Friday, September 22, 2017

The Russians Are Coming

Back in the 1930s, the Russians were coming! At the time, Portland and Oregon had rather few immigrants beyond those from China, Scandinavia and Germany, and the food and restaurant scene was a bit short on ethnic variety. But there were some examples, such as the Samovar Russian Cafe that Paul E. Bulkin ran on NE Sandy Boulevard from about 1930 to 1940. The menu posted here shows the daily specials, which include not only Russian dishes but also a number of pretty generic Portlandia-ish items (fried chicken, grilled salmon). The pricey Samovar de luxe Russian dinner is, surprisingly, not detailed, but the full menu suggests some of the possiblities, including chicken a la Russe, lamb sashlik, and blini with caviar.

Paul E. Bulkin was the proprietor of the Samovar, as noted  by David B. Cole in his Portland State University dissertation, "Russian Oregon: A History of the Russian Orthodox Church and Settlement in Oregon, 1882-1976." A 1972 article about the quaint building by John Wendeborn in the Oregonian prompted a reminiscence about the Samovar by Joel C. Hertsche, Jr. (September 29). He extolled Bulkin, "who prepared the best Russian-type food I have ever laid tongue to. Blinis with sour cream, beef stroganoff, spiced wine and a varied and very tasty menu." Bulkin entertained as well as cooked: "The only music that was played there then was Paul himself beating out a tune on a bread board with a carving knife." Cole's dissertation mentions two other Russian restaurants in Portland during the 1930s and 1940s.

Before apparently leaving Portland for the Los Angeles area about 1940, Bulkin and his wife were noted as the owners of a pair of St. Bernard dogs, Mike and Sergey, who were frequently to be seen at the new Timberline Lodge. The Bulkins helped to promote the Mt. Hood winter sports carnival in 1937. "Paul Bulkin, the mad Russian" also opened another themed restaurant in1939, when the Russian Village, in something of an oxymoronic state, advertised its hosting of "Dan Warren's Africa Congo Revue, with the music of Toby Williams' Congo rhythm swing."

Oregonian, 10-25-1939
The building that housed the Samovar was still standing in Portland until early this year. I drove by a week ago: it's gone, and some 200 apartments soon will rise on the site. It was a rather unusual structure, a storybook sort of building vaguely resembling a squashed castle. Although one website tags it as a former Russian Orthodox church, it never was. According to Val Ballestrem of  theArchitectural Heritage Center, it as erected as a restaurant and bar called Jack and Jill's in the late 1920s. J&J did not last long, and was succeeded by an East Side branch of Jake's Crawfish. Jake's also failed, and the Samovar moved in. Since 1958, it was known as Club 21.

John Margolies photo, 1976. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

Oregonian, June 11, 1930
Russian restaurant food reappeared in Portland about 1971 with the Russian Renaissance, located on SE Clinton Street near 26th. It was operated by Scotty and Walt Hasty and offered an extensive menu of pelmeni, holubtsi, tukhum dolma, beef stroganoff, and borscht. It moved downtown to NW 5th Avenue near Burnside in 1975, and lasted until at least 1978. The present-day Russian Renaissance restaurant on SE Foster Road near 65th does not appear to be a direct descendant. Or is it?
2525 SE Clinton Street, Portland

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Salmon in Klamath Falls

Pelican Cafe, Klamath Falls
No, you won’t be reading about the dams on the Klamath River and their impact on the salmon runs. This is a post about the Pelican Café, a long-running landmark in Klamath Falls, where pelicans are more noteworthy than salmon.  As Mark Joneschiet wrote of pelicans—and the café—in his reminiscence of KFalls, The Pelican’s Briefs: “It is called the Pelican Café because just about everything in this area is called Pelican SOMEthing. There is an area of town called Pelican City. There is a Pelican Motel, a Pelican Hotel and a Pelican Tavern. In fact, there are even real, bona-fide PELICANS… by the MULTITUDE!”

