Local eateries provide cozy atmosphere, comfort food staples

The fireplace at Mill City Brew Werks in downtown Camas is "a draw," according to owner Mark Zech, pictured at right. "Everybody wants to sit there." (Doug Flanagan/Post-Record)

Every winter, employees at Camas' Top Burger Drive In paint a stocking on a window of the resutarant. "For our Christmas party we have a stocking contest," manager Jasmine Hannigan said. "Every employee draws their own type of stocking, and the owners vote which one is their favorite for the best Christmas theme." (Doug Flanagan/Post-Record)

At left, a 16-foot Christmas tree and, at right, a "Nutcracker" doll are displayed in the front window of Natalia's Cafe in Camas. (Doug Flanagan/Post-Record)

A group of people celebrate a birthday at Birch Street Uptown Lounge in Camas on Friday, Nov. 22. (Doug Flanagan/Post-Record)

54-40 Brewing Company serves a variety of sandwiches, including the Fun Guy Burger (left) and cubano. At right: The Washougal brewery's pub features a fireplace that is especially popular during the winter months. (Doug Flanagan/Post-Record)

OurBar manager Sara Wakeman serves meals to a group of people at the Washougal restaurant on Friday, Nov. 22. (Doug Flanagan/Post-Record)

Mill City Brew Werks owner Mark Zech fills a growler with beer on Friday, Nov. 22. (Doug Flanagan/Post-Record)

A "Nutcracker" doll is displayed in the front window of Natalia's Cafe in downtown Camas. (Doug Flanagan/Post-Record)

OurBar owner and chef Alex Yost prepares a meal on Friday, Nov. 22, at the Washougal restaurant. (Doug Flanagan/Post-Record)

Top Burger Drive In's holiday decorations include a variety of window paintings, lights and lighted candy canes. (Doug Flanagan/Post-Record)

54-40 Brewing Company's Washougal brewpub features a fireplace that is especially popular during the winter months. (Doug Flanagan/Post-Record)

Alex Yost, the owner and head chef of OurBar in Washougal, tries to tell a story when she prepares customers’ meals. She has a specific vision, dating back to her childhood, for what she wants to do and how she wants to do it.

“I’ve always looked at food as not just a necessity, but an opportunity. Everybody has to eat, right?” she said on a recent Friday morning while preparing a shepherd’s pie in the restaurant’s kitchen area.

Yost added that, for her, going “one step beyond” and trying to connect people is an important part of her culinary art strategy.

“When I was growing up, my brother, my parents and I could always come together and sit at a table and have a meal, and that was huge for me,” Yost said. “It definitely strengthened my bonds with my family. I’m just trying to replicate that with my extended Camas-Washougal family.”

Yost’s philosophies ring especially true during the fall and winter months, when family members and friends tend to gather for the holidays.

Camas and Washogual are filled with restaurants, drive-ins, diners, taverns, pubs and cocktail lounges that provide people with opportunities to bond and build community while consuming some fantastic food and drinks along the way.

Following is our guide to six local eateries that stand out in one of three winter-themed categories: Cozy Atmosphere, Seasonal Food/Drinks and Holiday Decor.

COZY ATMOSPHERE

54-40 Brewing Company

54-40brewing.com

3801 S. Truman Road, Washougal

360-844-9432

Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11:30 a.m. to 10 pm. Friday and Saturday; and 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday

When Bolt Minister opened 54-40 Brewing Company in Washougal in 2015, he wanted the pub to provide a “home away from home” atmosphere. That’s why he’s filled his space, located in the Port of Camas-Washogual’s industrial park, with some unique elements, including a large fireplace in the middle of the dining area.

“Anything that added a comfy, cozy environment was a big plus,” Minister said. “It was either (the fireplace) or a shuffleboard table, and while I love shuffleboard, the fireplace was clear and away the winner. Having the fireplace adds a warmth that we felt (was needed), especially as you’re coming down into the industrial area.”

54-40 is a family friendly restaurant, so it’s fitting that a lot of the pub’s decor comes from Minister’s direct descendants. On a recent Friday afternoon, he pointed to two deer heads mounted above the fireplace.

“The one on the right is from my grandfather, and all the other ones in here are my father’s,” Minister explained. “The bell over the bar is the chow bell from my grandfather’s cattle ranch. All the saws (on the walls), my mom hand-painted. Even the wagon wheels that are the lights, my mom collected. And the snowshoes (on the wall by the restrooms) are from my grandfather down in Nevada.”

On the menu: 54-40 offers rotating food specials on weekends and seasonal selections.

“We have soups and chowder throughout the winter, and the chili is always popular,” Minister said.

The standard menu includes a variety of burgers, sandwiches, salads and other pub fare. A variety of rotating beers are available, including the John Wayne stout and the We Wear Short Schwarz schwarzbier. Later this month, 54? 40′ will introduce its two seasonal brews — Drunken Wookie, a German-style doppelbock aged for two years in bourbon barrels, and Oh Snap, a winter-warmer brewed with ginger snap cookies and hand-grated ginger. Minister recommends the restaurant’s “amazing” reuben sandwich, a classic blend of corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and Russian dressing on grilled rye bread.

