ARTIC, Wash. - From the Naselle River estuary all the way north to Grays Harbor, Washington's U.S. Highway 101 is pretty much bereft of roadside attractions. Oh, South Bend is an agreeable oyster town rising Astoria-like from Willapa Bay up a hill graced with Victorian homes, and those cut-out metal sculptures of wildlife and such dotting Raymond's grassy slopes are eye catchers. Of course Willapa Bay, which the highway parallels for so many miles, is one of the most pristine and downright stunning bodies of water anywhere.
But restaurants? There aren't many worth stopping for. Clark's, a food outpost six miles south of Aberdeen, may be an exception.
How many times have I whizzed past this rustic-looking eatery at milepost 76 on my way to the Olympic Peninsula or while returning home from Seattle and marveled at the packed parking lot, wondering what the lure of the place might be? Last week I indulged my curiosity and stopped for a meal.
At 4:30 p.m. on a wet Monday there wasn't much of a crowd, and only a couple tables were occupied when I walked through the hulking wood and beveled-glass door. Most of the commotion inside was caused by three high schoolers sitting at the counter studying out loud for an upcoming history exam. Rather than lend a historical perspective, I grabbed a seat at a window table and surveyed the decor.
First thing to catch my attention were the old fashioned light green milkshake machines, the kind that graced the soda fountains of my youth back East. Pioneer paraphernalia, fresh flowers, old West-style chandeliers coated with cobwebs for Halloween and a passel of framed "Best of Twin Harbors" restaurant awards also decorate this eatery that dates to the 1930s (it has been Clark's since 1962). The menu reminded me of the down-home, always-crowded burger joints my folks frequented when I was growing up.
Certainly Clark's enjoys a legion of admirers. "Best burgers in the world," a Washington resident informed me before my visit. "You have to try their milkshakes," a loyal Clark's patron from our area informed me another time. "They're a deal for $3.50."
"Which one?" I wondered out loud as I pondered the sizable selection of shakes and malts, everything from spiced apple to vanilla root beer. "Blackberry," my waitress answered without hesitation. A few minutes later I was served a seriously large receptacle filled beyond the brim with Clark's handmade soft vanilla ice cream blended with milk and swirled with berry puree. "Dome" toppings of ice cream on every shake are a Clark's trademark, my server explained. Makes it easier to identify different flavors.
Not being a dessert-first kind of guy, I paced myself through the first third of this sweet and satisfying libation while considering how much ice cream must go into a $5.95 Giant Banana Split and deciding which burger to order.
Did I want a Jumbo Deluxe Cheeseburger, a Super Jumbo Cheeseburger, a Mushroom Burger or a Super Jumbo Deluxe Onion Hamburger - two 6.5-ounce patties smothered with grilled onions? Shucks, maybe I should opt for a 16-inch pepperoni pizza, a Reuben sandwich, a batch of mozzarella sticks deep-fried in beer batter or a platter of honey-glazed fried chicken instead.
Nah, I was here for the house specialty, and I went whole hog - Clark's behemoth Double Double, a meal that included a five-inch bun stuffed with two quarter-pound beef patties of ground chuck, sliced pickles and the usual veggies. Delectable steak-cut fries - which I had been told were wonderful, and they were - accompanied the burger.
Now if I had the physique of some of the truckers who favor this place, I would have finished my feast (I did manage to polish off the fries). When my youthful server inquired if I was still making progress, I sheepishly confessed the need for a take-out container. I thought for sure I heard one of the teens at the counter brag to her companions: "Told you he couldn't finish it."
Before departing, I noticed a sign near the jukebox in the back of the dining room reading, "The Eleventh Commandment: Thou shalt not curse at Clark's." Nonetheless, I silently cursed my eyes for exaggerating the carrying capacity of my stomach. Guess the 12th commandment at Clark's should be "Thou shalt not leave here hungry," 'cause nobody does.
Clark's Restaurant2 stars
731 U.S. Highway 101 (six miles south of Aberdeen at milepost 76), Artic, Wash.; (360) 538-1487, www.clarksrestaurant.com
Hours: 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Fri, Sat
Prices: Inexpensive to moderate. Breakfasts cost $2 to $9.95; sandwiches and burgers $4.35 to $9.75; appetizers $2.95 to $7.50; dinners $6.95 to $18.95.
Superior selections: Burgers, shakes and fries
Atmosphere: Rustic country setting with no pretensions
Service: Casual and friendly
Kid-friendly: With so many burgers, pizza choices and ice cream flavors, you bet. There's a little kid's menu, too, and books for children to color while they wait for their meals.
Vegetarian options: Two salads, Vegetarian Delight Gardenburger, a veggie sandwich and a few appetizers
Alcohol: None available
Access: Entrance and restroom accessible to people in wheelchairs
Credit cards: Mastercard, Visa
Personal checks: OK
Reservations: Not necessary
Smoking: Not permitted
Key to ratings:
1 star - average
2 stars - good
3 stars - excellent
4 stars -outstanding, the best in the Columbia-Pacific Region