It took one bite of the burrito to realize that the red snapper was faultlessly fresh. My memory doesn’t serve me if I’d ever eaten a fish burrito before. I don’t normally choose anything with a cream sauce, but the dish was listed as one of the specialties at Pancho’s Restaurante. Fortunately, the cream was added with restraint. The entire filling was combined with salsa Lolita (presumably the restaurant’s own creation) and the burrito topped with a mild chile verde sauce. The simply named Fish Burrito (☆☆☆½) was another excellent entrée served in a Mexican restaurant that we’ve serendipitously come across on our road trips (the other being molcajete at the now-shuttered La Hacienda in Orick, CA). The menu specialties reflect the cooking of Puerto Vallarta where the owners come from.
The salsa that came complimentary with the tortilla chips was also remarkable. I even asked the waiter how they make it, but instead of quipping that if he told me, he’d have to … anyway, he simply said I’d have to sign a waiver not to tell, then gave me a devilish grin. He wasn’t about to reveal anything. It turns out that the salsa is available for sale at the restaurant and in local stores.
We were directed to Pancho’s by the front desk at the motel where we were staying, proving once again that one of the best ways to discover good local restaurants is to ask a local.
Pancho’s Restaurante y Cantina
1136 Chetco Ave (Oregon Coast Hwy 101)
Brookings, OR 97415
Along the Oregon coast, seafood restaurants are as numerous as the sea stacks offshore. Mo’s is a local seafood restaurant that established a reputation with its clam chowder. There are now six locations, including two in Newport, where Mo’s had its beginning. Since my wife and I were driving through Florence, we stopped here for lunch. Our real intention was to have lunch in Bandon where we were surprised with very good fried clams at the Minute Café in 2009. But the hour was getting late and we were still about an hour away from Bandon.
At Mo’s, we were greeted at the door with bouncy enthusiasm, everyone wishing us a wonderful meal. Even if it was a very popular restaurant, we were seated right away. Our shared plates included a green salad topped with bay shrimp and fried clam strips. We each got our own cup of chowder.
The chowder (☆☆) was very thick from cornstarch and dissolved potatoes, of which there was an excessive amount, cut into various size cubes. There also weren’t very many clam pieces and the broth was weak in clam flavor. Overall, a disappointing version considering its reputation.
While the clam strips (☆☆½) were fine, they did little to make us forget Bandon.
Fried clam strips
As we left Mo’s to take a stroll through Old Town, employees outside ICM Seafood Restaurant were handing out small samples of their clam chowder (☆☆☆½). Now, this was an excellent rendition, full of clam flavor, suffering only from sandy grittiness. Not only that, fried razor clam strips were on the menu. We had eaten lunch at the wrong place. Next time!
1436 Bay St,
Florence, OR 97439
“From the dawn of civilization up to the present, engineers have been busily engaged in ruining this fair earth, and taking all the romance out of it. They have cluttered up God’s fair landscape with hideous little buildings and ugly railroads.”
Conde McCullough, 1937
One of the striking landscape features of coastal Oregon is the succession of beautiful bridges along the Oregon Coast Highway (US 101). Bridge engineer Conde McCullough almost single-handedly designed them during the 1920-30s, fourteen on Highway 101 alone. Twelve of the bridges are on the National Register of Historic Places. I never knew these were the work of one man, but that was before I started planning the current road trip and saw his name mentioned in connection with three of the bridges. A little digging revealed that he was responsible for about 600 in total during his career. His designs are distinguished for their sound construction and aesthetic appeal. Every one had a unique architectural design with the intent of harmonizing it with its surroundings. Almost all of them were constructed of reinforced concrete, which in most hands would wind up with uninspired design. McCullough was also concerned with keeping costs down. He was fond of using arches and employing Egyptian, classical, Gothic and other motifs that appeared in balustrades and span and support structures and art deco designs in obelisks.
One of his bridges is the one crossing the Siuslaw River in Florence. The characteristic approach obelisks are there, four in total. Then there are also art deco structures that served functional purposes—they housed mechanical equipment and provided housing for the bridge operator who managed the 149-foot bascule (or drawbridge) for boat traffic. The two sections swing up on massive hinges that provide 110 feet of clearance. The houses are topped with ornate roofs embellished with sunburst patterns. The concrete balustrades on either side consist of balusters that look like Gothic arches.
Art deco approach obelisk and Gothic pointed arches in Siuslaw River Bridge’s balustrade
While these Depression-era bridges were well-constructed for the time, the Oregon coast’s harsh conditions of rain, wind and salt water have deteriorated the concrete and steel to the point that they are now substandard and require major work to reinforce.
