Until we discovered Longfellow's Inn, that is. The Scappoose steak-'n'-suds institution invites you to play chef and grill your own meat all damn year long. Hallelujah.
It was Portland's own queen groupie, Pennie Lane (remember Almost Famous?), who clued Bite Club in to this rural charcoal paradise. The Sauvie Island resident often motors up Highway 30 for some DIY dinner.
What a find. The second Bite Club pushed open the Inn's rough wooden door, a plume of hot, beefy air enveloped our body like some exotic new spa treatment. Even on a Tuesday night, the brick-and-wood-paneled relic of a dining room was packed with regulars gorging themselves on the Inn's signature meal. The object of our journey commanded the center of this pastoral scene: a 3-by-5-foot grill.
"We've had that grill forever," says server/cook/janitor Kat Wenborn. The Inn has been open since the mid-1950s and even served as Scappoose's unofficial town hall for a few years. Wenborn says the only thing that's changed around this joint in the past decade is the carpeting, when the Inn's brown nap was replaced with green.
Back to the action: It's actually a bit, well, intimidating to face the Longfellow's glowing coals. When Bite Club stepped up to the grill, we felt as if the entire room was assessing our barbecue prowess. We swear that even the smoky adjoining bar's pool hustlers fell quiet. "That side's for beef," drawled a man in a cowboy hat as Bite Club eyed the two halves of the rectangular grill with consternation. "The other's for fish." Feigning nonchalance, we plunged an oversized fork into the center of our 8-ounce New York cut and plopped that slab of cow on the hot iron grate like it was branding day. Mission accomplished.
For the next eight minutes, we busied ourself constructing a mini-garden of lettuce, peas, bell peppers and ghetto Ranch dressing, our favorite, from the all-you-can-eat salad bar. We talked with our mouth full of balloony white bread roll and took a few swigs of Budweiser. We sprinkled our baked potato with bacon bits-marveling that all this bounty came with a $11.75 price tag. Soon enough, we retrieved our meat and dug in. We even used a dollop of A-1. All that was missing? Flip-flops and a picnic table.
On a sadder note: Bite Club says arrivederci to downtown Portland's Italian cafe O, Cielo!, which served its final bowl of perfect lentils last Saturday. "It's the oldest story," shrugged owner Stefano Bruschi, as a rush of farewell lunch diners hogged the scrappy 3-year-old trattoria's chairs last Friday. "The expenses are too much and the customers not enough."
Longfellow's Inn, 52535 Columbia River Highway, Scappoose, 543-9996.