BAY CENTER, Wash. - Ordering breakfast in a tavern is an iffy - some would say, foolhardy - proposition. What are you going to get: hard-boiled eggs and pepperoni sticks with a side of Budweiser?
Rest easy if you step inside the Blue Heron Inn, Cafe and Tavern (Bay Center, Wash.; (360) 875-5130), although the surroundings would suggest otherwise. Even in the morning, someone might be belly to the bar nursing a beer or shooting a game of pool. Fact is, you could categorize the Blue Heron as anything from rough 'n' tumble to rustic chic.
OK, describe the atmosphere what you will, but don't call the food anything but hearty. Humongous ham-and-cheese ($6.95) and seafood-combo ($11.95) omelets share menu space with plate-sized hot cakes ($1 to $2.50), steak and eggs ($8.75) and, as befits the Northwest's premier oyster region, sundry oyster dishes.
On a recent Sunday morning, I navigated the narrow, curvy road leading from U.S. Highway 101 to Bay Center, a community of modest homes, ramshackle garages and boats up on blocks in many back yards. The route meanders through dairy bottom land and alongside the Palix River just before it empties into Willapa Bay. In the pre-noon hours, sunshine peeks from behind the cloud bank canopy above the bay, the mood is quiet save for a few squawking seagulls, and time seems to stand still, which probably suits the locals just fine.
Ponderous piles of oyster shells and stacks of crab pots crowd the landscape outside the Blue Heron, essentially a spacious tavern with a dining room attached. A friendly waitress is perched on the bar's backside studying the Keno cards while a couple shoots pool. Because of the light streaming through the tapered windows made to resemble the forward side of a boat's cabin, the dining room is the better choice for breakfast and browsing the Seattle paper.
Both shrimp and crab omelets ($8.50 and market price, respectively) sound enticing, but I settle for what I assume is the house specialty: Willapa oysters and eggs ($7.50). No choice of bread, muffins or type of potatoes, my order's only variable is how I want my eggs cooked. Before I can finish even the front page of the sports section, I'm served a platter crowded with three scrambled eggs, a quartet of petite bivalves, a substantial slab of hash browns and a couple slices of wheat toast.
My eggs are splendid, and the four lightly breaded and grilled bivalves are so fresh they're still dripping saltwater. Meals are like that at the Blue Heron, a place where tea means a bag of Lipton, pepper comes out of a shaker instead of a grinder and espresso is something sold in the big city. If you dine here, brace your appetite for prodigious portions of food, er grub, prepared with a homey touch. A lunch and dinner menu lists a Willapa Whopper burger with fries ($6.75), fish and chips ($10.50), an oyster pan roast ($13.95), steak and scallops ($14.95), sturgeon ($14.95) and a combo seafood salad ($13.95). Just don't expect a sliced strawberry or a sprig of rosemary garnishing your plate.
Thai fans listen upLONG BEACH, Wash. - Message to Thai food aficionados: Forget your years-long yearning for a local Thai restaurant, and dismiss the disappointment of almost having, then losing, a Thai eatery in Astoria. Without any fanfare and right underneath your noses, a promising Thai place has opened on Washington's Long Beach Peninsula.
Faster than anyone could utter Gai Pad Ped (sauteed chicken curry paste, onions, mushrooms, bamboo strips, jalapenos and basil; $8) or Pra Rahm Noodles (spinach topped with rice noodles and peanut sauce; $7), Long Beach Thai Cuisine (1003 Pacific Ave., Long Beach, Wash.; (360) 642-2557) has sprouted in a former steak house on Long Beach's north side. It's a modest space in a middling location, but the food exiting proprietor Phumphuangkraw Utit's kitchen is meticulously prepared, exquisitely plated and ever-so tasty. And if you think "Phum's" name is a mouthful, wait 'till you try the eggplant and spicy prawns.
Don't be deterred by the voluminous menu listing 125 preparations, all of them numbered for Americans not used to pronouncing Tom Yum Chow Koh ($8) and such. The latter, by the way, is a hot soup blended with lemon grass, lime leaves, coconut milk and chili paste and swimming with mushrooms and seafood. And if that doesn't touch an exotic taste bud, perhaps you should stick with Americanized Chinese food.
I'm not sure how we made up our minds, but my dining companion and I opted for Eggplant Delight ($9). Not only easy to pronounce, the dish showcased a generous portion of expertly stir-fried strips of eggplant doused in a mildly spicy (two stars on the heat scale) oyster sauce and dotted with garlic-and-chili-infused prawns. A cornucopia of bok choy and an array of darn-near-perfect garden pleasures crowded a platter of Basil Vegetables ($7).
Vegetarians take heart: Long Beach Thai features 21 selections, everything from Vegetables Curry to Pad Thai with fried tofu (both $7). We sampled the latter as a deep-fried appetizer ($4.25) sided with peanut sauce that had a nice consistency but little zip. But then you can request any dish spiced from mild to torrid.
Service is pleasant and helpful, and Phum will visit your table and answer questions if you like. He spent 20 years honing his cooking skills in Bangkok, and his recipes come from his mother. True, Woo Sen Soup with bean noodles and diced pork is about as far from chicken-fried steak as you're likely to get on the Peninsula, but Phum's food is plenty comforting.