Portland international airport 0 kilometres
"I've hunted pheasants outside of Bend, drunk whisky in the town of Sisters and foraged for mushrooms in Corvallis. I love this state – let's do this!" says Meredith, throwing her suitcase into the trunk of our cherry-red car. Our plan is simple enough: I've flown to Portland to meet friend and cookbook author Meredith Erickson (Portland's Le Pigeon: Cooking at the Dirty Bird) so we can lap Oregon's coast armed with her culinary intel. Portland's urban-homesteading, kombucha-brewing, food-truck-driving scene is fed by Oregon's rich terroir. Self-taught obsessives raise, harvest and fish delicate Dungeness crab and creamy-briny oysters and forage truffles from foggy pine forests. Driven by passion, not profit, many are within an hour's drive of the city. Climbing into the car, we chart a course for the coast with our first stop already planned.
Northwest Portland 23 kilometres
A burnt-orange sun glides slowly toward the horizon as we pull up in front of Olympic Provisions in Northwest Portland. Families tuck into charcuterie boards and rotisserie chicken at a handful of tables on the sidewalk, surrounded by factories that are slowly being converted into restaurants and cafés. Meredith, who's collaborating with Olympic Provisions on a book due out this fall, has called in an order for a picnic pack: a handmade bag filled with pork and pistachio pâté, saucisson sec with garlic and black pepper, saucisson d'Arles (straight-up pork and salt) and a bottle of Crowley Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2012 to wash it all down. (If you don't already know it: Willamette rhymes with "well, damn it" and not "ringette.") "Crowley makes New World pinot that tastes authentically Old World – complex, but subtle," says Meredith as we pile our provisions into the car and head south in search of more.
McMinnville 88 kilometres
At Matello Wines, about three blocks north of Main Street (officially N.E. 3rd Street), winemaker Marcus Goodfellow greets us in his tasting room. "We have three rules," he tells us as he pours some of his micro-production, mineral-y yet fruity pinot gris. "All of our grapes – pinot, chardonnay, riesling, pinot gris – come from the northern Willamette. We only work with vineyards that are farmed by the same people who own them. And we don't use irrigation." Goodfellow's modus operandi typifies the region's small-is-best, grassroots ethos. It's the winemaking counterpart to Portland's hyper-locavore DIY culture. After tasting some of his elegant pinots, we leave with a bottle of floral, red and fruity 2013 pinot rosé and head to the rooftop of McMenamins Hotel Oregon to plan our next move. Feeling fuzzy-minded from wine-tasting on an empty stomach (plus quaffing a glass of Oregon raspberry-infused Ruby Ale), we watch the darkening trees and rooftops as Goodfellow tells us about Nick's Italian Cafe around the corner. The James Beard Award-winning spot has been on the scene since 1977. "For the longest time, it was just about the only place to eat in town," he says. "It's where the winemakers have always eaten."
We soon find the restaurant's hand-painted glass frontage among Main Street's pretty poplars and spotlessly maintained turn-of-the-last-century buildings (readers of Parade magazine voted McMinnville home to America's second-best Main Street, beaten by Collierville, Tennessee). Settling in among the crowd of extended families, we order pear and gorgonzola pizza, spaghetti carbonara, the housemade charcuterie platter and a cheeseburger. Only in Oregon wine country does a cheeseburger make perfect sense at a northern-Italian restaurant.
Lincoln City 171 kilometres
Next morning, we caffeinate at the espresso shack – a drive-through hut with neon lettering and painted wood shingles that's as much a part of the Oregon scenery as Douglas firs and coastal fog. "There's always been love between coffee and loggers," Meredith explains. "Where do you think Stumptown Coffee Roasters got its name?" Long before the granddaddy of hipster coffee outfits came along, Stumptown was Portland's nickname, on account of its mid-19th-century logger beginnings. Today, chains of "bikini barista" shacks have cropped up throughout Oregon and Washington, with names like Twin Perks and Cowgirls (sadly, our roadside shack appears to have no name beyond its "Espresso" sign).
Dipping south from Lincoln City (town slogan: "A Great Place to Try New Things!"), we stop at the clifftop lookout Cape Foulweather and soak in the view. We drop anchor at Newport's Local Ocean Seafoods, overlooking the docks where tuna and crab fishermen are unloading their catch. A small army of teenagers takes our order of briny oysters, crispy panko-battered fish and chips, and fresh Dungeness crab for soaking in butter. Filling our water glasses between bites, they point to the docks every time we ask, "Where is this from?"
Netarts Bay 236 kilometres
Back on the road, we let the sea wind guide us: first to a wooden stand where the orange "Smoked Salmon" lettering matches the fish's flesh and the hair colour of the woman selling it, and then to a cherry stand where a boy named Kenny sells the plumpest, juiciest Oregon stone fruit. We find a saltwater taffy shop where dozens of rainbow-coloured flavours are wrapped in twists of waxed paper, a practice unchanged since the 19th century. Somewhere along desolate Netarts Bay, we pull over to explore a long stretch of sand known as Netarts Spit that's popular with clam diggers at low tide. When we spot a fire-engine red 1965 Ford Falcon convertible, we can't help ourselves and hop in (permission granted with a smile from owner Jenny-Lee, a flight attendant from nearby Tillamook), screaming with laughter into the sound of crashing waves as we do our best Thelma & Louise impression.
