The Otis Cafe and Bodacious Brown Bread

| April 12, 2010 | 5 Comments

Otis, Oregon is a mere 198-acre dot on the map about 7.5 miles northeast of Lincoln City. Small in stature but big in reputation, it made waves in national news in 1999 when its owner put the whole town on the market for $3,000,000. According to my research, there were two interested buyers but no follow-through.

Otis remains a charming little blip on Oregon Route 18 along the Salmon River, and the Otis Cafe is its crown jewel. Next door is the Post Office and across the road is a another establishment serving up Pronto Pups (corn dogs) and billing them as the original corn dog , dating from 1946.

The Otis Cafe is open!

The Bon Apt van is able to park directly at the front door.

We attempted to have breakfast there a couple of years ago but by the time we arrived, throngs of hungry diners were already waiting outside the door and nearby parking was impossible, so we shrugged and headed back to Salem.

When Vic suggested that we enroll in the Tide Pool Edibles class in Lincoln City, I agreed and suggested we leave early enough to have breakfast at the Otis Cafe. We left Salem  shortly after 7 AM, arrived about an hour later and were able to score an empty booth.

The Otis Cafe has four booths, two tables and seven counter stools for diners.

Once seated, we began taking in its charming and unpretentious homey atmosphere. The Otis Cafe looks pretty much like most vintage roadside cafes, both outside and inside. Among the decorations you would expect to find are unique curios, photos, press clippings and accolades, and, of course, Otis Cafe T-shirts . There’s a one-of-a kind arrangement of ceramic hands with coffee cups, saucers and donuts in various stages of impending disaster surrounding the clock over the kitchen door.

Part of the Otis Cafe Art Collection

This little eatery, which is most famous for its breakfasts, has been on the national radar screen for some time. The New York Times featured it in “At the Nation’s Table” in May of 1989. The prices have changed but the legendary portions remain, well, legendary.

At the Nation's Table - 'The New York Times - May 17, 1989

Redneck Benedict at the Otis Cafe

Vic chose the Redneck Benedict, which, you can see, is a walloping platter of country biscuits under sausage, a rolled omelet and smothered in sausage-cream gravy along with a large serving of hash browns. He amazed me by finishing the whole thing. A cardiologist would faint at the sight of this.

Hangtown Fry at the Otis Cafe

My Hangtown Fry was only slightly less intimidating in size, but I did get two toasted and buttered slices of the famous brown and sourdough breads - both homemade. The eggs are scrambled along with a mixture of fresh-shucked oysters, spinach and cheese. I don’t remember reading about the cheese in the description and would have opted out of it. Nonetheless, it  was scrumptious and the homemade breads were heavenly. (Note to self: Always stop in Otis for takeout loaves of the brown bread to enjoy at home.)

Late last fall, my colleague, Teri Burstedt, quizzed me about a recipe for the Otis Cafe Brown Bread. I googled around and found one on, the Internet site for The Oregonian from Portland. You can find that recipe here.

Teri took the recipe and made it her own with a few changes. I like what she did, and both versions produce wonderful loaves. Teri’s is a bit sweeter and makes a wonderful breakfast accompaniment with tea or coffee. As with anything made with molasses, it’s a robust, dense bread.

Brown Bread
Adapted from the original recipe, by Teri Burstedt

Two classic beauties make great bread - a Chambers Range and Teri Burstedt with her fabulous Brown Bread

For the bread:

  1. 2 cups (480 ml.) buttermilk
  2. 2 large eggs
  3. 1½-2 cups (360-480 ml.) dark molasses (Teri is partial to Grandma’s®)
  4. ¾ cup (180 ml.) sourdough starter (see recipe below)
  5. 1 cup (240 ml.) all-purpose flour
  6. 6 cups (1.44 lt.) whole-wheat flour
  7. 1 scant tablespoon (<15 ml.) baking soda (use your judgment; Teri says the full amount leaves a baking soda taste.)

