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Hungry for a post-vaccine road trip? Take a food tour of the Columbia River Gorge area

By Jackie Varriano Seattle Times

BINGEN, Klickitat County – You’ll catch Drew Marquis on Saturday mornings at the Hood River farmers market patiently slicing brisket as a line snakes beyond his table. The Texas-style barbecue menu of Grasslands Barbecue – which also includes smoked turkey breast, sausages oozing with cheese and pulled pork – has been wowing locals since Marquis and his wife, Nicki, moved to the Columbia River Gorge area in February.

Grasslands used to be Bootleg Barbecue, a Seattle-based pop-up that began mid-2020 and quickly gained a cult following. I attended its final pop-up in Seattle, and I was the 30th person in line despite arriving a half-hour before the event began. I fell in love with Bootleg’s barbecue that day.

Unfortunately for me, the Marquises had fallen in love with the Columbia River Gorge area after they chanced upon it in 2019. A trip through Walla Walla and the Tri-Cities area had them circling back to Seattle by way of the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge and a winding road that led through the hamlets of Lyle, Bingen and White Salmon.

“It was like a lightbulb went off,” Drew Marquis says. The Marquises loved the topography of the area and how it fostered small farmers, winemakers and craftspeople. They settled in White Salmon in late February, and Bootleg hosted its first pop-up at White Salmon Baking Co. in early March.

The team has grown to include Marquis’ longtime friends Brendon Bain and Sam Carroll, and they’ve changed the name to Grasslands. “Bootleg was me in my house in Snohomish, and Grasslands is us starting a business,” Marquis says. His barbecue has come a long way since its humble beginnings as a hobby honed while unemployed and living in his uncle’s cabin in Carnation experimenting with a small backyard smoker and selling the results of his labor to friends.

As things took off and hungry, adoring fans snapped up his barbecue at every pop-up, Marquis moved out of his uncle’s cabin and into a house in Snohomish, which he turned into a commissary kitchen complete with six refrigerators and a smoker.

Now, the Seattle area’s loss is the Gorge’s gain, and Grasslands is yet another delicious option for the thousands of people who flock to the Columbia River Gorge area each year to taste incredible wine, enjoy the multitude of food options and gawk at the views.

Like the Marquises, I’ve become quite fond of the area, too. In early April, a friend and I were planning a girls weekend to celebrate being vaccinated, and a hotel called the Society in Bingen caught my eye. Plus, it presented another opportunity to eat Marquis’ barbecue. Put together, it was a great excuse to take a post-vax road trip!

The Columbia River Gorge was designated a National Scenic Area in 1986; the winding Columbia River serves as the border between Oregon and Washington. The route offers breathtaking scenery, waterfalls, cliffs and near-constant visions of ospreys and eagles. On a clear day, you can see Mount St. Helens to the north and spin around to see Mount Hood to the south. But nature aside, it’s also an area with a vibrant food scene.

Although we had lofty plans for wildflower-filled early morning hikes and hitting the mountain bike trails, most of our time was spent eating, drinking and rolling through the countryside mouths agape. From picturesque winery picnics and taco truck stops to flaky croissants and an ice cream shop that takes IOUs, here’s how to eat your way through the Bingen, White Salmon and Hood River area of the Gorge.

Regardless of whether you prefer takeout, outdoor dining, or you are all vaccinated and ready to venture indoors, there are plenty of options. Pack a cooler to bring home Stamboom cured meats and provisions from Treebird Family Market (106 Highway 35, Hood River, Oregon; (541) 387-2202), and don’t forget cash for the toll bridge ($2 each way) spanning the Columbia connecting Oregon to Washington.

Where to eat

Broder Ost: Like its three sibling restaurants in Portland, the Hood River, Oregon, location of the popular Scandinavian cafe is the place for chevre-stuffed lefse, walnut toast topped with tart lingonberry jam and aebleskiver pancakes with a side of lemon curd.

There’s pickled herring and potato pancakes, and the milk that with your coffee or tea comes steamed and frothy. (8 a.m.-3 p.m. Thursday-Tuesday; 102 Oak St., Suite 100, Hood River, Oregon; (541) 436-3444; brodereast.com; indoor and outdoor dining available)

Feast Market & Delicatessen: Stop by this shop for everything from pantry goods, vegetables and raw meat to prepared salads, sandwiches and full dinner options. The menu changes often with an eye on seasonality

I loved the shrimp and grits with fennel sausage and the pan-seared scallops with a citrus salsa, both of which held up well as to-go items. (11 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; 151 E. Jewett Blvd., White Salmon, Washington; (509) 637-6886; feastmarket.org; indoor and outdoor dining available, as well as takeout)

White Salmon Baking Co.: Craving saucer-sized cookies or fluffy coffeecake? This bakery in White Salmon is the place to go. There’s crispy pork sausage and egg sandwiches on fat English muffins, avocado toast topped with a poached egg and bacon lardons and almost anything your gluten-loving heart can desire.

