The Chetco Seafood Market and Restaurant in Brookings Harbor is empty except for one other couple. We settle into a corner table and turn our attention to the blackboard where today’s catch is offered—all with chips and all guaranteed to be fresher than fresh.
The other couple—a grown son and his mother, we’re guessing–is already eating and the man is practically purring with pleasure over his fish. I ask what’s he having and order the same—Oregon sea bass.
This quick exchange of question and answer is enough to break down the invisible wall that exists between diners and soon we’re chatting with locals Luke Moser and his mother, Claudia.
They’re impressed that we’re on a road trip from Vancouver to Los Angeles and that Brookings, just north of the California-Oregon border on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, is the start of our slow drive northward.
We learn that Luke, his mom and dad run Bakery by the Sea in Brookings (1105 Chetco Avenue) and that Luke is a master baker of all things delicious. That is, when he’s not working at his second job as a welder.
Luke supplies baked goods to many restaurants in town including the restaurant we are in (they use Luke’s sourdough loaves for their “chowder in a bowl”) and a local hamburger joint that buys all their buns from Bakery by the Sea.
Tami, the manager of the restaurant, joins the conversation. It is obvious she is a huge fan of this “scratch bakery” (as in, everything made from scratch) and of Luke. She says folks just can’t wait for Fridays when the bakery opens to the public for three days of feasting on croissants, cookies, scones, cakes, pies and other mouth-watering treats. Yup, if you’re not in Brookings on Friday, Saturday or Sunday, you’re out of luck.
We’re in Brookings on a Tuesday and so are sorry to miss out. But we’ve had a lovely conversation with locals—isn’t that one of the great pleasures of travel?—and say fond good byes to Luke and Claudia as they head out the door.
Ten minutes later Luke walks through the door with a bag of scones and a sticky bun, a container of cookies and a dense, heavy loaf of bread covered in icing sugar.
(a) He and his mom zipped up to the bakery
(b) These are all for us
(c) Luke absolutely will not accept any money, and
(d) The dense, heavy loaf is something special.
Luke explains it is a German cake called stollen, traditionally made for the holidays. An old-school European baker taught him the recipe and the preparations are impressive: soaking raisins in rum for three days, preparing dough from scratch using pounds of butter, then immersing the loaf in butter and rolling it in confectioner’s sugar.
“There’s a lot of butter in this loaf,” Luke says. “Much butter. And love.”
Luke poses for a picture, then heads back out to the car where his mother is waiting. We finish our meal and walk back to our simple motel room with a bag of treats and a story to tell. The kindness of strangers overwhelms.