For the sourdough starter:

  1. 1 package active dry yeast
  2. 3 cups (720 ml.) warm water (110-115°F/43-46°C)
  3. 3½ cups (.82 lt.) all-purpose flour

Starter method:

  • Dissolve the yeast in the warm water in a glass mixing bowl large enough to hold all ingredients.
  • Gradually stir in the flour and beat until smooth.
  • Cover with a towel and let stand in a warm, draft-free place (80-85°F /27-29°C) until starter begins to ferment, about 24 hours. Bubbles should appear on surface. If starter has not begun fermentation after 24 hours, discard and start over.
  • Stir well, cover tightly with plastic wrap and return to warm place.
  • Let stand until foamy, 2-3 days.
  • When it has become foamy, stir well and pour into a 2-quart (2-lt.) a glass container with a tight-fitting lid and store in the refrigerator.
  • As soon as you see a clear liquid has risen to the top, the starter is ready to use. Stir well before using.

The starter can be kept alive indefinitely, provided you use it regularly and feed it. If you don’t use it regularly, feed it weekly by adding 1 teaspoon (5 ml.) sugar and stir well. Makes about 4 cups (about .95 lt.).

Bread batter reaching the 'peanut butter' color

For the bread:

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F (177°C).
  • Mix together the buttermilk, eggs, molasses and sourdough starter in a large mixing bowl.
  • Sift together the all-purpose and whole-wheat flours and the baking soda.
  • Add the dry ingredients gradually to the wet and completely mix together between each addition.
  • Pour the batter into 2 lightly buttered 9×5-inch (22.8×12.7-cm.) loaf pans.
  • Let stand for 20 minutes.
  • Bake for 50-55 minutes or until bread is firm when tested with a toothpick and comes out clean.

Note: Teri is a fearless baker and adjusts some ingredients at her whim, as in the variable amount of molasses. Go for a ‘peanut butter’ color like you see above. If you compare her recipe with the one printed in The Oregonian, you will notice several differences. I love the changes she made, and I still love the original from the Otis Cafe.

Freshly buttered warm brown bread - Yum!

Bon appétit

— Charles

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Category: Bread

About the Author (Author Profile)

Music, food and photography are at the center of Charles’ life. He performed with the Dallas Symphony, Dallas Opera and was assistant principal bassoonist with the Fort Worth Symphony for more than 20 years. When Charles and Victor moved to Baltimore, Charles created Lone Star Personal Chef and Catering Service and taught cooking classes at Williams-Sonoma. Now in Salem, Charles is a Realtor with Coldwell Banker Mountain West Real Estate, taught cooking classes for children at the A.C. Gilbert Discovery Village, and owns and operates Charles Price Photography. Charles and Vic enjoy entertaining and frequently host dinners as fundraisers for local non-profits and charities

Comments (5)

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  1. TBurstedt says:

    What a treat for me to get to know a little more about you Charles. Thank you for the opportunity and the great conversation.
    Your Friend, Teri

  2. Charles says:

    Likewise Teri, it was much fun and the bread scrumptious. It was my breakfast toast Sun. and today. Thank you for the wonderful recipe!

  3. Vincent Gall says:

    I want to thank Charles for the Article, Teri for the Recipe and my wonderful sister Suzette Alexander for forwarding the information to me in Texas. One year when I went to visit my sister in Salem she took me to the Oregon Coast and told me that we had to stop at the famous Otis Cafe. Of course we had to wait a little before it was our time to get a seat but the food was well worth the wait. To this day that brown molasses bread is my favorite. This summer’s vacation we will definately make a pit stop in Otis while visiting Oregon. Thank you sis; you just made my Day!

  4. Joe says:

    I have fond childhood memories of buying brown bread from the Otis cafe on our way to and from the coast. I searched online for the recipe and was thrilled to find this link. I decided to make the bread, but partway through mixing the batter I noticed that your instructions mention buttermilk AND milk, while the ingredients list only includes buttermilk (no milk). Is milk missing from the ingredients list or is milk not supposed to be in the instructions? Thanks for your help!

  5. Charles says:

    Joe - Thank you so much for bringing this error to our attention. The mention of “milk” has been removed.

    Thanks again for your comment and enjoy your bread. Charles

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