Memory can be tricky, especially when it comes to a sense of place. There are places that can be so built up in your memory that you’re unaware of where the truth lies. For me, the Otis Café is one of those places. In college I worked at a summer camp that was close by. After a weeklong camp session, we counselors would put the kids back on buses, wave goodbye, and as soon as the busses were out of sight we’d rush to the Otis Café for breakfast. It was our first moment without kids around, when we could relax and not be on duty. Given these rich memories I don’t know what I’ve romanticized and what I remember accurately when it comes to the Otis Café.
I do know that I’ve read about the café in the New York Times, as well as heard Jan and Michael Stern wax poetic about the Otis Cafe during the Road Food feature on NPR’s Splendid Table. Given these endorsements I have to assume there is some truth to my memories. Also, the ratings on Yelp and Tripadvisor back up my nostalgia. But maybe there’s a more universal truth when it comes to country style diner breakfasts, one that all Americans feel. It involves warmth, comfort, a sense of belonging, a casual ease, and of course delicious food. The Otis Café has all of this.
Otis is a town situated where highway 18 meets highway 101 on the Oregon coast. There’s a gas station, post office, the cafe, and not much else. Blink and you will have missed it. However, the Otis Cafe has an iconic old-school neon sign that is noticeable even when the marine layer is thick or the storms are rolling in from the Pacific. The building is an old wooden structure set just back from the road in the same parking lot as the tiny rural post office. Up front there are square, stout windows and a couple benches under a generous overhang. Inside you’ll find a small counter with maybe 8 stools, 4 booths that in a pinch can hold 6 adults, and another couple tables in the middle of the floor.
On each table is a box of dated Trivial Pursuit cards and a laminated sheet of paper with other odd local facts. However, given the tight quarters in the café, you can contentedly wait while listening in on all the conversations in the place. Heck, you can even join the other conversations –- the atmosphere is that friendly and cozy. Behind the counter, it’s textbook diner. Handwritten signs abound for all manner of specials, warnings, or merchandise for sale. There’s a coffee maker, a couple of those old milkshake blenders, and mismatched and chipped cups on a pegboard. The other charms of the Otis include one tacked-on bathroom, accessible via a circuitous walk through the kitchen where you are fully engulfed in its inner workings.
Let’s get to the point: the food. The Otis Cafe is renowned for its pies, cinnamon rolls, and many varieties of bread. They do all the baking in-house, and the ever-present warm doughy smells do a lot to fuel your hunger. There are all-day menus and specials that feature locally caught fish and oysters, but the real star is their breakfast of German Potatoes. After the shredded potatoes are soaked overnight, they spend a perfect amount of time on the griddle. Golden and crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside, they form the ideal foundation for a plethora of toppings, including oozy white cheddar, ham, bacon, veggies, and fried eggs. It comes with your choice of toast, and my go-to is their black molasses bread, which is sweet, rich, and hearty. When I began going to the Otis, the potatoes came in full and half portions. Even as a 20-year-old camp counselor, I would get the half portion and hardly manage to finish it. Now the café offers a quarter portion, which is still ample food for a normal human.
Though maybe not a destination on its own, the Otis Cafe is well worth planning into your trip to the coast. If you’re looking for an itinerary that puts it right on your route, I can help. Get up extra early—you want to beat the rush of locals—fuel up on breakfast, and then hike Cascade Head. For the record this will be the only mention of Cascade Head on 100 Places Oregon. It’s one of those spots that we don’t want to make any more popular – SHHH it is our secret and your reward for reading to the end of the story.