Dining in Stevenson | Washington in Winter: Snow-shoeing and Craft Beer

Oregonian’s MIX Magazine, December 2012

Raining again? Don’t fret. A winter drizzle in Portland equals snow flurries just a short drive away. And where there’s snow, there’s fun.

Next time you gaze at a charcoal sky, pack the skis and head to the tiny town of Stevenson for a snow-kissed cross-country adventure. Just 40 miles east of Portland, the sleepy hamlet offers everything you need to brighten the weekend, from boutiques and a cult-craft brewery to gourmet cupcakes, cozy cafes and locally roasted coffee. Oh, and the Gifford Pinchot National Forest is the town’s backyard, so in the same amount of time it takes to bake a frittata, you can plant your feet in a foot of snow.

If you can, plan your trip for a Saturday, because most of the town’s boutiques and coffee shops are closed on Sundays during the winter. Hit the road early enough to witness the mystique of the Columbia River Gorge on a winter’s morning, when a soft fog slumbers atop the winding river. You’ll also still be in morning-coffee mode, so you can hit Robbie’s (77 S.W. Russell Ave., 509-427-0154) before you hit the trail. Pair a cup of locally roasted coffee with a fresh-from-the-oven cinnamon roll or a slice of artisan bread from Acadian Farms. The coffee shop-cum-antique-art-store also has ample couches to kick back and relax.

When you’re ready to channel your inner snow-bunny, rumble up the evergreen Wind River Road, past the teeny town of Carson to Old Man Pass Sno-Park , elevation 3,040 feet. More than 25 miles of cross country ski trails ripple through old-growth groves of western red cedar and Douglas fir trees. There’s also a play area for thrill-seekers on sleds and inner tubes.

If you are a novice skier, opt for the easy 1.2-mile loop through the forest with a spectacular view of Mt. Adams. For the hardier spirit and more experienced skiers, you can swish by more landscape on the 5.7-mile route. After you crisscross over the snow and through the woods, head back to discover the charms of Stevenson.

First stop? Bloomsbury of Kanaka Creek Farm (240 S.W. Second St., 509-427-4444, bloomsburyshop.com). Originally a blacksmith’s shop, this home and garden store is like the Anthropologie of the Columbia River Gorge, filled with clothes, accessories and home decor. If you need a holiday gift for a sister, aunt, mom or wife, you can find it here — even vegan leather purses.

Around the corner, Lesley’s Books (240 S.W. Second St., 509-427-4463, lesleybooks.com) features an eclectic selection of new and used books, as well as more than 50 pop-up books for kids and adults. In true Oregonian style, the namesake for the humble shop is the owner’s beloved hound, who can often be found lounging on the store’s couch.

After book browsing, early birds can lunch at the Big River Grill (192 S.W. Second St., 509-427-4888, thebigrivergrill.com), a landmark building dating to 1910 that originally housed a hardware store and, rumor has it, a brothel. The dark woodsy decor evokes a hunting lodge, with an impressive collection of sturgeon, lumber saws, hard hats and vintage wooden skis adorning the walls. Try the sockeye salmon sandwich with basil pesto aioli or the hearty grilled veggie and portobello sandwich served on homemade focaccia bread.

If you hold off on lunch until 3 p.m. Walking Man Brewing (240 First St., 509-427-5520) opens and it’s worth the wait. The convivial crowd is a mix of Carhartt-clad locals and sporty snow-seekers in wooly hats. A chalk-board menu spotlights the 10 beers on tap, including seasonal offerings like Sasquatch Pumpkin Ale and the classic Walking Man IPA.

You can peek into the bedroom-sized brewery at fermentation tanks in action and often chat with founder Bob Craig perched at the bar with a pint. Hint: Look for the gentleman with a salt-and-pepper ponytail and a neatly trimmed gnome-like goatee.

The plate of wild steelhead fish and chips — beer battered and golden, savory and subtly salty — is an occasional weekend special. Get it when you can. Also, order a platter of the IPA-braised chicken wings with hop honey glaze for the table. Men with beards take note: You’ll likely need a friend to spot clean the orange sauce from your chin hairs, as the wings go down with gusto.

Before you leave town, grab a sweet treat for the road at A. Boutique (77 S.W. Russell Ave.; 509-427-2244, aboutique.us). Amid the clothes and jewelry is a coffee shop stocked with delicious baked goods. Try the luscious red velvet cupcakes or a chocolate-dipped shortbread cookie sprinkled with sea salt.

Head out of town on Highway 14 and slow down as you approach the Franz Lake National Wildlife Refuge. A scenic overlook is located near Milepost 31. You won’t see Sasquatch, but the view is magnificent. The refuge is a winter home for close to 500 tundra swans each year. It’s just one more snow white wonder to take in before heading back home to Portland.