Mill City Brew Werks

mcbwbeer.com

339 N.E. Cedar St., Camas

360-210-4761

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily

Mill City Brew Werks in downtown Camas prides itself on providing quality food and great beer.

“Some of the other places have one or the other, but not both,” owner Mark Zech said. “We try to make sure we’ve got both.”

But the brewpub’s top attractions may be its fireplace.

“People walk by and see that fire. It draws people in, especially if there are empty seats,” Zech said. “In hindsight, I should have put a huge fireplace where the brewhouse is and put the brewhouse over in the corner. I didn’t realize it was going to be that popular, but it’s become a very popular spot.”

On the menu: Mill City Brew Werks offers a decent variety of sandwiches and burgers; entrees such as smoked wings, fish and chips, and clam strips and shrimp; several macaroni and cheese dishes; and salads and appetizers.

“(People) want to eat hearty stuff in the winter,” Zech said. “We always have two soups on. We sell a lot of soups.”

On Friday, Dec. 6, Mill City will introduce an 18-percent alcohol by volume (ABV) bourbon barrel-aged stout — a perfect beer to sip in front of the fireplace.

“It’s a monster, but it’s delicious,” Zech said of the stout.

For those who prefer cocktails over beer, Mill City recently purchased Aberdeen, Washington’s Wishkah River Distillery, and now offers an upgraded assortment of spirits.

“We also do hot-buttered rum, peppermint patties and Spanish coffees,” Zech said. “And during the tree lighting (on Friday, Dec. 6), we do a German hot-spiced wine — red and white.”

Zech recommends trying Mill City’s signature salmon chowder.

“People come from all over just to have salmon chowder,” he said. “It’s perfect for the winter.”

SEASONAL FOOD AND DRINK

Birch Street Uptown Lounge

birchstreetuptownlounge.com

311 N.E. Birch St., Camas

360-210-7219

Hours: 4 p.m. to midnight, daily

After serving Manhattans and old-fashioneds to a group of customers on a recent Friday night, Birch Street Uptown Lounge owner Kevin Taylor returned to the bar and turned his attention to the task in front of him: creating a flaming Spanish coffee, one of the lounge’s signature offerings. While doing so, he divulged his secret to a great hot drink.

“A lot of places serve their coffee drinks lukewarm, (which is) terrible. You have to make sure that the booze is (hot enough), so with room-temperature booze or cold booze like Bailey’s, zap it for 30 seconds in the microwave and heat it back up. That’s a bartender trick,” Taylor said. “With a flaming one, that thing gets so hot that it doesn’t matter.”

In addition to the flaming Spanish coffee, the lounge’s hot toddy — a mix of hot water, honey, lemon, whiskey and warming spices — and Irish coffee also are popular cocktails during the winter months.

“The hot toddy doesn’t contain caffeine, so some people like that at night. The singers drink it a lot in the winter because of the honey. And we end up with miscellaneous ones like Bailey’s and coffee,” Taylor said. “But, by far, because the bar is menu-driven, Spanish coffee (is No. 1). People like the show. We originally thought we could (prepare them) tableside, but it’s too dangerous. Now the coffee drinks are so popular, we keep them on the menu all year long. People will order them in July.”

On the menu: For food, the lounge offers mostly small bites like pulled pork sliders, brie fondue, artichoke and spinach dip, hummus, skewers and meat and cheese plates that pair well with cocktails.

The drink menu is more robust, featuring a variety of staples such as the Moscow mule, lemon drop, Cab Calloway and sidecar, plus some harder-to-get options, such as absinthe, a typically dark-green liquor made from wormwood that was illegal in the United States from 1912 to 2007 due to an exaggerated reputation for having hallucinogenic properties.

The limited food menu includes macaroni and cheese, a popular winter delicacy.

“Mac and cheese shows up on all of (our) Yelp reviews,” Taylor said. “And we’re real good at making old-fashioneds and Manhattans. We do a few things well, and that’s how we’ve outlived a lot of other spots.”

OurBar

ourbarwa.com

1887 Main St., Washougal

360-954-5141

Hours: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday during the winter months

Yost bristles at the term “farm-to-table,” even though the label is frequently associated with Yost’s OurBar, a restaurant known for its use of fresh, regionally sourced ingredients.

“Because that’s what food is, right?” Yost said of the “farm-to-table” term. “That’s why I want to bring it back to, ‘Eat real food that’s cooked for you.’ We say, ‘If it’s growing in the field, we’re cooking it in our kitchen.'”

OurBar’s menu is dependent on the seasons. Ninety percent of the restaurant’s produce is grown and harvested within 50 miles of the eatery.

“Those relationships (with local farmers) are what our success is built on,” Yost said. “Cooking is an art, right? It’s really important to be able to still be inspired. And working with local ingredients is definitely a way for me to always stay inspired.”

OurBar’s menu offers a selection of core entrees which can be paired with a series of rotating vegetables. During the upcoming winter months, squash will be heavily featured.

