This winter, my partner and I were found exploring three new cities of which I was unfamiliar: Bend, Oregon; Cape Coral, Florida; and Savannah, Georgia. The statistics are: 17 days, 8 planes, 2 bed and breakfasts, 1 hotel, 1 kayak, 1 pair of snowshoes, 1 house of my girlfriend’s mother, lots of Starbucks and lots of Yelping. Since story can often weave itself into food – I’ve mapped out the experience through (almost) everything we ate. Here I go.
273 West Hood Ave.
Sisters, OR 97759
This adventure kicks off with Sisters Coffee. Having a socially accepted addiction to something can make traveling extra special. It gives you routine when there is none. It gives you something to hunt. Not to mention an easy comparison guide. With that said, I’ll state the obvious: nowhere on this journey did we have coffee that even came close to being half as good as coffee we can get in Portland. Duh. But that doesn’t stop us from trying to find some anyway.
And here we were in Sisters, Oregon – three quarters of the way to Bend. We had successfully navigated through the snow-covered mountains of the Deschutes National Forest, which was a mission. I’ve driven in snow conditions a few times, sure, but not when you’re on the side of a mountain, and not when the car you’re driving starts to fishtail and almost do a 180. Luckily my partner Casey doesn’t freak out nearly as easily as I do, so when our car (aka. borrowed truck from her dad) started to spin, she calmly corrected it, slowed and pulled over. Whoa. I was shaking. We were fine but, dude, we almost weren’t! Thanks to girlfriend’s dad, I knew how to click on the four-wheel drive.
Almost falling off the side of a mountain surely does cue the coffee craving, so once we were cruising through Sisters, we opted to stop for some. Sisters Coffee was there on the side of the snowy road, shining like gem waiting to be clutched up tight. Boy oh boy, do they love the Lord up in there. Not only is their coffee strong as tar, their love for Christ our Savior is etched into various parts of their log-cabin walls. As my partner and I were waiting in line to order, our heads cocked to one side as we read the bumper sticker on their milk dispenser: “Jesus died for our sins.” We both looked at each other. “How about we start making out right now?” she asked. She read my mind.
1044 Bond St.
Bend, OR 97701
Our trip to Bend was pure Oregon tourism at its finest. We stayed in a B&B. We went snowshoeing. And the first place we ate dinner was at Bend’s flagship brewery, Deschutes.
It was standard in all the typical brew-pub ways – fries, burgers, kids making a total mess of their grill cheese sandwich and a Blazer game on 30 different TV screens. Ahh, bliss. The extra fun part were that you could get a little paddle of six beers on tap and of course we did that! Sadly, we’re both pretty pathetic when it comes to “knowing” beers, so we tried doing taste tests. Both of us failed miserably. We’d taste all of them, one by one, trying to learn what the red beer really tasted like in comparison to the amber, then we’d close our eyes and try to discern which were which. “Black Butte Porter!” I’d shout. “Umm, no. That’s the wheat one,” Casey’d say.
They also had major game all over the menu. Bison burgers, elk sandwiches… I imagined these majestic creatures roaming the epic mountain landscape then someone from the Deschutes kitchen hiding out in the trees waiting for the perfect moment to eliminate it from life, just to fill the burger quota. I got a chicken sandwich.
Top Notch Coffee
1722 Del Prado Blvrd S
Cape Coral, FL 33904
Now the triple-city saga turns to Florida. Southwest Florida, Cape Coral to be precise. My partner’s mother lives there so we got to really know this little town during our two-week visit.
A few more details about Cape Coral. It’s small – about 167,000 total. It’s a town famous for its canals, which are waterways that many residents use for travel and leisure. It’s also, well, Florida, which means there’s a lot of retirees and the appropriate businesses to support them (I’ve never seen so many pharmacies in a four-block radius in my life). Cape Coral also has some hoppin’ bingo halls as well as some fine thrifting. Things it lacks that I appreciate coming from the Pacific Northwest are the usual contenders: bikes, sidewalks, organic food, independent coffee (you’re shocked, I know).
This was when my passion for Yelping kicked into high gear. I was determined to seek out any crumb of independent Cape Coral culture and leave my thoughts on it accordingly. You know, as a help for the next visiting lesbian girlfriend who’s in my same boat. Or anyone else who cares to use the user-review database. Scoping out the cafe/dining scene is something I don’t do lightly and Yelp was there to guide me every step of the way.
When I did a search for “coffee and tea” within a five-mile radius, Top Notch Coffee pulled up and sounded promising. Local coffee, salads, sandwiches, bam – done – it was our kind of place. And it was just a mere two miles away. No sweat; I needed to get my morning walk in anyway, so I strapped on my white canvas boat shoes and started on the trek. I diligently followed my iPhone compass, patiently watching the small blue GPS dot plot along the route.
