Driving out State Route Six from Portland to Oregon’s beaches, afternoon hunger drove my car past elk warning signs to Alice’s Country House. Alice’s diner hugs the highway in the low foothills of Oregon’s coastal range, just miles from Tillamook’s dairy pastures, where live the udders from which squirt their famous cheddar. The front of Alice’s menu proclaims, “If you are in a hurry, this is the place to forget.” Every meal is home cooked. The ladies at Alice’s are serious about that promise. I tasted sincerity in my Big Spruce club sandwich and fries.
Alice’s welcomes city folk streaking through to beach getaways. I got a big “Hello! Grab any seat you want” when I shuffled inside. There were even a couple Subarus and Audis in the parking lot. But the parking stalls were wide, sized to Ford F-250s and Dodge Rams. Alice’s serves migratory urbanites, but survives on locals. The décor told me so. Eleven buck racks, shorn of their skulls, decorated walls. A black bear skin with marbles for eyes and a red felt fringe draped a showcase. A stuffed grouse with a patina of dust stared from its wall mount. Farm implements proliferated. Pitchfork tines supported bow-saw blades, nailed to a tractor steering wheel. Basketballs in an acrylic case commemorated Portland Trailblazer and local high school glories. A framed Philadelphia front page declared World War II over. Vague hints of felled spruce and lubricant wafted from a worn chainsaw.
Two regulars sauntered in, fresh from frustrated fishing. Hugging them, my waitress demanded, “I want to know where my steelhead is?” Her victim smiled, “Still swimmin’ in the river, hon.” Cook came out; she introduced the duo to a third at the counter. “Jus spent a thousand bucks on new tires. Right front sidewall blew. Thought we wuz gonna die, haulin that boat an all.” Locals exchanged knowing nods.
The Greeks say that cities are great solitudes. Thoreau (American, 19th century A.D.) described the city as “millions of people being lonesome together.” There is less social isolation in the cattle, dairy, lumber lands of coastal Oregon, at least at Alice’s. The locals’ yammer reminded me of a city slicker’s exchange with a farmer in Carl Sandburg (American, 20th century A.D.): “‘How do you do, my farmer friend?’ ‘Howdy.’ ‘Nice looking country you have here.’ ‘Fer them that likes it.’ ‘Live here all your life?’ ‘Not yit.’” (The People, Yes).
A freezer display by the cash register suggested Tillamook ice cream. The cows down the hill compelled me to taste their product, with a bit of chocolate added, in a waffle cone. Within the boundaries of the law and culinary joy, you can get anything you want at Alice’s restaurant. Maybe Bob Dylan had a Route 6 chicken fried steak sandwich there. Who knows?