Saturday, May 10, 2014

Chowder wars

The Oregon coast seems the most tranquil of places, unless you count the magnificent storms that blow in all winter, bringing storm watchers from far and wide. Do not let this outward serenity fool you, however; there is a veritable cauldron of controversy boiling away, and it's not just below the surface.

Where can one get the coast's best clam chowder? Mo's? (We say, no.) Ecola Seafood? (Good, but not the best.) Bandon Fish Market? (Really good, but still not best.) Gracie's Sea Hag? (That's in Depoe Bay, and it comes in second.) Our vote: Norma's in Seaside. (Note: When combined with the awesome bar, view of Haystack Rock and general ambiance, the Wayfarer in Cannon Beach is a reasonable alternative.)

Here's what makes good chowder: Just enough clams, firm but not chewy, and definitely not cooked to the point where they are starting to fray. Salty, but not too... a nice touch of pepper, but only in the background. Just a hint of bacon flavor, but no limp bacon pieces wallowing in the bowl (though, interestingly, there's no bacon in Norma's chowder, so, there you go). And, here's the key for we folk from Idaho: potato chunks, maybe a half-inch square, cooked only until firm but not to the point of mushy. Of course, all of this must come together in a creamy, hot-but-not-scorching amalgam of milk, cream, mild clamminess and, most important, a mouth feel and flavor that deliver comfort and go well with a Dead Guy ale.

This is Norma's chowder (I'd still add just a touch of bacon grease), and it ranks as Oregon's best. I also will confess this much -- I like the clam chowders done by Jaker's and Sandpiper here in Idaho Falls are nearly as good as Norma's and better than a number of chowders we've sampled on the Oregon coast.

Seaside, it must be said, is not our favorite Oregon coastal town. It feels more like the Jersey Shore than Oregon, with more than its share of schlocky stores, a lovely boardwalk and a wide, walkable beach. But, it's just not as naturally endowed as Cannon Beach, Pacific City, Newport, Depoe Bay, Yachats or Bandon. It is, however, better than Lincoln City.

But Norma's is just one big menu of great food, nearly all of it fresh seafood from a day's drive or less from town. Norma, whoever she may be, understands letting the seafood speak for itself without too much breading or seasoning or overcooking. But all you really need is a big bowl of chowder and a Dead Guy.

No comments:

Post a Comment