It was Sunday evening, we had just come from a sail on the tall ship Lady Washington down in Coos Bay; a 3 1/2 hour long battle cruise. Heading home we found ourselves hungry and facing the dilemma of choosing from bad fast food where we knew what we’d get; one of the familiar roadside restaurants that had predictable food as well; or taking a flat out chance. We nearly missed out – we had passed them all without choosing.
From Coos Bay to Reedsport it seemed like all the places we hadn’t eaten at over the years were either offering asian food, or mexican cuisine, neither of which we were in the mood for – a rare event. Before we knew it we had arrived at our turnoff for Elkton-Drain and then the highway home; food was now nearly out of the question. Leave it to a teenager to not let that happen. As we took the ramp towards home, one of my sons said, “there’s a place Dad, lets just eat there”; the epitome of take a chance decision making. I hit the binders and just made it into the parking lot. We got out, stretched and made ready to accept whatever culinary punishment that might be headed our direction.
As we crossed the lot it struck me that the lot was clean, in fact the building was clean, even the paper boxes were clean. This made me optimistic. As we went inside the size of the place sunk in; it was tiny. It was also spotless, with several local families tucked into booths and tables enjoying what smelled and looked like delicious food. The cook greeted us and told us to sit where we liked.
We had no sooner settled in and got the requisite bathroom run out of the way – the rest rooms are also wonderfully clean btw – when our waitress, Darci, came over smiling and got us started. First glance at the menu had a listing for onion rings staring up at me. Having had many bad experiences with onion rings in small places I started to ask Darci if they were whole rings, or processed when Manager and cook Ryan Handran came out to let us know that they were not only freshly cut to order from large sweet onions, but that the batter was hand made as well. Say no more and throw on an order of rings.
Ryan had also overheard my youngest talking about how hungry he was and started to tell him about the ribs and chicken special. Ryan didn’t make it to the side dish before my son, nearly overcome with food lust at this point, ordered it. My eldest and I had the hand battered fish and chips.
By the time I was getting a nicely timed refill of my coffee, a large plate of lovely golden onion rings arrived, piping HOT. Bobby Flay needs to take this guy on in an “Onion Ring Throwdown” so I can find out if there is a better onion ring on the planet. The rings came with 2 dipping sauces, both made from scratch. All told the rings last all of 35 seconds and I nearly lost a finger. The young wolves were hungry and were now primed for the meal, what a way to start. The meal didn’t let us down:
The chicken was hand breaded with a very light batter, house smoked short ribs glazed with a house bbq sauce that was well seasoned and flavorful, and a side of hand cut coleslaw. The fish came with a house tartar sauce that it was almost unfair to call tartar sauce, it was so delicate and light. All the food arrived hot, fine food dining room hot. You rarely get food served this close to when it hit the pass, clearly well timed and all arriving together. I’m not sure if this was because there weren’t many of us in the building, or if it was their standard service, but it was a treat. Did I mention the plates were pristine? The food was obviously carefully plated, again something you don’t expect in a family diner.
We ate in near silence, only mono-syllabic grunts and moans to be heard, an occasional nod for drink refills. As we are running out of internal storage space, someone at the table inquires if the desserts are handmade as well. Yep: Carrot cake that was golden and rich and moist with a barely sweet frothy frosting, a deep dish marionberry crumble that was tart and good, and a molten chocolate cake also made by hand, from the ganache center to the cake, topped sky high with ice cream and whipped cream and running with warm chocolate. The only thing that wasn’t homemade it seems was the ice cream.
Speaking with Ryan he said he’d been with the restaurant for about 17 years, our waitress for 5 years at this point and was a returning employee. Ryan explained that they try to use local ingredients to the fullest extent possible and organic products as they are available. All their foods are hand prepared from the owners family recipes, or recipes created by the cooks; often variations of traditional diner fare. I was surprised by this dedication to putting out good creative food, it wasn’t what I expected at the last turn-off from Reedsport to Drain. According to our waitress, the Harbor Light Family Restaurant has been at the same location for nearly 30 years. I’d been past that very corner hundreds and hundreds of times and never stopped. Shame on me.
If this restaurant was in Eugene, it would be a top 10, maybe top 5 restaurant: simple, delicious, handmade foods prepared with care and skill and pleasantly served in a sparkling clean restaurant. I won’t miss the opportunity to eat there again, you won’t want to miss it either.Harbor Light Family Restaurant 980 Highway 101 S
Reedsport, OR 97467