Michael Shellenbarger photo, 1985. UO C:19 95-10645
The Pelican Café opened in 1933 in the Williams Building, a handsome two-story structure with a rather fancy Italian Renaissance façade, ornamented with polychrome terra cotta, including a frieze of Hereford steer skulls along with pine cones (no pelicans! Mr. D. O. Williams had business interests in cattle and lumber). The building, designed by Portland architect Jamieson Parker, was completed in 1927. The Pelican Café positioned itself as a culinary oasis between Portland and the Bay Area, serving salmon and shrimp as well as roast beef. It was featured in the Duncan Hines guides to American restaurants, and its recipe for beef tongue with tomato sauce appeared in his Adventures in Good Cooking.

The Oriental rug on the wall
A postcard view of two dining rooms at the Pelican was sent by my Aunt Dorothy to her husband, Bill, postmarked July 28, 1954. Dorothy was driving from their home in Trona, California, in the Mojave Desert, to Portland. “Had a salmon dinner in the booth here pictured with Oriental rug on wall.”

As it happens, I recently acquired a menu from the Pelican, with a mimeographed daily lunch listing for July 30, 1954—two days after Dorothy had her salmon dinner there. The most expensive item on the menu—$1.50—was the crab or shrimp a la Louie. Locally-tailored offerings included youngberry and huckleberry pie, and “Oregon’s famous Langlois Roquefort type cheese.”

As Klamath Lake was an oasis for the white pelicans, the Pelican Café was an oasis for the long-distance autoist. (Trona to Portland in 1954 was about 950 miles via US 395, Reno, Klamath Falls, and Bend—no I-5 in those days!)

Monday, October 17, 2016

Cathryn's by Kathryn: Dining on Barbur Boulevard

I confess: I bought another matchbook cover. It led me to the tale of a once-charming suburban Portland dinner house on Barbur Boulevard, in what today is the sprawling city of Tigard.

It should read Barbur Boulevard, not Barbour
Cathryn’s Dinners first came to my attention when I ran across it in a 1946 edition of Adventures in Good Cooking (Famous Recipes) and the Art of Carving in the Home, by Duncan Hines. A spinoff from Hines’ famous Adventures in Good Eating, which reviewed restaurants across the nation, this book was a compilation of recipes from many of those anointed restaurants. Two recipes from Cathryn’s were included in it, one for hot toasted cheese hors d’oeuvres and one for a chocolate fudge upside down cake.

The matchbook showed up on eBay. Now I knew what Cathryn’s looked like and approximately where it was. A search of the Portland Oregonian online revealed that the restaurant, specializing in chicken and steak, was opened in 1937 by Kathryn Pettengill. Mrs. Pettengill was born in Massachusetts in 1888, and came to Portland with her husband, William, in the early 1920s. Before opening Cathryn’s, she had worked as a hostess at Nendel’s, a noted suburban dinner house on Canyon Road. She sold Cathryn’s in 1946 and soon opened another restaurant in Oak Grove, southeast of Portland, called Kathryn’s. The next year, Kathryn Pettengill died from a fall down the stairs at the restaurant.

Cathryn’s on Barbur Boulevard, however, continued in business under other owners, finally closing in 1956. It was then refurbished and reopened as the Hi-Hat, with the “same type of food but has added Chinese dishes to the menu.” The Hi-Hat, operated by the Louie family of Fong Chong and Rickashaw Charlie’s in Portland's Chinatown, also offered dancing and drinking. The original building burned in 1968, but the Hi-Hat was built anew, perhaps down the road a piece. (It's not a clear transition. The intersection of Barbur and 62nd has vanished beneath the concrete of I-5, and the Hi-Hat was closer to 69th.) It continued to serve chop suey and to cater banquets until 2010. Today it is Lu’s Sports Bar & Lounge, “offering American & Chinese grub, games, TVs & nightly karaoke in a casual setting.”

Cathryn’s hot toasted cheese hors d’oeuvres
from Adventures in Good Cooking, by Duncan Hines (1946)

2 cups grated cheese
1 egg beaten
10 dashes Tabasco sauce
1 teaspoon Lea & Perrins [Worchestershire sauce]
¼ teaspoon salt
Mix well with a fork.

