We got back this afternoon from a Christmas visit to our ‘Northern Tribe’ in the Seattle area. The ‘Southern Tribe’ (from SoCal) was able to join in to make a big family get together with our kids and grandkids. Jo Ann and I said our good-byes on Sunday morning and drove away into the perennial rain of the Pacific Northwest. With our puppy on board, we have abandoned the marathon non-stop runs between Nevada City and Seattle. We used to make it in eleven hours and forty-five minutes door to door. No more; going both ways we now stop in Oregon for an overnight, usually in Eugene.
Yesterday as we headed south, a little arithmetic indicated that we would arrive in Eugene too early to call it a day. And things south of Portland indicated a clearing of the weather was in the offing. So we decided to push on through the mountains to Medford for the night. Jo Ann made the appropriate arrangements after finding a nice motel in Medford that took dogs. The plans were etched in stone as we passed Eugene and started winding our way into mountains that now seemed to huddle under massive black clouds – where did all the clearing go?
The rain started with our first long climb through the still wet forests. And the more we climbed the more it rained. The highway seemed unusually busy for a Sunday with a lot of folks heading toward California at speeds above 70 in a driving rain on a constantly curving highway. The wipers barely allowed enough visibility to keep everyone in their lane. In that black sheeting night we appreciated the bright display that Carli (our name for the GPS) painted of what was in front of us. Especially valuable was knowing ahead of time the sweeping curves of I-5 that became tighter as we climbed higher toward the three mountain passes that stood between us and a warm bed. These would present the biggest challenges on their downhill sides. And the rain just kept pouring down, with the drops changing to sludge balls when the temperature played footsie with freezing.
Carli told us that we were in Roseburg and the appointed exit was almost upon us. We pulled off, turned “just east” as directed and crossed over the interstate and onto what looked like main street in the rain. And there on the right was Brutke’s Wagonwheel, as advertised. Soon we were sitting in a nice cozy booth with our server Dustin telling us about the specials. That the place had specials was already a hopeful sign. Dustin described something called a shrimp and asparagus fettuccini with a light alfredo sauce “with lemon zest and crushed red pepper”. After a night of sturm und drang on I-5, an unexpected light alfredo sauce with lemon zest was just what we had in mind.
Dustin also recommended a cup of some truly awesome chicken soup get the proper juices flowing for the shrimp. We said what the hell, bring it on. Now ‘awesome’ is not exactly what one usually sticks in front of chicken soup, even on a cold and rainy night. But that chicken soup was properly labeled and would truck no meaner modifier. We finished our soup wondering what kind of establishment we had run into here in Roseburg. If this was the starter, then what of the main course?
Well, the main course was just as Dustin described it. A big plate of fettuccini generously laced with succulent shrimp surrounded by rays of asparagus spears pointing outward, all smothered in a sauce that had lemon zest and much more. After the first bites we went slack-jawed. Where in hell does a two-star eatery with ‘wagonwheel’ in its name, sitting on a neon-lit hodgepodge of a wet street in a place called Roseburg, come up with a dish like this?!
Dustin was back to ask if everything was to our liking. We started gushing about the food. He told us that it was all due to the artistry of Chef George in the kitchen, and that he would pass on the compliments. Since Dustin was a conversant and pleasant fellow, we asked him about Roseburg and what people did here. He gave us a great extemporaneous dissertation on the history of the region, its transformation from a timber town to a tourist destination, and on and on. We just sat there stuffing great food into our faces and mumbling mouthful questions. What an unexpected and wondrous find! We will definitely go back and hope that no one has shanghaied Chef George in the interval.
If you are headed up that way in the near future and want to see if you can replicate our experience, then please take Exit 125 in Roseburg, Oregon. Turn “just east” and drive to 227 NW Gardenvalley Road. To make sure that the place is open when you arrive, you might want to call ahead 541-672-7555. Jo Ann and I hope that you too will enjoy meeting long-time server Dustin and the talented Chef George before someone from out of town discovers him.