Gold for oysters? That was life in Oysterville when the Willapa Bay Oysters were highly sought by the San Francisco restaurants to feed the hungry and wealthy miners during the Gold Rush in the 1840’s. Rumor has it that there was more gold per capita in Oysterville than anywhere on the west coast outside of San Francisco. The reason for the use of gold rather than money was that there were no banks in Oysterville.
Although this region just a 3.5 hour car ride from Seattle, Oysterville offers a wonderful change of pace and scenery from the big city. Oysterville is on the bay of the Long Beach Peninsula and the Pacific Ocean is just to the west. This location makes Oysterville one of the five top oyster producing regions in the world, and we went to the Oysterville Sea Farms to test this.
Although we did not have any gold to offer the owner of the Oysterville Sea Farms, Dan Driscoll, he did give us these delicious fresh samples: oysters on the half shell, steamed oysters in a butter sauce, steamed clams, and Willabay Clam Chowder. The highlight was the Oyster Blanc Wine (Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc blend) that paired perfectly with the oysters, which we enjoyed in the new oyster bar.
While sipping wine and eating oysters Dan told us that his grandfather started in the aqua farming business in 1935. Dan spent many summers visiting this region and his parents had property nearby. Dan became active in oyster farming in 1990 and has since expanded beyond seafood. He now has a food line which includes dried fruits (cranberries of course), cereal, jams and other items. Along with oysters the area also includes over 600 acres of cranberries in production.
Seas Farms’ colorful owner Dan is also a musician. Dan has released three CD’s recorded under the label of the Oysterville Underground. The unique sound is known as “Bay Billy music with a Beach Bop Beat.”
On that note, we headed south to Nahcotta and five minutes later we found the quaint Bailey’s Bakery and Café. We sampled cranberry-butterscotch scone, which is, according to my wife the “best scone I’ve ever eaten.” The scones paired well with the local coffee made by Long Beach Coffee Roasters, known as “the best roast on the coast.” Our breakfast also included some delicious egg pocket sandwiches. Owner Jayne Bailey originally learned her culinary trade in Seattle and has been on the Long Beach Peninsula preparing food and teaching the culinary trade for over 25 years. Bailey’s Bakery and Café also offers sandwiches to go for those heading out to the beach or for a hike in the woods.
We thanked Jayne for her hospitality and drove for about fifteen minutes north to Leadbetter Point State Park. There are four different beach trails available. We did a short two mile loop and enjoyed the ocean waves, sand dunes and wild flowers. We also watched oysters being harvested by some of the locals and of course enjoyed the views of the Bay and the Ocean. Summer is the best time to hike these trails as during the winter they can get flooded. But you don’t even have to leave the parking lot to observe the birds and views.
The hiking that we did made us think once again of food so our next stop was The Depot Restaurant in Seaview. The Depot is housed in the original depot building of the Ilwaco Railroad & Navigation Company, known by the locals as the Clamshell Railroad. Built in 1888, the train schedule was unique because it was dictated by the tides.
Chef Michael Lakewicz greeted us and offered some wonderful suggestions for dinner. I greatly enjoyed the nice spicy flavors of the Gazpacho soup with tomatoes, charred sweet corn, smoked paprika, and cucumbers. We also had scallops, which hit the spot. For the main course the catch of the day was the Chinook Salmon caught that very morning in the Columbia River. The fish was braised, served on a bed of risotto and garnished with mushrooms and almonds. My wife enjoyed the rib eye steak with a blue cheese sauce. Finally we finished things off with trio of sorbets and a Chocolate Guinness Cake. The cake was wonderfully light and a great use of Guinness Beer. We learned from Chef Michael that once a month they have wine diners. He invites some of the vineyard managers to showcase their wine paired with the delightful culinary offerings of The Depot. We are looking forward to coming back for that! Now we needed rest as tomorrow’s itinerary included more gourmet dining and some hiking to make room for this wonderful food.
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Photos by Elizabeth Fagin
Author: Michael Fagin is a freelance travel writer who has traveled over the last ten years across Canada and visited all the major Canadian wine regions. While he is not writing Mr. Fagin is a meteorologist for West Coast Weather, LLC forecasting weather for the West Coast of the US as well as on an international basis.