“I really love squash, so for me it’s exciting,” Yost said. “I like to have the freedom to be able to purchase all of the different varieties so I can help educate and introduce people to something that’s slightly different.”

Foods like shepherd’s pie and bread pudding are also popular in the winter months, Yost said.

“I’m really looking to emphasize the comfort foods, and that’s really what I love to cook,” she said. “One of the hashtags we use is #grandmasgastronomy, because the food that we cook is based on things that my grandma used to do for family traditions.”

On the menu: OurBar offers several egg dishes, granola, a variety of breakfast sandwiches, French toast and a “build your own plate” option that includes chorizo patty, smoked ham, eggs and seasonal vegetables. In addition, OurBar features Terrain Coffee Project products, cider, craft beer, kombucha and cannabidiol (CBD) soda.

OurBar’s “daily scramble” includes two or three eggs and provides customers with the option of adding onions, cheddar or pepper jack cheese, mushrooms and/or seasonal vegetables.

“People like the ability to build their own scrambles,” Yost said. “They still want to get the basics, but they wanted to have a little more participation in how they put it together.”

HOLIDAY DECORATIONS

Natalia’s Cafe

natalias-cafe-camas.sites.tablehero.com

437 N.E. Fourth Ave., Camas

360-834-3421

Hours: 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday

It’s hard to miss Natalia’s Cafe’s holiday decorations while strolling through downtown Camas. A tall, brightly decorated Christmas tree and a large “nutcracker” doll are on display in the front window of the diner.

The tree is 16 feet tall and adorned with hand-drawn ornaments and festive lights.

“We’ll (eventually) have toy donation boxes under it. Last year there were toys everywhere,” said Natalia’s Cafe employee Wendy DelBosque. “(Owner Erica Slothower) is totally serious about Christmas. To tell you how serious she is about it, there’s normally a table here (where the tree stands). She took a table out to put the tree up. And we get a lot of people who come in to get their picture taken next to (the nutcracker doll). We’re really into Christmas around here. After Thanksgiving, when we start playing Christmas music, it gets even more (festive).”

The cafe has a simple method of attracting customers during the chilly winter months.

“We just start cooking bacon and everyone comes in,” DelBosque said. “We have so much fun when it’s snowing. For people who stay at the Camas Hotel or the bed and breakfasts across the street, we’re a destination.”

Last month Natalia’s Cafe received the Downtown Camas Association’s 2019 Outstanding Window Display award.

On the menu: Breakfast items include biscuits and gravy, scrambles, omelettes, Belgian waffles, pancakes and eggs. For lunch, the cafe offers patty melts, chicken-fried steak, crepes, sandwiches, salads, soups and more.

“We are comfort food,” DelBosque said. “We are old-school-diner comfort food. Our corn beef hash is our bestseller, but our bacon is off-the-charts, and our gravy is amazing.”

Top Burger Drive In

1436 N.E. Everett St., Camas

360-834-3867

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily

Each winter, employees at Camas’ Top Burger Drive In put their creativity on display.

The windows of the restaurant are covered with hand-drawn paintings of wreaths, trees, gifts, snowpeople and candy canes in addition to a variety of notable cartoon characters.

“In previous years, I have personally done them, and this year Rachel McDonald did all of these (in the front), and I did the back ones,” said manager Jasmine Hannigan. “(Owner Debra Youngers) always wants Mickey and Minnie Mouse and Snoopy, and for the rest, she lets all of us come up with ideas. It’s popular. So many kids come in and say, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s Elsa. It’s Olaf. It’s the Grinch.’ It’s super cute to watch them get so excited. It definitely makes (the restaurant) seem a little more personable. My least favorite part is when we have to wipe it all down, and everything seems so open. I’m like, ‘Wow, it looks boring.'”

One corner of one of the windows is reserved for a different art project, however. Every Top Burger employee is given a square space to draw a stocking for a contest, with the winner chosen by Youngers and her husband and co-owner, Tom Youngers, as the best Christmas theme of the year.

“We do get a lot of comments, especially when one of us is outside painting. ‘Oh, so you’re the artist.’ It’s kind of fun,” Hannigan said. “We get a lot of compliments. Debra’s favorite holiday has always been Christmas. That’s been her top priority ever since she was little. She kind of makes it show here as well.”

Bright white lights that dangle from the roof and lines of tall, brightly-lit candy canes in planter boxes near the restaurant’s entrance complete Top Burger’s holiday decor.

On the menu: For more than 60 years, Top Burger Drive In has offered patrons the classic fast-food staples — burgers, fries and milkshakes. It also prepares sandwiches, seafood baskets, hot dogs, chicken, salads and more.

Top Burger Drive In regularly offers customers a choice of more than 30 milkshake flavors. During this time of year, the restaurant has a couple of seasonal offerings. “The only flavors that we have now that we don’t have year-round are eggnog and our seasonal pumpkin (shake),” Hannigan said. “We add actual pumpkin filling so it tastes like a pumpkin pie.”

In December, the restaurant also adds crushed peppermints instead of just flavored syrup to its peppermint milkshakes.

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