Monday is pizza night, and there’s an extensive collection of local wine available to enjoy there or take home. (8 a.m.-3 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday, 4:30 p.m.-8 p.m. Monday; 80 N.E. Estes Ave., White Salmon, Wash.; (509) 281-3140; whitesalmonbaking.com; outdoor dining and takeout available)

Grasslands Barbecue: I attended a Grasslands Barbecue pop-up at the RubyJune Inn featuring huge platters of brisket, sausage, smoked turkey, queso and more all courtesy of barbecue buddies Marquis, Carroll and Bain.

While pop-ups aren’t off the table, a more reliable bet is to see them with their food truck Friday through Sunday parked on the waterfront behind Ferment Brewing Co. beginning in June or at the Hood River Farmers Market on Saturdays through June. (instagram.com/grasslands_barbecue; takeout only)

Taqueria Chapalita: This blue and silver taco truck is parked behind a coffee shop in Mosier, Oregon (just east of Hood River). Go there for classic street tacos with marinated birria, carnitas and al pastor piled atop soft corn tortillas. There’s also tamales, tortas, burritos, quesadillas and enchiladas, plus chips and guacamole. (11 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, noon-7 p.m. Sunday; 1104 First Ave., Mosier, Oregon; (509) 637-0148; outdoor dining and takeout available)

Mike’s Ice Cream: It’s cash- or check-only at this tiny ice cream window in Hood River, but they’ll give out IOUs to anyone needing an ATM. You’ve also got the option to mail a check. Flavors run the gamut from classic chocolate and strawberry to red raspberry cheesecake, Bing cherry and cookie dough. (Noon-8 p.m. daily; 504 Oak St., Hood River, Oregon; (541) 386-6260; outdoor dining and takeout available)

Where to drink

Analemma Wines: This biodynamic winery is nestled in the Mosier Valley on the Oregon side of the river. Reservations are required for any experience, but if you book by Wednesday for the weekend, you’ll be sent into the vineyard and to the hillside terrace with a bottle of wine and a picnic lunch with sandwiches, cookies and a seasonal salad for a relaxing feast. (Noon-6 p.m. Friday-Sunday; 1120 State Road, Mosier, Oregon; (541) 478-2873; analemmawines.com; outdoor dining only)

Hiyu Wine Farm: Hidden deep in the hills of Hood River, Hiyu is a magical place that combines ethereal wines with seasonal snacks crafted from ingredients mostly foraged or grown on-site and put together by Jason Barwikowski and Anthony Dao (formerly of Seattle’s Romeo pizza pop-up).

If you book a Feast Experience ($1,500 table), it includes a farm walk at dusk where you can peep the scenery and maybe even feed the pigs. The afternoon tavern tasting ($65 person) – pairing six wines with snacks – is the perfect entry to Hiyu. Reservations are required. (10 a.m.-5 p.m. Thursday and Sunday, 1 p.m.-5 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 3890 Acree Drive, Hood River, Oregon; (541) 436-4680; hiyuwinefarm.com; indoor and outdoor dining available)

Syncline Winery: This Lyle winery produces Rhone-style varietals (and a real banger of a sparkling). Tastings are available weekends with a reservation; club members get special access to a secret private viewpoint. Bring your own snacks, and leave the dog and anyone younger than 21 at home. (Noon-5 p.m. Friday-Sunday; 111 Balch Road, Lyle, Wash.; (509) 365-4361; synclinewine.com; outdoor seating available)

Where to stay

The Society Hotel: Housed in parts of the old Bingen schoolhouse, you can shoot hoops or play foosball in the original gymnasium and have cocktails, coffee and snacks in the main schoolhouse building. There are three options for rooms: standard hotel rooms, hostel-like bunk rooms and cabins ($45-$329 night). The spa includes a warm saltwater soaking pool, cold plunge, hot tub and sauna. (210 N. Cedar St., Bingen, Wash.; (509) 774-4437; bingen@thesocietyhotel.com)

RubyJune Inn: There are just five rooms at this petite guesthouse in White Salmon ($205-$225 night). Stays come with a light breakfast and access to the Icehouse wine bar. This year marks the second annual Chefs Collective Summer Dinner Series featuring local chefs putting together an al fresco feast nearly every Saturday over the course of the summer. (866 Highway 141, White Salmon, Wash.; (509) 493-0517; rubyjuneinn.com)

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