world and many can put together an entree. But the sides can tell more about an actual love of good food. George’s dish was a seafood pasta, a creamy take on an Alfredo dish with plenty of crab, shrimp and clams.
Not one to shirk a responsibility (to you, dear reader), I struck up a conversation with the chef as a short lull in filling orders ensued. Turns out he was a former chef at one of my favorite hangouts during my Portland Saturday Market days, Jazz de Opus and Opus Two which “…became a cultural nexus…” that “was known around the country as the Oregon version of the Village Vanguard, the fabled New York club, and it contributed to Portland’s reputation as a thriving jazz city.”, according to the Oregon Encyclopedia! Both closed in 2003 and it was an end of an era.
Chef Steve Raplee is doing it right, right now at the High Tide Cafe, in Charleston. We got to reminiscing about the Opus era and when I asked him what the heck he was doing in Charleston, he simply replied, “getting out of Portland.” I understand…getting out of Eugene was why I was in Charleston that evening too. Free Beer, Tomorrow! is the logo worn on staff t-shirts but I’m happy to pay for my beer and meal today and any day that the food is this well prepared!
Shout out to you Chef! We survived Portland in the 70’s-80’s and now on to doing our different things, making the world a better place, one meal, and one piece of jewelry at a time.