Monday, August 31, 2009

Travels with Chili: A Dash to Astoria

Needing to put some miles on Chili, the better to someday strut her road-hugging stuff around the backroads of the Northwest, we decided to take a day trip to Astoria. A couple of hours' drive along the Columbia through wetlands and forests, we followed the river west as it defined the contours of the upper-left hand corner of the state.

Arriving around noon, we stopped for lunch along the main riverfront avenue at one of our favorite spots, the Columbian Café. It's quite small, seating maybe 30 in its four booths and counter, and is owned by the talented and eccentric Uriah Hulsey, whose personality is reflected in the eclectic decor of the restaurant that runs toward Day of the Dead sculptures, bits of ephemera and odds and ends of the stuff your Aunt Edna may have stashed in her attic.

Uriah loves him his peppers, and the hotter the better. For a real taste of what this man can do with them, you can order the Chef's Mercy and he'll whip something up on the spur of the moment from whatever he's foraged from local sources. Otherwise it's standard, albeit well-made and seasonal, café fare that tips its hat in the direction of New Orleans.

And for those who want to spend a little more time in his culinary presence, he's got jars of his famous St. Diablo pepper and garlic jellies for sale. We've become addicted to the jalapeño, its pale green color belying the intense pepper flavor that goes so well with cream cheese and Indian cuisine. And the labels, designed to look like old engraved Mexican labels from the early 1900s, are works of art in themselves and worthy of framing.

From there we decided to walk through the quaint downtown area that has blossomed around the tourist trade but hasn't gone overboard to cater to people seeking beach knickknacks (who are those people, anyway?). Dave wanted to check out a couple of the breweries that have opened in the last few years, so we made our meandering way to the Fort George Brewery to sample a pint or two.

With a selection that includes everything from a wit to a very nice stout and, at least from the look of the food coming out of the kitchen, a decent menu, this is a great family-friendly spot for hanging.

Another brewery is just a few blocks away is the Astoria Brewing Company, deceptively housed in the Wet Dog Cafe. With a terrific river view from inside at the bar or out on the deck overlooking the water, you can wave at the Astoria Riverfront Trolley as it trundles along the docks.

Sun, beer and road trip needs satiated, we drove back home with the sun setting in Chili's rearview mirror. And that mileage indicator was looking a lot nearer to the 1200-mile mark we needed to start testing her sporty engine.

Details: Columbian Café, 1114 Marine Dr., Astoria; phone 503-325-2233. Fort George Brewery, 1483 Duane St., Astoria; phone 503-325-7468. Wet Dog Cafe, 144 11th St., Astoria; phone 503-325-6975.


Jacquelyn said...

Oh, that sounds awesome. Thanks for the recommendations, I never know where to eat when we go to the coast, it's always hit and miss.

Kathleen Bauer said...

It was a fun trip. Let me know what you think!