Things were going fine for the first quarter mile or so. Then I turned on the main drag, aka Del Prado, a street Casey and I knew back and forward by the visit’s end. It was around 11am or so and the traffic was thick. The humid air hugged the exhaust and I felt as though I was bathing in it. I passed a man waving a Little Caesar’s Pizza sign, advertising a lunch special. I passed a drive-thru liquor store (yah). Then my cheap, mall boat shoes started to callus my left foot. Badly. I tried walking with the shoe half off my foot, but it was pointless. I’d never get there shuffling at that pace. I was discouraged but had to press on. Turning back would be just as painful and the thought of calling my partner to come get me definitely occurred to me, but I wasn’t able to actually be that much of a whiner – yet. I promised myself I’d ask her to come rescue me once I got there. And now I had to get there.
The blocks slowly passed. I walked on my tip toes. Cars without mufflers roared inches by me.
Finally the blue dot was about to overlap the red flag, indicating my painful journey was coming to an end. Only that I was now behind a tire outlet and in a residential neighborhood.
“Ugh. No!” I exclaimed out loud – as if someone would come to my pathetic rescue.
My beloved coffee destination had to be near. Maybe their mailing address was around this random corner. I shuffled back to the main street and walked another block, passing the tenth strip mall of the morning.
There. Like the angelic gold it promised, its simple plastic sign adhered to a stucco building.
I walked in and loved it. I was going to love it no matter how horrible the place was. My ankle was on fire. I sat down at one of the many open tables. Plastic tablecloths covered each two top. A nice, young brunette waitress was speaking to me immediately. I didn’t even look at the menu – I asked for exactly what I wanted: coffee, in a mug, cream, fresh cut fruit and band aids. She brought me all three. I was so happy.
Sanibel Deli & Coffee Factory
2330 Palm Ridge Rd
Sanibel Island, FL 33957
You know that idea that goes something like, ‘Just stick to what you’re good at?’ I’d like Sanibel Island Deli & Coffee Factory to think about that in relation to what their business name advertises. They have coffee and sandwiches – really, isn’t that enough? Apparently not when you’re on a tiny island in Florida. And I get it. You really need to have whatever it is your customers could possibly want thereby pay for. For them that also means, burgers! pizza! pickled eggs! hot wings! Really? Hot wings?
So I tried their BLT which was perfect. Classic, simple, old fashioned – just as a tourist deli BLT should be.
The bonus-story behind the sandwich is that today was the all-things-crazy day. First, the car wouldn’t start. Then Casey stepped in a red ant hill. Then she totally wiped out on her bicycle – in front of a full line of stopped traffic. Then the grill exploded in her face while she was trying to light it (luckily she just lost a few hairs). Good thing lunch was a success.
4 Roma tomatoes
1 lemon juiced
3 red peppers blackened
1 cup cashews
olive oil, salt, pepper to taste
Romesco has had a great history with our travels. We met its deliciousness in Silver Lake, Los Angeles when we were there visiting our dear friend Nathan. We were going for a light dinner and shared Romesco with grilled asparagus. Ever since, we’ve been recreating this perfect entree-worthy sauce nonstop.
If you search around for recipes, they will vary a ton. Some get super fancy with pimentos, shelled hazelnuts etc., but really, you can’t get by without a nut, tomato and blacked red peppers. That’s the heart of the sauce.
The keys are 1) a grill and 2) a blender. Without those two pieces of essential equipment, sorry, this is a no-can do. While in Cape Coral, we definitely wanted to take advantage of the grillable weather, so we whipped up a batch for Casey’s mother and her husband. They totally were into it. Put it on pita bread, make a pizza with it, or just smear it all over grilled vegetables. You won’t be able to stop; I’m telling you.
4200 Pine Island Rd.
Matlacha, Fl, 33993
This was one of those meals when you remember the server in minute detail more than anything else. Even when I’m staring at the salad and shrimp cocktail that she gave me, something about this woman has embedded itself in my brain. She didn’t even do anything particularly unique – I guess I just was touched by her in some way.
She was about 65 I’d imagine. She was a sturdy woman, wore those sneakers that were wedged for additional support. She did her makeup heavy which unfortunately highlighted the crinkles in her skin she was likely hoping it would mask. Her smile was wide – stained teeth, but perfectly straight nonetheless. She smoked, although I never saw her doing it.
She was great at her job. Announced the special with all the details the chef could ask for – used words like, “balsamic drizzle,” instead of vinaigrette. She took our drink orders and promptly returned with them a moment later, despite the crowded patio of diners she was tending to.
I think it was that I could tell she was proud of herself; which rubbed off and made me like her too.
The shrimp cocktail and Caesar salad were fine.
Lemon Garlic Chicken
What to do with a whole tree of Meyer lemons? Make a major batch of lemon, garlic chicken of course.
Casey’s mom had the cutest, little lemon tree so we picked a few of the swollen fruits so big they were just begging to become a marinade. We hosted some of Casey’s mom’s neighbors that night and despite the warning of them only eating bland foods – I think they enjoyed our citrus chicken.
