Delicious and comforting, this low carb paleo seafood chowder recipe is packed with fresh Oregon seafood. The Oregon Coast needs to be on your list of places to visit!
Close your eyes and imagine a coast line of stark beauty, where rugged pine-topped cliffs are interspersed with long stretches of soft, sandy beaches. Where the people are warm and friendly, with seemingly infinite goodwill and a strong sense of local pride. Where good, fresh local food is abundant (along with plenty of wine and beer). Where a sense of stewardship and conservation for the natural resources prevail. Where the warm spring sunshine and the smell of the ocean makes you feel relaxed and at ease. Now imagine that all the beaches on this 363 mile stretch of Pacific Coast are freely accessible to the general public, that no beach is off limits. Do you know where you are? Yup, you’re in Oregon. Welcome to The People’s Coast.
My family and I had a chance to spend an April weekend in the Nehalem Bay area and I probably couldn’t wax more poetic about it if I tried. But I will try, because I want you to glimpse a little of the experience yourself. If I can convince you that the Oregon Coast needs to be on your list of places to visit, all my effusiveness will be worthwhile. I think you will soon see why I was so taken with the area.
We picked the kids up right after school and hit the road early enough to beat the usual Friday traffic on Highway 26. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect of our “farm stay” accommodations at North Fork 53, but it quickly became apparent that it was perfect for us. A historic homestead cum bed and breakfast that overlooks the Nehalem River, it is quaint without being fussy or overdone. It really is a working farm and Ginger, who owns the farm along with her husband Brigham, was tending to the front gardens when we arrived. As was Roscoe, the friendly and chill farm dog, who quickly made great friends with the kids.
There is so much to say about North Fork 53 and our wonderful hosts who catered to virtually our every whim, it could be an entire stand alone article. It’s something of an up-and-coming concept, a bed and breakfast that grows its own organic produce, much of which is sold through its on-site farm store and CSA. All the eggs are from Ginger and Brigham’s farm as well, and the pastured meats are from surrounding farms. And the fish, of course, since this is the coast, are all from local fishermen near Nehalem Bay and Tillamook Bay. They run catering out of the farm, as well as host farm-to-table events and culinary workshops. I was spoiled here in a way I don’t ever encounter while traveling. Knowing that I follow a low carb diet, our chef Sara and our other hostess Ana went out of their way to make food I could fully eat and enjoy. Grassfed beef roast with fresh greens for dinner, cauliflower crust breakfast pizza and pastured bacon the next morning. Sara even made my recipe for low carb graham crackers so the kids could enjoy s’mores at the fire pit in the evenings. I was absolutely tickled.
Our Saturday was jam-packed with coastal activities. First stop was Kelly’s Marina for some crabbing, which really is a must-do for this region, particularly in the winter and early spring. But first, you need a shellfish license. If you’re an Oregon resident, you need to pony up the steep steep rate of $7 for an annual license. If you’re not from OR and just want to dabble at the crabbing for a few days, you can pay $11.50 for a 3-day license. Or go all in and get the annual license for $20.50 so you can crab to your heart’s content. At Kelly’s, you can stay the day, checking on your crab pots every so often while chatting and having a beer by the fire. You can even set up camp and stay a few days.
Kelly’s is probably the best place to bring your kids for a first-time crabbing experience. Kelly himself is quite a character; tall, moustachioed, with a warm humour and blunt manner that has the little ones following him around like puppy dogs. He happily shows them every little bit about catching, cooking and eating crabs. He had my girls eating the hearts and drinking the “crab butter” (the warm, fatty liquid left after cooking) right out of the shells. I am quite certain they wouldn’t have done it for their parents. For the record, we did actually catch a few crabs, but they were females so we had to toss them back in. No matter, Kelly’s has plenty of nice big Dungeness crabs that they will cook on-site for you.
We then headed back up to Nehalem for lunch at Buttercup Chowder and Ice Cream. I can’t speak for the ice cream but I can say it was some of the best chowder I had in a long time. The Thai Seafood Chowder was packed to the gills with fresh shrimp, squid, Pacific cod and tons of veggies. I asked them to leave out the potatoes but there was plenty of cabbage, peppers and sprouts to make up for it. You couldn’t move your spoon around in the bowl without coming up with a ton of goodies. My husband did sacrifice himself for the greater good and tried out the Chocolate Hazelnut Semifreddo, and gave it a big thumbs up.
