There is a deep, dark place in my heart for that old Americana dining room, the kind with stainless steel tabletop "chandeliers" of salad dressing, a 1950s illustration of a chef on the menu, and baked potatoes that come with two cups of whipped butter and sour cream. Enter Scappoose's Longfellow's Inn, the scene of a recent birthday lunch for my girlfriend's father. He lives in St. Helens, so the locale was a politically appropriate halfway point. Plus, I was promised I could cook my own steak, a novel dining room opportunity no person of character can pass up.
The mysteries of the Longfellow's Inn are many, beginning with the "single lumen" lighting plan, which lends every meal a feeling of clandestine intrigue. Once your eyes adjust, you notice the unmanned island grill in the center of the room, perhaps with a solitary burger sizzling away as though placed there by a hungry ghost. Upon reading the menu, then looking back at the grill, then looking at the menu again, you realize that the grill is the kitchen, that there is no smiling orotund chef of blended European extraction, and that your waitress—who just confirmed that there are chips instead of fries, further suggesting the lack of a kitchen—will be cooking all the food.
It is, in its essence, indoor tailgating and mystery dinner theater all in one. It is also a bit of light comedy. The waitress informed the birthday boy that there wouldn't be baked potatoes until five, but that she wouldn't mind "throwing one in the microwave." (A trooper, he accepted.) Realizing what you've gotten yourself into, you don't order the steak—who would?—so you watch helplessly as your burger cooks, and cooks, and cooks on the grill. Then, mercifully, it is flipped, only to linger another eternity. Someone gets a small brass deer statue that belonged to a departed grandmother, an extra roll is purloined from the salad bar, a stainless steel chandelier (this one containing tomatoes, pickles, and onion slices) is set on the table next to the steak sauce and shaker of dried chives. Lunch complete, you pay the modest bill, perhaps play a game of pool in the clean and well-lit bar, and gather the children, who have been eating chips and root beer for an hour, into the car. There are many "nature pees" on the twenty-mile journey home, but we will not say by who, or how often.
I would never say don't go to the Longfellow's Inn. I went there, and if the road were hard and the timing right (after having my pupils dilated, say), I'd go again. Next time, though, I would probably ask to mind my own burger, and maybe bring my own patty.
Hit the jump for more photos!