Mon, Jun 3 2013 02:05
|Arrive early to beat the crowds.|
908 Vance Avenue
Samoa Cookhouse has been on my must-visit list for quite a while now, and for good reasons: first of all, the last surviving cookhouse in the West has been serving customers since the late 1800s (a feat in itself), when they fed workers in the nearby lumber and logging industries. Secondly, the fare is all-you-can eat, AKA “lumber camp style”, and servers bring the food to you at your request
, something I appreciate since I typically make 4-5 embarrassing trips to any given buffet. In fact, I wore stretchy yoga pants in preparation for this hearty meal.
I headed to the cookhouse early on a Sunday morning, ravenous after a day traipsing through redwoods along the Avenue of the Giants. As I stepped inside I found rows upon rows of long tables covered with old-fashioned red and white-checked tablecloths. A few families and solo diners were already digging into their breakfasts, and the air had a slight smell of cinnamon. I was seated, immediately offered water, juice and coffee, then told the biscuits and gravy would arrive shortly. The cookhouse has a set menu each day for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Today’s menu board revealed that the biscuits and gravy would be follow by French toast, sausage and eggs; I tried to pace myself, but ended of gorging on a couple of biscuits with warm, buttery milk gravy. I spied the chef behind the counter dipping thick, hand-sliced homemade bread into a vat of cinnamon egg mixture at a furious pace, keeping up with the steady stream of customers coming through the front door. At the same time, he scrambled eggs and made sure there were enough hot sausage links to go around. I declined a second round of biscuits and gravy (!) and cleansed my palate with a little OJ before the main event. Moments later, I was presented with a pile of golden French toast, sizzling sausage links and fluffy scrambled eggs. Few things top the taste and texture of home-baked bread; and, as a result, this might have been some of the best French toast I’ve ever had. I drenched each rich, chewy bite with butter and syrup and watched as dozens of loaves behind the counter were being sliced up for the next day’s breakfast crowd (only day-old bread will hold up to that thick egg batter). It was so good that even after the first helping AND my previous biscuits and gravy, I asked for seconds. The sausage and eggs proved to be a nice balance to all of that carb-loading. Completely satisfied, I lumbered (ha!) into the next room for a trip back in time. The Logging Museum houses antique equipment and tools and displays turn-of-the-century photos of workers who likely dined at the cookhouse decades ago (just not in yoga pants). Rigorous work under dangerous conditions can work up quite an appetite, which is why the cookhouse’s meals are indeed “fit for a lumberjack”.