Ralph Melton (ralphmelton) wrote,
Ralph Melton
ralphmelton

West Coast Roadtrip, Jul-7-2011

Thursday morning involved a rapid transition from the bottom of the Roadfood scale to the top.

In the interests of time, we ate the breakfast at the hotel. The only reason it deserves any comment whatsoever is that it included this pancake-making machine. You could push one button, and in a minute it would extrude a completely ordinary and mediocre pancake. I can understand why a hotel might choose such a machine; there are many kids and not a few adults who cannot be entrusted with the responsibility of raw pancake batter. But as a general rule, fine cuisine and the word "extruded" don't fit well in the same sentence, and this is no exception to that rule.


As we were heading southward through Portland, I mentioned Saint Cupcake to Lori, and mentioned that the Roadfood.com review says "[Jane Stern] declared them to be the best cupcakes she has ever eaten, anywhere." Lori demanded a stop, and I'm glad she did.

The address we had for Saint Cupcake turned out to be permanently closed, but fortunately had a sign leading us to the new location.


They had a lot more things besides cupcakes; the variety was almost daunting. (I should apologize to the young woman behind the counter; she was very nice and very enthusiastic, and she didn't at all deserve such an unflattering picture.)


We asked about the Bunbunbonbon, and the nice saleswoman said "You have to try the Bunbunbonbon, because you don't know when you'll be back!" The Bunbunbonbon turns out to be a little sphere of brioche dough, rolled in butter and cinnamon sugar. I wasn't delighted by the Bunbunbonbon, but I think that was mostly because I expected it to be like a doughnut hole, and it was much denser than a nice doughnut hole - but I think that's not the right standard for the Bunbunbonbon, and I think I would have enjoyed the Bunbunbonbon much more if I were not judging it by an incorrect standard. (You know that effect where if you take a word like "foot" and repeat it over and over, it ends up seeming ridiculously funny? "Bunbunbonbon" hits that level of silliness much more quickly than "foot" does.)


We got a vanilla cupcake with cream cheese frosting, and a vanilla cupcake with strawberry frosting. Both were exceptional; Lori's notes about the cupcake with strawberry frosting say "really perfect". This really deserves more lavish description, but all I recall was the bright flavor of the first bite of the strawberry frosting.


My own tastes run to the pie side of the pie-cake spectrum, and Saint Cupcake had a perfect offering for pie guys seeking cuteness: the Tiny Pie. Even the name makes me squee like a teenage catgirl hopped up on Pocky; it's much cuter than "mini pie" or many other options. And this was a really phenomenal pie; the crust hit a perfect balance of tenderness and flakiness, and the strawberry filling was awesomely fruity and sumptuous. I might well nominate the Tiny Pie as my favorite food of the whole trip.


We were tempted by the Savory Buns, and Lori pointed out that they could be the basis for a quick lunch on the way to Crater Lake. Rationalization successful! These were brioche dough filled with ham, Swiss cheese, and mustard. These were very tasty, and extraordinarily convenient. Not only did the brioche contain the fillings well, but the dough was remarkably non-crumbly. This was by far the most tidy meal I've ever eaten while driving.

After the savory buns, we snacked on Saint Cupcake's alder-smoked chocolate chip cookies. These too were wonderful. They had all the smokiness and richness of bacon chocolate chip cookies, without the touches that make bacon a dubious cookie ingredient. They were wonderfully sumptuous and flavorful, among my top few chocolate chip cookies ever.

We loved Saint Cupcake, and we would make sure to seek it out on any return visit to Portland.

Another picture of bright roses, this time from a rest stop on I-5:


We had a lovely drive through Willamette on the way to Crater Lake.


Something I didn't expect from Crater Lake National Park: among the miles and miles of beautiful trees, we drove through this broad flat expanse. We learned later that it's called the Pumice Desert; this is the area that got the most pumice and ash dumped by the volcanic eruption that turned Mt. Mazama into the crater, and vegetation hasn't yet returned to the area.


We saw plenty of snow by the road. Crater Lake gets an average of 550 inches of snow a year. We saw an amazing three-minute film at the visitor's center about snow removal around Crater Lake; the process starts with bulldozers making multiple passes to get the snow bank low enough to clear with snow plows and workmen, and a hard days' work with heavy machinery clears only a quarter mile of snow per day.
I no longer remember whether Lori or I threw the first snowball, and it's possible that we only made threats and didn't follow through on them.


Our first good view of Crater Lake. It really is as intense a blue as everyone says it is.


More Crater Lake pictures (and again, there are more in the flickr stream):



This was a great spot to try out the panorama feature on our new camera. (It turns out that the iPad is amazing for viewing panorama photos; you can zoom in and pan smoothly across the image, which makes it a superb experience.)


Driving around the crater was pretty challenging, though; the road was fairly twisty, with steep drop-offs on one or both sides. I actually felt a bit relieved that the East Rim Drive was still closed by snow (yes, in July); had it been open, I'd have felt a need to drive along it, but by the time we'd finished the West Rim Drive, the challenge of driving was beginning to outweigh the beauty of the lake.

I'd been dithering about how far we should drive from Crater Lake before stopping for the night; making it to Roseburg would make the next day easier, but would mean driving further into the dark. This decision was made for us, though; we couldn't find a restaurant or motel that was open before Roseburg. (We might have found more if we'd not had a very poor 3G connection.) Scenery from the drive to Roseburg:


We made reservations at Hokanson's Guesthouse in Roseburg, which I will describe more in my next installment. By the time we arrived there and checked in, it was about 9pm, and we were pretty hungry. We found that downtown Roseburg has few restaurants that stay open that late, so we ended up at a McMenamin's, this one in a restored train station. (I'd forgotten my camera, so all these pictures were taken with my phone, which doesn't do so well with the very dark restaurant.)


We started with a plate of hummus and vegetables. Pretty good, but the peppers among the vegetables made their neighbors too spicy for Lori.


My salmon and vegetables had a very strong fishy taste, though the sides were good. Lori's chicken salad was tasty, but included spicy pecans that were too spicy for her, so we ended up trading meals. Everything we had was pretty good, but far short of great. It's a pity, really, because there's a whole lot to like about McMenamin's dedication to locally sourced food and preserving historic buildings; the only down side is the food and beer.


I did quite enjoy the Hammerhead pale ale. (And I remembered the flash on my phone for this picture.) My notes say that I enjoyed the amber, though I can't identify from this picture which beer the amber was.
I did read the other side of the mat because of the "Warning: Please do not read the other side..." The other side had several excerpts of a few paragraphs each from a dozen widely varied texts. There were one or two passages about brewing, but there was little to connect the other passages to the brewery or to each other.


For dessert, we shared a huckleberry cobbler. The berries were very nice, but the topping was kind of pasty and sad.


Everything we had was pretty good, but far short of great. It's a pity, really, because there's a whole lot to like about McMenamin's dedication to locally sourced food and preserving historic buildings; the only thing keeping them from being splendid is the food and beer.
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