Food, Brews, Wines, and Farms
Nestled along the Columbia River in the gorgeous region known as the Columbia River Gorge is the small community of Mosier, just a one-hour drive from Portland, Oregon, and four from Seattle. Another 15 minutes east is The Dalles, where you'll find a bounty of tasty foods, wines, and beers showcased in many restaurants.
Food and Brews
Freebridge Brewing is located in the historic Mint Building, where gold was processed before being shipped to San Francisco in the 1870s during the Gold Rush. What an appropriate history because the food and beer here are solid gold.
Today the brewery is run by the fifth-generation wheat-farming family of Laurie Light. The establishment is named after the non-toll bridge in the area (the other was a toll bridge). Laurie's grandparents were probably here when the Freebridge was destroyed by fire. Speculation at the time was that the competing Moody Toll Bridge company likely set it. Though many say that it is an urban legend.
Laurie and her husband, Steve Light, met in Bend, Oregon, where Laurie worked in a ski shop and Steve was running a drift boat guide company. They were hobby homebrewers in their free time and decided to start a new chapter and return to Laurie's home roots in The Dalles.
David is the new chef who spent 15 years in the Gorge and is upping the food focus at Freebridge. The Roasted Red Pepper Soup was a giant hit for starters. The main event was a pizza that David spoke highly of. I grew up in Chicago and, of course, consider myself a pizza aficionado. David said this new offering is a Detroit-style deep pizza. The Detroit pizza, which David claimed is much better, is not as deep as the Chicago style. The focus on this pizza was probably at the suggestion of owner and brewer Steve, who is from the Detroit area. Detroit Pizza is baked in a rectangular tray, and many say this tray is from the old days and was used as an automotive drip pan in the Motor City.
The crust of the Detroit Pizza is fluffier than the typical Chicago deep dish and has delicious crispy edges. The pizza was topped with sausage, mushrooms, and just the right cheese mix. We agreed this would be our pizza date-night spot if we lived here. David explained that 95% of the food and ingredients are made in-house, from the sauce to the grating of the cheeses – and the results are delicious!
We were equally impressed with the quality of the beer. I liked the This American Lager, which is refreshing, and a great starter. (They even use this in their pizza dough.) My favorite beer was Bakeoven Black Lager. It looks like a stout but drinks like a lager. The dark color is achieved by roasting the malt more than what you do with regular lager. I liked this so much that I ordered it several times as we explored more restaurants in the area. Elizabeth really liked the Yeah Buddy West Coast IPA, with its old hoppy aroma and piney bitterness.
This is a great place to sit outside and take in the views of the Columbia River while enjoying all their culinary delights. I started with the Spicy Oyster Shooters served in a delicious peppery cocktail sauce. Another winner was the Crispy Cauliflower with citrus sweet chili sauce.
We also enjoyed the Asian Lettuce Wraps, which included pesto chicken, sweet chili sauce, and peanut sauce wrapped in romaine leaves.
After dinner, we enjoyed the excellent music of Chris Baron playing guitar accompanied by string bass and cello. Just a great venue for a warm summer evening!
Housed in an old brick building that used to be a church, this is a modest building with folks enjoying a hardy breakfast before work or stopping in for their famous expresso paired with house-made pastries. It was close to lunch, and I was immediately interested in the Gorge Salmon Salad. It was so delicious and loaded with fresh smoked salmon, tomatoes, pickled onions, and cucumbers. All mixed with a light dressing of dill, fresh mint, and Mama Lil's Oil. Elizabeth had the classic Eggs Benedict, which came on two slices of thick-cut French bread, two perfectly poached eggs, lots of ham, and house-made hollandaise sauce. It was delicious and filling!
Wines and Wineries
Cheez-It Crackers paired with wine? The current building was a wheat mill some 130 years ago and, at one time, was home to Sunshine Biscuit Company which made Cheez-It Crackers.
Today, James Martin, from a 7-generation pioneer family in The Dalles area, and his wife Molli (also a local) operate three wine labels: Quenett Winery, Copa Di Vino, and Oregon Mountain Estate.
We sampled their wines and found the Pinot Gris crisp, dry, and refreshing. We also enjoyed the vanilla notes of the Viognier. However, the favorite was the Estate Pinot Noir from their vineyard east of The Dalles and part of the Oregon Mountain Estate. Interestingly, Martin's son Griffin and daughter Natasha are involved in blending some of these wines. We found this pinot noir to be particularly enjoyable, especially since there aren't many plantings of it in eastern Oregon.
