I’m trying to come down slowly from the high of our Australian friends’ visit. I just returned from a jog as an attempt to ease into everyday life and start burning off two-and-a-half-days of decadence.
The culinary delights reached a peak last night at Timberline Lodge after several hours of trouncing through the snow. Climbing the steepest hill possible into the woods and racing back down it worked up an appetite.
We made our way to the car with the dappled sunlight beginning to fade. Though we’d planned to sample artisanal beers at Full Sail brewery, the sweet skillet sensation I’d read about in Portland Monthly magazine drew us up the mountain to Timberline Lodge instead.
After fumbling with the snow chains on our tires for less time than usual, we began the slow ascent.
The timing was perfect.
A postcard view of pale pink hues softening the rugged peaks of Mount Hood greeted us at the top of the five-mile-long drive. We stood watching the clouds roll in until our fingers and toes began to protest the below-freezing temperatures.
Inside the lodge, massive timber beams enveloped us in the warmth emanating from a towering stone fireplace with multiple hearths. Expansive windows stood guard between us and the one-story-high snow drifts pressed against them.
We scanned the various restaurant menus and made a six o’clock dessert reservation at the lower level Cascade Dining Room.
With an hour to wait, Ram’s Head Bar beckoned us from behind a railing encircling the fireplace lounge below. We found a table overlooking the afterglow of sunset on the gentle slopes and settled in for dinner.
The meal began with hot buttered rum blended as perfectly as the now deep oranges and yellows of the sky.
The slightest hint of nutmeg and cinnamon under sweeter notes of brown sugar, vanilla, and buttery richness soothed and warmed our still recovering hands. A perfectly shaped cinnamon stick perched within the glass attested to fresh ingredients.
The alpine beer cheese fondue that followed boasted a rich, creamy base with faintly nutty undertones. Its ever-so-slightly grainy texture added substance to the medley of cheeses, and the addition of beer unobtrusively accentuated the naturally sharp flavors.
I likely could have eaten the entire bowl myself, but we split the large ramekin serving four ways. With sliced apple from nearby Hood River Valley, hearty artisanal bread, and dark red grapes, we had more than enough sides for dipping – an unusual occurrence with dips of any kind for me.
I imagine the wild mushroom, Landjaeger sausage, or Bündnerfleisch sides would be equally delicious though unnecessary and requiring another serving of cheese. No objections there however.
The main course failed to compete, not for want of flavor, but because the earlier dishes far surpassed expectations. Two of us split pulled pork tacos piquant with adobo spices. The tender, slow-cooked meat rested inside three fairly flimsy tortillas along with a meager portion of avocado.
Other accoutrements included spicy black beans, salsa, and a cabbage slaw that helped temper the heat.
The grand finale awaited downstairs in the Cascade Dining Room where the hostess promptly seated us. The skillet baked chocolate chip cookie that attracted us to Timberline in the first place warranted two orders without question.
We also ordered a slice of chocolate Grand Marnier truffle cake and one of banana layer cake.
The waitress kindly informed us the skillet cookie would take 15 minutes to prepare but was well worth the wait.
She was right.
When the assortment arrived, our waitress apologized that the banana cake was not chocolate layers as she’d described.
After one bite of the banana layer cake and seeing the skillet cookie, my husband took her up on the offer to bring a replacement and ordered a third skillet cookie. We quickly realized two would have been more than enough.
Baked in a 6 ½ inch cast iron skillet, the golden crisp outer layer surrounded a warm, gooey center. The accompanying vanilla ice cream lightened the thick, oozing batter and would have perfected the dish if in greater quantity.
The ensemble rivaled the Tollhouse pie savored late one night last month at Kaminskys in Charleston, South Carolina.
The Grand Marnier truffle cake was a dense, flourless chocolate overpowered by liqueur. Those who love fudge and Grand Marnier may enjoy it, but I found the cake far too rich, though the pomegranate garnish enticed a second bite.
The vanilla latté and mocha that bridged the 15 minute cookie-baking gap were likewise underwhelming.
By the time the third cookie arrived, we had entered a post-eating stupor. Somehow my husband and I still managed to enjoy the final installment and drive an hour-and-a-half home with overstuffed stomachs.
The gourmet spread at Timberline Lodge indulged our appetites, but the time with these particular friends awakened our souls.
When we return to the mountain for the Alpenstube Loft’s Mt Hood Lava Flow – the dessert I later realized was the actual feature in Portland Monthly – we’ll be thinking of them. I imagine it will pale in comparison.
Thanks to Brad McCoy for the photos and to whatever generous soul took this last photo for us.