Bagels by Boggs

Bagels can be tricky little devils. You shape 'em, boil 'em, bake 'em - all the while lavishing the doughy orbs with lots of loving care - then watch forlornly as they exit the oven too squishy or hard as a rock. How long for this or that particular procedure is key, and not many bagel bakers nail the process early on.

Ian Boggs, the baker at Wombat Moon Cafe (1008 Commercial St., Astoria; (503) 338-4490) has the knack. A 20-something self-taught baker from Maupin, Boggs has only recently taken to bagel baking, and the results of his efforts are nothing short of remarkable.

Boggs researched bagels on the Internet. "I knew what I liked in a bagel, and I found some recipes and experimented," he says. Friends gave Boggs' bagels a thumbs-up, so he began selling them commercially at Wombat Moon.

Particularly toasted, Boggs' tasty creations showcase an authentic bagel taste - plenty doughy, but still dense; crispy, yet thin-crusted. The size is right, too: these bagels don't mimic the usually wimpy West Coast variety.

Try a plain, sesame seed, poppyseed, onion or garlic bagel smeared with Philly cream cheese, similar to what you'd buy in the Bronx, northern New Jersey or Philadelphia's south side. For an extra-cheesy treat, opt for Boggs' Parmesan bagel, with or without the cream cheese topping.

But save room for Boggs' biscotti, the traditional Italian twice-baked biscuitlike cookie, which he also researched online. Boggs amply coats these slender five-inch-long goodies with chocolate, and they're ideal for sweetening a hot beverage. Presently, almond and poppyseed versions can be had. "It's the power of the Internet and knowing what I like," says Boggs about his bagels and biscotti, which cost $1.25 ($2 with cream cheese) and $.75, respectively.

The Wombat offers the usual lineup of coffee drinks, plus soups, salads and wraps. Look for specials such as Japanese soba noodles stir-fried with veggies and rice freshened with coconut curry. Also onsite is Raintree Information Technologies, where you can rent a computer ($.06 a minute) and research bagels, biscotti or whatever to your heart's content.

Scorching pizzas

Hotnicks listen up: If you haven't tasted a Voodoo pizza, you're missing out on a mouth-searing experience. These sinister-sounding pies originate at the Voodoo Room (in the Columbian Theater building at 1102 Marine Drive, Astoria; (503) 325-2233), Astoria's most vibrant live music venue. Most wildly decorated, too, what with the smiling skeletons, paintings of skulls, mismatched chairs and tables, a leopard-motif restroom and dark, foreboding colors throughout.

But back to that pizza. Not suitable for timid palates, the pungent Voodoo fetches $18 and features a generous crust smeared with an onion-garlic sauce and arrayed with ample portions of tiny Pacific shrimp, whole cloves of roasted garlic and chopped habaneros. The latter top the chili heat scale, measuring between 100,000 and 300,000 Scoville Scale Units (trust me, that's hot). Accentuated by the roasted garlic and a sprinkling of capers, these small lantern-shaped chili peppers will get your taste buds red hot and rollin' and are set off nicely by melted pepper-jack cheese.

Incidentally, don't attempt to temper the blaze in your mouth with water; H2O only exacerbates the sizzle. My dining companion and I perspired visibly while devouring an entire Voodoo and downed copious quantities of water to compensate. We were unsuccessful and afterwards agreed beer or cranberry juice would have worked better. Even so, we savored every scorching bite.

First-rate fish 'n chips

There's a new contender for best fish 'n chips in these parts. Little Ocean Annie's (part of The Sanctuary Restaurant, 794 Highway 101, Chinook, Wash.; (360) 777-8387) purveys a fine selection of cod, oysters or calamari, all lightly seasoned and breaded, fried in canola oil, then paired with unsalted fresh-cut fries. Orders arrive with some mighty fine slaw, built with cabbage, diced red and yellow bell peppers and bits of olive, the mix doused in a sweetened vinaigrette. Other sides include tofu tots and excellent clam chowder showcasing a thin but robust broth well-stocked with clams, celery and lusty chunks of potato.

The brainchild of Sanctuary owners Joanne and Gino Leach (she's the chef, he's an experienced mariner and a celebrated fisher poet), Annie's is situated in the restaurant's annex and resembles a miniature maritime museum on display in somebody's attic. Historic photos and nautical paraphernalia decorate the walls, and international flags hang from the rafters. A stained glass church window (The Sanctuary was formerly a Methodist church) and a wood stove are tucked into a back corner. Outside is a tranquil garden with a waterfall and seating for pleasant-weather afternoons.

Heaped with mass quantities of tender rings of squid, moist chunks of cod and assorted deep-fried "squigglies," a calamari and fish combo is a best bet. Landlubbers can opt for a Swedish meatball sandwich. All main dishes are priced between $7.95 and $8.95; sides cost $1.50 to $4.50.

Contact the Mouth at The Daily Astorian, P.O. Box 210, Astoria, OR 97103 or phone (503) 325-3211 or e-mail mouth@dailyastorian.com

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