After our tasting, we were given Copa Di Vino, which comes in small single-serving bottles. Founder James Martin first pitched it on the popular TV show Shark Tank. There were no takers on that show, but James successfully found another suitor, and Copa Di Vino is now the leading producer of single-serve premium wines.
The tasting room is located in The Dalles, and their vineyard is several miles to the north in Dallesport, WA. The two principals are Adolfo Mollinedo, the winemaker, and Gabino Fuentes, who oversees the vineyard. They are affectionately called the two wolves, probably because Tierra De Lobos means land of the wolves.
We opened the tasting with a sparkling rosé made from tempranillo. It had a perfect balance and was not too fruit-forward like some rosés are. It is made using the Pet Nat process, wherein the wine is placed in the bottle before fermentation is completed. Fermentation is then finished in the bottle, and we get the sparkling rose. This process is different from the traditional method of making sparkling wine. The traditional method adds sugar and yeast during a second fermentation, which is also done in the bottle.
Next up was sauvignon blanc, a light and refreshing wine with light lemon notes. Then we shifted to the reds, and my favorite was Lobo Noble, a great cab with a delicate fruit-forward nose and a soft tannin structure. This is a blend of Cab Sav, Syrah, Cab Franc, Malbec, and Merlot.
Before we left, we saw this notice about the coming weekend: "Mom's cooking this Saturday! Guatemalan tamales, pupusas and home style tacos.” We were very sad that we could not make it, but we heard that Mom often comes on the weekends. Just check their social media pages; the food looks so good.
An analemma is a diagram that shows the sun's position in the sky at a specific location at the same time of the day during the year. You can see this oblong figure 8 on their wine label.
Their vineyard and tasting room are in Mosier, just west of The Dalles. To say Analemma Wines understands the relationship between the sun and the earth is certainly an understatement. They are a biodynamic-certified winery. "The intent of the Processing Standard is to minimize manipulation of the ingredients as much as possible to allow for the identity of the biodynamic agricultural ingredients to come through."
It was time to start our tasting while we wandered through the vineyard. The vineyard was beautiful, with some rows of vines separated by rows of lavender and little "conversation nooks" scattered about to take a seat, enjoy the view, and taste the wine. The first wine we tasted was the 2021 Blanco which features two Spanish varietals, Godello and one of my favorites, albariño. The blanco has light fruit notes and would pair perfectly with my seared salmon. Next, we had the Oak Ridge Chardonnay, which is from a cooler climate area in Washington. It has lemon notes, very nice minerality, and is lightly oaked. Good with food or just for sipping on the porch.
Next, we went on to the reds, and my favorite was the 2021 Mencia, another variety from northwest Spain. This is a lighter body red, but not too light, with good tannins and some slight pepper notes.
On our way out, we noticed they offer on-site dinners with Executive Chef Mark DeResta. We could not attend but will check out some of the wine and food pairings covered in Oregon Wine + Food The Cookbook. We will definitely check out this detailed recipe: Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta with Balsamic Roast Strawberries and Walnut Biscotti.
The East Gorge provides diverse agriculture with farms, orchards, vineyards, hops, wheat, cattle, and much more. Tastebound, a free downloadable cookbook featuring products from the Mt. Hood and Columbia River Gorge areas, has recipes for the bountiful produce you can pick and/or purchase. The recipes are curated by some of the best local chefs.
The Oregon Century Farm & Century Ranch Program is a program of the Oregon Farm Bureau honoring Oregon farm and ranch families who have farmed the same land for at least 100 years. We had the opportunity to visit Sandoz Farm, an Oregon Century Farm located in The Dalles, and had a lovely chat with farmer Mary Leighton. Sandoz Farm was established in 1880 by Mary's great-great-grandfather and his two brothers. Mary grew up on the farm and is a fourth-generation farmer. Her brothers Ted and Chuck and other family members also help on the farm.
This is a very diversified farm, so make sure you bring a list of fresh foods to get. The farm stand is full of USDA beef and pork in many delicious cuts, jams, pickled products, fish, veggies, and fruits. Oh, they also have house-made pot pies!
An old saying is that the apple does not fall far from the tree. That would fall to Mary's daughter, who is known as the Cookie Queen located in nearby Hood River, Dani's Kitchen Shop.
Editorial disclosure: food, beverages, and lodging were generously provided.