The recipe is as simple as it can get: chicken breasts, olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, garlic – marinate – grill – done.
2237 1st St
Fort Myers, FL 33901
This was another independent coffee shop diamond, although technically in Fort Myers – the neighboring city to Cape Coral. It was great – had small cafe baguette sandwiches, quiche, fresh cut fruit, organic coffee and a lovely outdoor patio on the street.
It also passed the infamous family dining test. There were five of us there, all with different food preferences but everyone mentioned they liked it. A simple lunch, moderate prices with five people leaving fairly happy is a home run if you ask me.
Key lime pie
Considering we were a stone throw away from the Florida Keys, I thought it’d be a good idea to make a key lime pie. If memory serves me correctly, I made this the night before we left as a Thank You. But of course they didn’t actually s e l l key limes from Florida at the grocery store. No. Nope, they came in fresh from Mexico. Whatever. It was still awesome. How can you go wrong with condensed milk, egg yolks, sugar, butter and graham crackers? Right. You can’t. Top it off with whip cream and it’s sugar bomb bliss.
Five Guys Burgers and Fries
1860 Pine Island Road NE
Cape Coral, FL 33909
Like the majority of Americans, I’m a sucker for food marketing. I’m especially a sucker for food marketing with a story. Five Guys Burgers and Fries was a part of a really good radio piece on NPR about successful companies amidst this crappy economy. The story took place during a conference of shopping mall executives, as in, high rollers who are apart of professional mall agencies. Shopping malls fascinate me all on there own, but then there’s a profile about a Five Guys executive coordinating deals with leasing agents from malls across America. Now I’m really interested. I have some pretty serious nostalgia with fast food, especially with In N Out Burger, a fantastic burger joint based in Southern California. So far it looks like Five Guys is trying to bite out a piece of the fresh-burger market (both burger outlets claim to never freezing anything), so I have to at least try ‘em to know what they’re like. All of that back story plus the fact that there isn’t a Five Guys near me, made me excited to go there in Cape Coral.
So we went and it was pretty disappointing. The burger just wasn’t that flavorful. In N Out still reigns supreme in my book. Although Five Guys’s fries are way better.
Espresso To Go
1518 Hancock Bridge Parkway
Cape Coral, FL 33990
This was, undoubtedly, the best coffee “shop” experience. You can kayak there! And we did! Okay, so the coffee wasn’t really all that great, but again, I’m not complaining too much. The woman who owns this cute little shack on the canal was super nice (and a Pacific Northwester to boot).
Plus, she has a mean menu of ice cream shakes. And I had one.
Mrs. Wilkes’ Dining Room
107 W Jones St.
Savannah, GA 31401
There’s almost no way to prepare yourself for the incredible experience of Mrs. Wilkes’ Dining Room. I ate like a mouse for breakfast (which is typical) and I told myself repeatedly as we waited in line, “be hungry be hungry…” but when the plates upon plates of mouth-watering Southern fare hit our table, I still wanted to cry. Everything looked so good – and I knew there was just going to be no way of enjoying it all.
Mrs. Wilkes’ is totally one of those places that travel food shows highlight. It’s classic; it’s been around since your grandma was in diapers; it’s family style and they have a cult following that line up and wait for communal tables outside – rain or shine. Trust me, I know, I waited in that very line in a downpour, huddled next to my girlfriend, despite my homophobia concerns of the quaint Southern town we were in.
The food? Bonkers good. Fried chicken so juicy, crunchy and savory… collared greens not too vinegary, simple cucumbers dressed in red wine vinegar, buttermilk biscuits, black-eyed peas, butter beans, sweet tea, the list goes on for eternity.
You’re forced to sit at tables amongst strangers, which the community-loving side of me usually appreciates, but this day, I really wished my girlfriend and I were left to ourselves. I just wasn’t in the mood to chit chat with Southern women in their 60s about how this wasn’t as good as her grandma’s recipes.
But nothing could damper my admiration for such Southern fare. I’d go back in a second – after fasting for a day first.
Ste 1300, 14045 Abercorn St
Savannah, GA 31419
Let me answer a semi-obvious question as to what the hell I’m doing at a Ruby Tuesday, nevertheless blogging about it. Well, as I said earlier, story comes with food and this is no exception.
We went here because we had to. An experience that often comes with travel – aka, the loss of choice.
And often what follows is the realization (especially with the assistance of hunger) that said chain restaurant isn’t really all that bad. And here we are at Ruby Tuesday in Savannah, Georgia. We missed our flight (don’t even get me started on that) and we were shaking up at the airport Country Inn and Suites, located oh so conveniently next door to Ruby Tuesday.
You know you’re at a place like Ruby Tuesday when, a) the menu is plastic b) there are photos of everything on it c) your server is required to call the salad bar, the “garden bar.” ‘Nuff said.
In closing I’d say that I came back with, once again, an undeniable appreciation for the local food scene here in Portland; however, I’m still a fan of those that do it differently, because, well, they’re doing it. Cheers.