Everyone who has visited Portland insists the show Portlandia is funny because it is true. Apparently, its residents do indeed play hide-and-seek in the library, restaurant patrons drive for miles to meet their free range chickens before eating them, and everyone delights in placing a bird onto everything — from lampshades to tee-shirts — to add some hipster panache.
I am about to find out for myself, as I am 60 miles away from the city where twenty-somethings go to retire. And I have been frantically thumbing through thrift store racks for a graphic tee with a silkscreened bird on it in preparation for my pilgrimage to this skinny-jeaned, refurbished-bike Mecca I have always longed to explore.
If the beatnik nirvana of Portland was a national park, Eugene would be a tidy terrarium displaying a smattering of the green, leafy flora and afro-adorned fauna of its big, unshaven sister to the north. In Eugene, the Volvo-240 to all-other-cars ratio is off-the-charts. There are more used vinyl record shops than grocery stores. And every street has two bicycle lanes filled with twenty bicyclists, each wearing pants painted onto their legs and soft, canvas shoes. You have your rainbow flag wavers, your protestors, your basket-carrying, hairy-legged farmer’s market lady shoppers. And the city is a veritable buffet of the organic, the hormone-free, the vegan, the free-range, and the fair-trade.
The aberration is an unassuming fishmonger on the south side of town called Newman’s Fish Market. Newman’s opened their doors in 1890 and has been purveying the freshest local seafood to hungry Eugenians ever since. The establishment was first a market, but has since developed a limited order-out menu, driven by whatever happens to be the abundant catches of the day. Now known throughout the region and beyond, the line forms daily at the take-out window, with hungry patrons ordering the now iconic fish and chips by the bagful. Their ingredients and preparations are not touted to meet any of the lofty standards held throughout the rest of the town, but the food is good enough to warrant the blind eye.
I asked a fellow patron waiting out the line for a recommendation. She proceeded to read me the entire menu, item by item, “Well, the halibut is great. The shrimp is great. The oysters are great. The salmon is great. The cod, great too. The cole slaw, so good! The chowder is awesome…” And on it went.
She was right of course, because everything at Newman’s is as fresh as a scolded three-year-old and flash-fried to piping hot, crispy perfection the moment it is ordered. We had the chowder, the slaw, the fries, the salmon, the oysters, and the cod — and we polished off every last crunchy crumb before hitting the road to Portland.
My family is currently traveling around the USA in a 10 foot Shasta Compact travel trailer from 1969. We are currently camped in Salem, Oregon and headed toward Portland. Keep it right here for tales from the journey, and please also join us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Nothing keeps us motivated more than the encouragement of hearing from our readers, so please keep in touch by commenting below. Thanks!