2 loaves of bread
Remove crusts and cut in 1-inch squares. Place a spoonful of mixture on each piece.

1 lb. bacon
Top with thin strips of bacon.

Toast in 450 F. oven until brown.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Astoria: Sukiyaki and St. Louis

Paper ephemera—items like restaurant menus, product brochures, and recipe booklets—have been the triggers for much of my research into Oregon’s food history. Matchbooks are pretty small, with little room to suggest a story. I’ve never collected them. 

Well, until recently. Here’s a story from one little matchbook.

Astoria is one of Oregon’s most cosmopolitan small towns. It’s a seaport and a fishing and lumbering center with a large population of Scandinavian (Swedish, Norwegian, Danish) immigrants along with many others (Finnish, Greek, Croatian) added to the usual Oregonians (Missourian, German, Iowan, British, Minnesotan, etc.). There were many Chinese working in the fish canneries, and some Sikhs in the lumber mill. More variety than one expects in Oregon.

As this matchbook told me, there were Japanese in Astoria, too, and there was a Japanese restaurant called the St. Louis—I have no idea what inspired the name. The 1931 Polk city directory shows the St. Louis Café at 276 Bond Street, on the north side of the street between 6th and 7th Streets. (Astoria house numbers have since changed.), It was operated by Takio Kobayashi, who then lived on 7th Street between Bond and Astor. This is in the midst of what was Astoria’s two-block Chinatown. The 1936, 1938, and 1940 city directories list the St. Louis Café on the south side of Bond Street at 265, as it shows on the matchbook. The directories also show Takio, and his wife Chitose, as living at the same address.

Were there other Japanese in Astoria in the 1930s? Did they also live in its Chinatown? Did any return after World War II? Oregon had Japanese American communities in Portland, eastern Multnomah County, Treasure Valley, and the Hood River Valley, but Takio and Chitose were outliers in Astoria. As evidenced by the matchbook, their restaurant probably catered to a non-Japanese clientele, but presumably one that knew what sukiyaki was, and that it was worth seeking out. Here’s an unexplored Astoria history niche.

Afterword: The 1930 and 1940 census list Takio Kobayashi. In 1930, Clatsop County had about 276 Japanese residents, 62 of them in Astoria. The remainder were shown in precincts that suggest they were working in lumber camps and mill towns: Westport, Wauna, Camp McGregor, Vesper, and Mishawaka (near Elsie), with a few scattered in John Day, Hammond, and Clifton. In 1940, Takio Kobayashi, born ca. 1889, age 51, is shown along with his wife Chito, age 40, and their children Marcia (13), George (10), and Ken (4).

John Goodenberger, Astoria historic preservationist and historian, shared with me the story of another member of Astoria's Japanese community, Tomaso Hayashi. Hayashi graduated from Astoria High School in 1933, was a champion swimmer, graduated from the University of Oregon, and returned to his home town to work for the Columbia River Packers Association (CRPA). In 1942 he along with other Japanese in Astoria was sent to an internment camp--Hayashi never returned to Astoria.You can hear his account in the Immigrant Gallery at the Clatsop County Historical Society museum.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Eat at the Lumbermen's Cafe

Shevlin-Hixon, 1930; Brubaker photo, OHS, OrHi 63365

In the roaring 1920s, the city of Bend was a hub of industry, supported by two immense lumber mills, Shevlin-Hixon and Brooks-Scanlon. Loggers and mill workers needed fuel, and Vern Singleton (1886-1932) was one of their suppliers. Shown here is a business card from his day-and-night Lumbermen’s Café in downtown Bend. The note at lower left suggests that Vern had at least one Chinese cook on his staff; chop suey, noodles, and chow mein were Cantonese-style Chinese-American foods that were widely popular across the nation. Even meat-and-potatoes lumberjacks were known to down chop suey when struck by a yen for something different.

The reverse side of the card is taken up with this wonderful boisterous yelp of a wild man logger, who has survived a rough-and-tumble life only because he eats at the Lumbermen’s Café in Bend. Very likely, the chop suey helped.

