Friday, April 21, 2006

A tough job (you know the rest).

Graham’s two-year-old granddaughter looked up at me and smiled knowingly.

She pointed to the beer collection I’ve painstakingly assembled over the course of three decades, and asked, “is there a baby in your stomach?”

Yes, it turns out that Art Linkletter was right, and indeed, they actually do say the darndest things.

Look elsewhere for apologies, because I’ve not become who I am today by displaying a propensity for relinquishing a bar stool without just cause or pushing back from the dinner table before the last plate has been licked.

All the same, it’s a bit much to have the obvious consequences pointed out by such a young and inexperienced observer.

Be that as it may, on Friday, April 14, Eva’s granddaddy and I reached the conclusion of our 3,000-mile road trip from Louisville, Kentucky to Portland, Oregon.

Along the way there were ample opportunities to expand the waistline by broadening the palate – by one preliminary estimate, perhaps as much as 15 pounds worth.

Dining highlights were varied and numerous, ranging from pulled pork barbecue in Oklahoma City to grilled oysters in Newport, Oregon, with bits of Tex-Mex (Albuquerque) and a Kobe (USA) beef burger with blue cheese (Newport, again) thrown in for good measure. From veggie gourmet pizza in Portland OR to organic, free-range goodies on the breakfast menu in Fort Bragg CA, the eating was uniformly excellent throughout.

There was even time for a pastry or three along the road. Graham proved to be roughly half the eater of the Curmudgeon, providing several opportunities to sample his food, too.

Hence his granddaughter’s prescient, albeit youthful, eye.

The beer tally began slowly owing to the relative poverty of the Great Plains when it comes to craft beer. Our first evening’s restaurant stop in the Oklahoma City exurb provided an opportunity to drink the much adored Shiner Bock, a Texas legend that is better viewed as a Potemkin village (nice label, but there’s no “there” there).

Things improved dramatically in New Mexico, with worthwhile brewpub stops in Santa Fe and Albuquerque. Flagstaff’s Beaver Street Brewery was another good find. From San Luis Obispo and north along the coast, craft beer affairs began to intensify.

Suddenly, there were more breweries, beers and choices than time to investigate them, and we began to declare priorities and bypass otherwise deserving destinations.

Of course, the highlight was Rogue Ales in Newport, Oregon. There’ll be more to come on that particular Beer Mecca.

Close behind: North Coast Brewing Company in Fort Bragg, California. A great morning tour concluded with the gift of two short-fill bottles of Brother Thelonious, NC’s new Belgian-style ale, which Graham and I plan on sampling once he returns.

With dozens of drinking establishments for the choosing in Portland, just as many were regrettably omitted during a short three-day stay (my wife and I stayed the weekend after bidding Graham adieu).

The Biscuit-less Horse Brass Pub had some great regional ale on tap -- and a dense carpet of cigarette smoke that reduced visibility to three feet or less. Perhaps not everything about Portland is green.

In spite of the upscale appearance, I actually enjoyed the swanky Henry’s 12th Street Tavern even though it’s part of a multi-state chain. It is located in a building formerly belonging to the defunct Henry Weinhard’s brewery (a classical age staple in Oregon).

During two separate visits to Henry’s, I sampled five of the tavern’s hundred draft beers (most micros and craft brews), and all were in good shape. There’s an inexpensive happy hour snack menu, too.

Portland’s Nob Hill/NW 23rd Avenue corridor begins just a block from the B & B where we stayed, and there are numerous options along it, including a couple of McMenamins theme bars and the NW Public House branch of Laurelwood Brewing Company. The daily special New Zealand lamb chops were fat and succulent, and the IPA appropriate.

In fact, given the chance, IPA matches just about anything.

I suppose it wasn’t necessary to travel all that way to prove what I already knew, but it was worth the rigorous scientific testing – and Eva’s observation.

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