Here’s the thing about Central Oregon – when oncoming cars pass each other, the drivers wave to you. The last time I had to go through an ordeal like that was the last time I was in a pontoon boat. I could stop right here and you could probably come up with the rest of my story for me. I should also explain that my name is Matt, and I work with Jen.
As I prepared for my mammoth drive from Portland through Condon and Fossil to John Day, and back to Portland through Monument and Long Creek, it was suggested to me that I log my eating habits (somewhat). I says to myself I says, “What a quaint idea”, and I laughed it off. But after 5 hours of driving the “Journey Through Time Scenic Byway”, every opportunity to stop seemed blog-worthy. My mind was spinning; Andrew W.K. sounded like a great idea to play with the windows down. Suddenly I was taking pictures of landscapes, outhouses, and my car next to outhouses.
But I digress. This is about food, and I ate food in John Day. Upon stretching and settling in at the Best Western, I did find myself yearning for more than beef jerky and spearmint gum, which with a little help from lunch in Fossil (I found out later that Jen had already blogged about Big Timber Family Restaurant) was all that sustained me through the torment of waving with my hand on the wheel to complete strangers. The smell of sagebrush was in the air. My carefully mapped out venture to Grubsteak Mining Co. was in the cards tonight.
You know when you are hungry and you order something, but as soon as you order it you instantly regret it? Not because you’re worried about how it will taste, but that you know you probably shortened your lifespan and probably the lifespan of your future children? That’s pretty much the menu at Grubsteak. Matty Jr., I’m sorry but that was one hell of a Monte Cristo. And yes, those are gigantic tater tots and ranch dressing. Is there any better mixture of foods? I submit there is not. Needless to say after that feast I took a walk around the neighborhood because it hurt to sit down. Well played, Grubsteak. Well played.
THE NEXT MORNING
Fun fact: I love breakfast, and I had actually planned my breakfast for the next morning before I planned my dinner at Grubsteak Mining Co. The Squeeze-In Restaurant (don’t worry, that’s not the best name I have in store for you) was everything I wanted in a breakfast. Breakfast is greasy, it’s your choice of meat but you always choose bacon, and it’s a lot of food. One thought: Jen I don’t know how you take pictures of your food without having the locals stare at you. I was such a tourist…not that I blend in anyway. I am at my most content when eating breakfast, and as I mopped up what was left of my over easy eggs with my butter soaked toast I was oblivious to my short sightedness of only staying one night, because that means only one breakfast.
LATER THAT DAY…
Did you know Monument has a food cart? I heard it was the talk of the town, and decided it would be a brilliant idea to meet my AmeriCorps member there.
I apologize for not taking a picture of the cart itself – I already felt like a tourist and the lady looked at me quizzically when I said I didn’t want anything on my hot dog. Not wanting to stir up any trouble, I didn’t push the issue by explaining that I was writing for a food blog, as it would seem my story did not match my entree. What can I say? I like my hot dogs naked. It’s the same as ordering a cheeseburger plain, so you can really judge for yourself if this is a tasty burger or if someone in back is smuggling in inferior goods. Moral of the story: If you’re ever in Monument for whatever reason, stop by the Chuckwagon.
I like cows. I especially like eating cows. But, sometimes, I need some tofu.
Reverend Horton Heat’s famous “Eat Steak” starts off as a cheer for eating beef: “It’s a mighty good food.” Then, about three-quarters of the way through, it takes an abrupt turn with the stanza:
Look at all the cows in the slaughterhouse yard.
Gotta hit’em in the head, gotta hit’em real hard.
First you gotta clean’em then the butcher cuts’em up,
Throws it on a scale, throws an eyeball in a cup.
Now, I have been accused of having an over-active imagination, but that “eyeball in a cup” makes me gag a little. And, even though I was in prime Central Oregon cattle country (only 70 miles east is Les Schwab‘s famous ranch, where he cultivates the cattle that will become the “free beef” for tire sales around the state), I needed a break from beef. That is how I wound up at Soba on the south end of Redmond eating tofu and veggies over rice.
Soba started in Bend in 2003, then opened up locations in Salem and Redmond. As I have eaten at all of the locations over the years, I was under the impression it was a larger chain that it is. However, it truly is just the three.
The food is essentially cheap, fusion Asian cuisine, with offerings that zag from Thailand to Korea, hitting every major dish in between that is familiar to American palates. When looking for a high quality and/or authentic experience of any of the cuisines accounted for, I would not turn to Soba. However, when trying to identify a moderately healthy, moderately priced and well-sauced lunch, Soba does the trick. I generally stick to their rice bowls, which feature lean meats or tofu and plenty of vegetables.
And, when I am taking a break from eating cows in a place dominated by ranching, Soba is a welcome relief.
Yes, there really is pho in Klamath Falls. And, yes, it really is good.