A similar version of this yelp, attributed to a similar business card from a café in Modesto, California, appears in William Least Heat-Moon’s 1983 road odyssey, Blue Highways. A bit of online searching traces the basic text at least as far back as 1921, when it shows up in The Shears, “the journal of information for [the] set-up paper box, folding carton, corrugated and fibre container and paper tube industries,” as well as in The Railway Maintenance of Way Employes [sic] Journal. Most versions end with, “The only reason I’m sticking around now is to see WHAT THE HELL IS NEXT.”

Friday, September 9, 2016

An Unanticipated Hiatus

There has been An Hiatus at the Oregon Rediviva blog. It was occasioned by our lengthy search for another residence that would offer greater gardening space for Terry, and that would shake up our daily routine a bit. At first we were looking in the Portland metro area: Milwaukie, Oak Grove, Lents, Oregon City. The affordable places with land tended to have a house that needed A Lot of Work. The places with a nice, move-in-ready house? They tended to sit on small lots. If house and land were both agreeable, the price was breathtaking. So we looked even farther afield in Forest Grove and Aurora.

Then we saw that the charming, affordable, whimsical John Ralston  house was for sale in Albany, thanks to a Facebook poke from Val Ballestrem of the Architectural Heritage Center. We went to look, but, alas, it had no yard to speak of, its foundation was melting, and there had been a disastrous kitchen remodel. But it got us to looking around at Albany, which has a reviving, historical downtown, and two historic residential districts, and so we looked at a bunch more real estate. We found a well-maintained 1889 residence, at a reasonable price, on almost half an acre of land bordering undeveloped wetlands along the Calapooia River. So: we bought it.

We moved in May. Blog posts have resumed--plenty of material was collected during our looking-at-places phase! I'm currently developing a book proposal from the core of past blog posts.

The Nomad of Boardman

Or, Exotic Images, Mundane Realities

Sometimes we are attracted to the exotic, the different, the colorful. At other times, we seek the familiar and the comfortable.

Along the stretch of I-84 between The Dalles and Pendleton lies the small town of Boardman. For many, it is a service stop, a place to get gas, a meal, a motel for the night. For those purposes, many looked for and found the Best Western Nugget Motel and its adjacent restaurant, The Nomad.

The motel and restaurant at Boardman represented a small cluster of the familiar cloaked in a thin veil of the superficially exotic. Similar combinations were (and are) found throughout the state and the nation along the Interstates; this one at Boardman is now gone, but it served travelers for about four decades.

First, the exotic. The motel name, the Nugget, suggested GOLD, that lure of the golden West. Boardman is a good hundred miles from any significant gold-bearing area. The restaurant name, The Nomad, brought to mind North African deserts and camels. Well, there is sand near Boardman. The Acacia Room, the restaurant’s lounge, was named for plants associated with Australia. There are no native acacias in Boardman. The restaurant described Boardman as the place “Where the Sun Meets the Sand.” Indeed they do meet there—as they do in so many other places—and the phrase suggests that Boardman has resort-like qualities. The menu’s cover photo of a beach on the Mediterranean isle of Capri emphasizes those qualities, perhaps suggesting that Boardman was the Capri of the Columbia. This is doubtful.

Second, the familiar and the comfortable. The postcard view makes it clear that nothing about The Nomad’s décor references camels, nomads, sand, or acacias. A look at the menu confirms that the food is mainstream 1975 fare: steaks, sandwiches, seafood. Seafood is wide-ranging, with fresh Columbia River salmon, halibut, oysters, Atlantic scallops, lobster tail, and jumbo frog logs. The frog legs might seem to be exotic, but in 1975 we were at the tail end of a minor national fad for farmed frog. A surprising omission from the carte is chicken: the mis-nomered chicken fried steak appears, but not one piece of chicken was to be found.

An aside: the menu was printed by Victor Cornelius Menus of Eastland, Texas, a firm that is still very much in business. One of their popular products was a monthly menu cover with “a colorful seasonal scene.” This cover seems appropriate for July, but the geography is out of sync with the season.