One of the most thrilling shows along the Oregon coast is the Devil’s Churn, part of the Cape Perpetua Scenic Area. At high tide, or better yet when there is a windstorm, waves of water come crashing through a narrow chasm fractured out of the basalt. As you can imagine, under “ideal” conditions, great plumes of sea water spew up with tremendous force, enough to make it dangerous to be standing near the edge. On less dramatic days, the waters still splash up along the sides of the chasm and swirl violently offshore. There is a short footpath down to the attraction from the parking lot above.
We missed seeing this area up close on our last coastal trip. There were light winds today, so there wasn’t any need to be fearful or overly cautious, though walking on the uneven, extremely rugged basaltic rock had its own problems. The fact that Devil’s Churn terminates in a cave leads geologists to think that the chasm once had a roof over it that collapsed sometime in the geologic past, perhaps at one time a lava tube.
Devil’s Churn Overlook (Cape Perpetua Scenic Area)
GPS coordinates of parking lot (44.2838, -124.1096)
The morning was foggy when we drove past Yachats, not unusual for the coastlines of Oregon and northern California. We stopped at Heceta Head Lighthouse State Scenic Viewpoint to admire the lighthouse, one of nine along the Oregon coast. From the parking area, we could see it perched on Heceta Head, shrouded in fog. Despite the weather, there were already many people here, quite a few of them enjoying the beautiful sandy beach.
The half-mile trail to the lighthouse goes past the historic assistant keeper’s house, which has been converted to a B&B. We wondered where the main keeper’s house was.
The brightest light on the Oregon coast is cast by the lighthouse on Heceta Head. It has recently been beautifully restored. Unlike most fresnel lenses which were manufactured in France, Heceta’s was made in England, big enough to be classified as a ‘first order’ lens, a design responsible for the lighthouse’s stature as Oregon’s brightest.
The view out to sea was also obscured by the fog, making it difficult to see the enormous sea stacks which are home to birds and sea lions.
Another highlight of the area is the dramatic view from the parking area of the support structure underneath the Cape Creek Bridge, which is one of many designed by Conde McCullough. The understructure has been likened to a Roman aqueduct.
A short distance down the highway was an area that dramatically shows the violent volcanic history of much of Oregon. It was tricky negotiating the jagged, uneven rocks, much of which appeared to be solidified piles of ejected lava.
I had been under the impression that the only carnivorous plant in the U.S. was the Venus flytrap, which thrives in East Coast wetlands. That’s before I learned of another insect-eating plant, Darlingtonia californica, more commonly known as the cobra lily, that is found mostly in boggy, acidic wetlands in southern Oregon and northern California. You can view these plants in a protected Oregon state wayside between Waldport and Florence just off Highway 101.
Unfortunate insects are lured by the plant’s nectar and flower-like appendages attached under the curled hood, which has a likeness to that of a cobra, hence its name. Once the victim is inside, it gets confused by the many transparent areas in the upper leaf that appear as exits. As it struggles to find its way out, it tires and slowly slips down, aided by the plant’s slippery secretions and downward pointing hairs, into liquid at the bottom of the pitcher where digestive enzymes provide the coup de grace.
The cobra lilies were confined to a relatively small area just off a boardwalk path, yet their density was impressive where they thrived.
The best cioppino we had ever eaten was had at Sharks Seafood Bar back in 2009. Not only was there a substantial broth of tomatoes, vegetables and herbs—a recipe which the chef will not divulge—but a generous serving of fresh seafood. A noticeable amount of sweetness, which some may find a trifle much, came through from a generous amount of tomato paste. Cravings for it were mitigated by the cioppino base being available by mail order; all you need to do is add your own seafood. But the experience of this wonderful stew cannot be matched by enjoying it made to order in the quaint, nautically themed restaurant, and surrounded by the historic Bay Street waterfront.
Tonight, we decided to have a variation served with pasta. It isn’t technically a noodle dish but more aptly a stew with linguine in it. Marinara linguini (☆☆☆) comes with fresh Dungeness crab, two kinds of shrimp, and fresh fish (today it was rockfish). You could easily confuse this dish with another menu item, Cioppino and Pasta (☆☆☆), which only adds a few Manila clams for an additional $5. You might consider the marinara to be a better value. Both entrées arrived in large soup bowls filled to the brim and held their piping hot temperature long after they were placed in front of us. In the end, both of us agreed that the straightforward stew was preferable for no other reason than to forgo the starch that tended to sate us sooner than without and that the residual liquid from the pasta had a diluting effect. Otherwise, the cioppino appealed to our taste buds as much as the first time.
Sharks’ Cioppino and Pasta
Sharks Marinara Linguini