Cannon Beach 312 kilometres
After a night in the Hamptons-esque town of Cannon Beach (there are plenty of art galleries and high-end real-estate agencies), it's time for our picnic of champions. Indian Beach, surrounded by cliff, forest and rocky-outcrop-dotted sea, is a short hike from the parking lot in Ecola State Park. The Douglas firs and Sitka spruce are covered in electric-green moss, and surfers in slick black wetsuits lie like starfish on the baseball-size grey stones as couples in matching hiking pants walk past us hand in hand. We've kept our picnic on ice in hotel bar fridges for the past two days: bites of pumpkin-orange local Tillamook medium cheddar on baguette and obscenely hefty Yaquina Bay oysters. We finish off the goody bag from Olympic Provisions with the Crowley Willamette pinot, debating whether the colour in our cheeks is from the sun or the wine.
Astoria 354 kilometres
"It's so Goonies!" we scream in unison, rolling into historically working-class Astoria – the setting of that legendary 1980s movie and former fishing and logging hub that's become a haven for thirtysomething Portland émigrés in search of a quieter life. It looks nearly unchanged from the time when Mikey, Chunk, Data and Mouth fought to stop their homes from being demolished: the water, the docks, the steep streets lined with Victorian and 1920s wood-shingle houses, some shipshape, others peeling and derelict.
Albatross & Co., on 14th Street in Astoria (two blocks from the Columbia River), also fits the bill with its dimly lit exposed brick and reclaimed Douglas fir. "We're more of a tavern, really," says the tattooed, trucker-cap-wearing chef-owner Eric Béchard, plunking down Netarts Bay oysters with mignonette, popcorn-topped bay shrimp cocktail, crab-filled devilled eggs and hand-dipped, nearly foot-long corn dogs. Montreal-born Béchard, who owns farm-to-table spot Thistle in McMinnville, also mixes a mean cocktail: The Lightship #50 (apple brandy, absinthe, hard cider, bitters) and Primrose (gin, Aperol, sweet vermouth) packs us into bed by 10 p.m.
Elsie 415 kilometres
James Beard's quip that sandwich-making is "one of the great American arts" comes to mind when I bite into the grilled tuna melt at Camp 18 on Highway 26. We've stopped here, in the tiny town of Elsie, on our way south back to Portland (Beard's hometown). Camp 18 – all antler chandeliers, carved wooden dancing bears and the smell of drip coffee and fried kielbasa – serves up hot buttered, toasted sourdough perfection: the gooey, cheesy (there is that Tillamook cheddar again) stuff of childhood memories. According to the menu, owner Gordon Smith felled every tree used to build this airy log-cabin restaurant, including a 26-metre ridge pole in the ceiling, "the largest known in the United States." Meredith's ultra-fluffy, gargantuan "flatcars" (logger slang for pancakes), slathered in butter and swimming in maple syrup, are no slouches, either.
Portland 512 kilometres
The largest-known concentration of good eats on a single street in the United States might just be on Portland's Southeast Division Street. There's Thai sensation Pok Pok and its noodle-house spinoff Sen Yai, farm-to-cone ice-cream purveyors Salt & Straw and the Southeast Wine Collective Tasting Bar, just to name a few. At vegetable-centric, Roman-inspired Ava Gene's (owned by Stumptown Coffee Roasters founder Duane Sorenson), we sit down on leather banquettes under pendant lights to a bittersweet final meal together.
Working with at least 35 Oregonian producers (a meter counts the pounds of produce purchased locally – last count: 39,800), executive chef Joshua McFadden creates sweet-salty-crunchy combinations of celery with almonds, dates and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and perfectly al dente farro linguine with tender, crimson-flecked borlotti beans and umami-tastic bottarga. We've come full circle with yet another obsessive spinning Oregon's Garden of Eden into gold.
01 From the inside story on the origins of Pittock Mansion to the most photogenic, and least crowded, views of Mount Hood, America's Hub World Tours will steer you on a customized tour of Oregon's attractions. (americashubworldtours.com)
02 With its leather club chairs and power-broking crowd, Multnomah Whiskey Library is a refreshing change from Portland's hole-in-the-wall haunts. Go early in the week (only members can reserve) and choose from 800 whiskies. (multnomahwhiskeylibrary.com)
03 Sara's Old Photos in Astoria is a repository of just that: antique snapshots chronicling the town's rich history of logging, fish canning and seafaring. (Wednesdays 10 a.m.–2 p.m, 800 Commercial St., 503-325-7969)
04 Dark wooden booths flank olive-green walls dotted with Pacific Northwest landscape paintings at Portland's Woodsman Tavern, owned by Stumptown Coffee's Duane Sorenson. We recommend the smoked mussels with shellfish aioli or grilled trout with "crazy water" (spicy tomato broth). (woodsmantavern.com)
Where to stay
When that chilly fog rolls in (yes, in spring and even in summer), the gas fireplace in your room at Salishan Lodge in Gleneden Beach is a godsend. Fire it up and take in the close-cropped emerald green of the gently sloping golf course and the crashing waves beyond.