Driving scenic Highway 101 is in itself a great way to see the Oregon Coast. As we headed down toward Tillamook Bay, I was thankful I wasn’t driving so that I could spend the time peering out at the stunning landscape. We stopped in Garibaldi to speak with two Jeffs, both of whom are passionate and dedicated to the fish and shellfish industry of the region. Jeff Folkema runs the Garibaldi Marina, where you can rent boats for crabbing and fishing expeditions. Jeff truly knows Tillamook Bay like the back of his hand and will give you detailed information on where to go for the best crabbing and fishing. And he won’t let you get out there without a good lesson in safety procedures. Garibaldi Marina only rents boats on the incoming tide because the pull of the tidal currents on the outgoing tide can be too strong for many people to handle.
We stopped briefly at Source, a new store in Garibaldi dedicated to highlighting the work of local craftsman, farmers, fishers and other producers. It’s an eclectic collection of art, decor, and food that will give you the sense, once again, of all the local producers working to support one another. Much of the fresh produce came from the farm at North Fork 53 and the fish and shellfish from the Garibaldi Community Supported Fishery. That sense of community and of local sustainability is inspiring, to say the least.
Our final stop of the day was to meet our second Jeff, who heads up the Community Supported Fishery in Garibaldi. As you might suspect from the name, the business model of a CSF program is similar to that of community supported agriculture, wherein many partners buy in to support the small boat fishermen who fish in a sustainable and environmentally responsible manner. This has many benefits over large commercial fleets: it allows for a more direct line from ocean to table, more control over the harvesting methods, better quality fish that have been minimally processed, and better compensation for the fishermen, to name a few.
The CSF in Garibaldi runs its own processing facility so that they can maintain this commitment to quality at every step of the process. Jeff himself is a fisherman and is dedicated to the CSF model. They partner with many Portland area restaurants and markets to bring the best fish into my fair and food-obsessed city. I was delighted to see that one of their partners is the Flying Fish Company, a place where I’ve been known to load up on local Oregon seafood. And it just so happens that I go to CrossFit with the owners of Flying Fish…so we come full circle! Small world and all that.
The kids were understandably restless and tired of talking about fish at this point, so we said our goodbyes to the dedicated fishermen of Tillamook Bay and headed back to North Fork 53. We were treated to the airiest, most delicate crab cakes I’ve ever had, made with crab from Kelly’s Marina (nope, we didn’t catch it ourselves, despite our best efforts). Chef Sara told us the secret was to make a fish or shrimp mousse first, to mix into the cooked crab. I considered attempting a remake of that recipe for this article but I knew my culinary skills were not quite up to snuff. And that my readers might prefer a more straightforward recipe for feeding their families on a busy weeknight.
The next morning was far more leisurely and we headed up the coast for a little time on Manzanita Beach. We also stopped in Cannon Beach for a bite to eat and some coffee at The Sleepy Monk, which just so happens to be the coffee served back at North Fork 53. Do you sense a theme here? One local, sustainable business supporting another, and the rising tide raises all boats in the harbour.
So what are the takeaways here? The Oregon Coast, the aptly named “People’s Coast”, is not just a pretty place to visit, where you can play in the ocean and enjoy some tasty seafood. It is those things, of course, but it’s also a model for the future. It’s a model of environmental stewardship, of deep-rooted community, of economic support, and of responsible tourism. They want you to come visit but they also hope that you will leave a little bit changed, with an eye to becoming a more conscious consumer, a more active community member. And my hope in writing this is that you are inspired to visit and see for yourself.
And I have barely scratched the surface on all that the Oregon Coast has to offer. Stay tuned, as I suspect I will have much more to say on this subject.
Many thanks to The Oregon Coast Visitors Association for sponsoring and organizing our visit. Many thanks also to our wonderful hosts at North Fork 53, who couldn’t have made us feel more welcome and at home. We hope to see you all again soon.