Monday, March 30, 2009

Breakfast In An Old West Coast Mill Town

We eat breakfast in the land of dreams. Big ones, broken ones,
unintended ones.

The Samoa Cookhouse is the unintended part of this dream trilogy. It
started life in 1893 as a lumberjack's dining hall in the mill town of
Samoa, on Humboldt Bay, just outside Eureka, CA. And even though the
mill and its lumberjacks left town about 30 years ago, the Samoa
Cookhouse stayed, and today serves people like us, tourists, and
locals who love to eat the way the lumberjacks did, at long rows of
tables with the food served in community bowls and where everyone
orders the same thing. The heavy dishes are old and the chairs

This morning, breakfast is biscuits and gravy, french toast, sausage
and scrambled eggs, orange juice, coffee and water. Not just one or
two, but all of them. (Everything yummy, but the gravy. Too sweet and
too salty.)

Yvonne, our waitress (above), flits about, seamlessly conquering the
demands and requests of our row of diners, then the two rows next to us.

A second waitress, Ivy, is loud with her antics. She chews gums
constantly, open-mouthed, and sings the theme to the '60s "Batman" TV
show as she piles bowl after bowl of breakfast food in front of her
guests. She toys with the male server and the cook, Roberto, a tall
large man who grimaces at her. "Well, you have to be nice to the
cook," she winks at me and cracks her gum. "If he gets mad, he rattles
off in Spanish."

And with that comment she's off. They're all busy. The Cookhouse has
served up to 15,000 people a day.

Yvonne returns with our check ($11 each) and tells us why this is the
land of dreams. The original BIG dream, she says, came back in the
beginning (1889), before the Cookhouse was even built, when a group
of businessmen (with little acumen, obviously) bought up the land as
an investment. They named it Samoa, thinking vacationers would flock
to an area with such an exotic name.

But there's a reason the town was originally called Brownsville, and
why sea captains called the watery approach through the bay the
"Graveyard of the Pacific." The sun doesn't shine very much here, and
there's a lot of fog and the currents are variable.

So with their dream of a tourist town broken, the businessmen settled
on selling the town to a mill (in 1892), which kept the name Samoa,
and attracted lumberjacks instead of tourists until the last of the
big trees was milled in the 1980s.

The unintended dream actually realizes the original BIG dream. Samoa
finally attracts tourists. Not for a vacation, but for a meal, at the
Samoa Cookhouse.

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