There are certain dining experiences that are so mind-blowing, I have to let them marinate awhile. Pho Hung was such an experience.
The place defies every stereotype I had previously held of Klamath Falls. I was looking to eat somewhere “iconically K Falls.” I was tempted to try David’s Brawny Burgers, which admittedly looks formidable in the best way possible. But, I decided to follow up on the recommendation of one of the AmeriCorps members in the area and go for pho. (This may have also had something to do with the conversation with another AmeriCorps member about how much fried food I appear to consume while traveling.)
So, off to pho I went. This process involved driving up and down Sixth Avenue for about a half hour until I found this hole in the wall restaurant was closer to my hotel than I expected.
I had seen some photos on Flickr of Pho Hung, so I at least knew what the place looked like and some ideas on what adventures it might hold. But, I still wasn’t quite prepared.
First off, the “false front” referred to on many reviews of Pho Hung on Yelp logistically refers to the fact that the door marked as the restaurant is sealed shut and the door to what appears to be an ultra-bright, sensory-overload grocery store is also the entrance to the restaurant. As I was beckoned down the rabbit hole, I passed through the hallway wall-papered with photos of take-out items from floor to ceiling, then emerged into a bright, tropical themed dining room in the back.
There are strands of Christmas lights everywhere plus fabric banners depicting various anime characters hanging on the walls. Plants (I was unclear if they were fake or real or a mix) vine up and down and around beams across the room. Yet, for as chaotic as the interior design is, the dining room exudes a clean, warm feeling, which is underscored by the exceptional service. Everyone working there checked in: about if temperature was alright for me, did I have a seat that felt adequately engaged with the rest of the restaurant and what kind of mood I was in and how could that be translated into the most perfect meal for me in the moment. Needless to say, I was charmed.
My status as an outsider, and likely from Portland, was immediately noted and assessed. At first, my server assumed I was a veteran pho eater. Unfortunately, this image quickly dissolved when I proved less adventurous than recommended with my add-ons. The server explained: “You want it to be hot, but not too sweet. So, you take some of this [grabbing the black sauce] and then put in some of this [red to yellow stratified sauce]. Then, you can’t be too shy with these.” He proceeded to grab the cilantro and basil from my plate and rip them for me before tossing the whole heads of shredded herbs into the pho. “Now try it.” I nodded, “That is much better.” “See? You can’t hold back. You’ve got to go for it!”
It was a lesson in life: don’t hold back with the sauces you can’t name and the various herbs that seem like they would mix poorly. Just go for it, by the fistfuls preferably. The aggresive alchemy worked. I enjoyed that bowl of pho more than any bowl of pho I’ve had. I learned timidity and pho don’t go well together. If you don’t have the balls to try all the flavors available and create the meal you want, then you will be disappointed.
Thus, the pho of Klamath Falls kicked off the theme of my 2010: create your own reality. Thanks, Pho Hung.
One of the AmeriCorps members on my team recently commented that she was surprised I was consuming and reviewing so much fried food for GastrOregon, so I feel a need to document that I do eat good stuff too.
Case in point: Nibbley’s! The most recommended breakfast and lunch spot in K Falls. Ok, my BLAT still contains bacon. But, see, there are vegetables!
(Oh – they also have a celery seed dressing made in house that is to die for. It is available to take home too.)
Three-hundred and sixty degrees of snow dusted hills surround Klamath Falls. The city (it is a city) is clustered around a friendly historic downtown and the long stretch of Sixth Avenue, which reaches out from the center to the edges of town.
Arriving bleary eyed from the airport (they have two flights in and out each day from Portland and San Francisco), I hopped into my pop can sized rental car and followed directions to the city center.
After cruising up and down the main drags, I settled in at The Daily Bagel to kick start my day. In addition to the attractive typeface heralding their name, the Daily Bagel boasts a delightful selection of artisan bagels and some sweeter treats.
I had the raisin-oat, which was quite reasonable, and, unlike all the other artisan bagels I have had in the past three years, it did NOT cause me to break into full body hives. Go Daily Bagel! This curious turn of events could be related to a number of factors:
- It was a raisin bagel instead of blueberry bagel. While I am not generally allergic to blueberries, it is entirely possible that I am allergic to them when they occur in artisan bagels.
- The Daily Bagels were not as artisan as the other artisan bagels I have consumed. For some reason, commercial, pre-packaged bagels do not provoke an allergic reaction. So, it is entirely possible that The Daily Bagel provides less of an artisan experience than I give them credit for.
- My overall sense of well-being was particularly high since I had just discovered that spending two days in Klamath Falls was not going to be so bad after all. Therefore, I didn’t have any stress induced histo-immune reaction to the artisan bagel.
Regardless, it is great to start the morning, and a trip, by taking in some majestic scenery and languidly consuming a quality bagel, especially one that does not cause a full body rash, before jumping into a day of meetings in K Falls. Highly recommended.