Honestly, the little town of Port Orford didn’t make much of an impression the first time I drove through. Perhaps I blinked.
Or had tunnel vision on my way up the Oregon Coast Highway, eagerly anticipating my first trip to Bandon Dunes Resort.
Which is why I was all the more surprised when, on a return visit to Bandon during Thanksgiving week, so many locals asked if we’d be heading down to Redfish for dinner while in the area: “It’s just a short drive down to Port Orford but well worth it.”
Port Orford? How can a little tourist burg with no more than 1,200 inhabitants — literally a no-stoplight drive-through — have a high-end restaurant that’s the talk of the town.
Make that towns.
“We’re still getting people who are as close as Gold Beach and Bandon who are just discovering us and saying, ‘Wow, this is awesome — and it’s so close, we love it,” says Chris Hawthorne, who not only owns Redfish but also the Hawthorne Gallery next door. “And then they’ll say things like, ‘Don’t you want to have a place in Bandon, too?’ But the only reason we delved into the restaurant thing is because the location just seemed so perfect, visually. There are so few restaurants on the Oregon Coast that actually look out at the open ocean, or a part of the ocean with beautiful rock features where the water is close and you’re up above it with a stunning view.”
And he says stunning without a hint of hyperbole. Perched 100 feet above the beach in a perfect location to view the Pacific dotted with jagged formations, Redfish is, well, the Bandon Dunes of restaurant views.
“I’ve seen a lot out of those front windows,” says Jeff Mecredy, who served as manger of the Hawthorne Gallery since the opening in August 2010. “I’ve seen waves that are 20 feet tall, I’ve seen groups of whales and seals and all kinds of amazing birds.”
And the scenery from upstairs might be even better. Because Redfish is more than just a great restaurant. Combined with the gallery, it’s a one-two punch of high-end lifestyle, which becomes a triple threat when you learn about the Loft above — a single stylish room with one of the best lookouts anywhere in the world — available for rent on a nightly basis.
“The Loft was included in the project partially to offer a different style of lodging in Port Orford, but also because we just had the best view around, period,” Mecredy says. “It’s a one-of-a-kind, totally unique, open floor plan space that’s ideal for a romantic getaway, and it’s surrounded by some of the best scenery on the West Coast.”
And the pricing is simple. The Loft rents at $300 for a single night or $250 per night for multiple-night stays. Holidays are $400 per night. And there’s a weekly rate of $1,400. Most people visit for a night or two, but some folks have been known to book up to eight nights, especially if they are coming to consider purchasing the gallery’s contemporary fine art, which is on display throughout the property — the restaurant and Loft included.
As for the secluded space itself, it was built with an eye for green, sustainable, low-impact materials. The floor is bamboo wood, and a majority of the furniture was handmade by members or friends of the Hawthorne family — who also make up the collection of artists shown in the gallery. “Many of these artists are in the best museums in the world, so this is world-class contemporary fine art, which is really not shown as often as other types of art, especially on the Oregon coast.”
One of the carpenters who helped build the Loft could be considered an artist as well after creating the bed and headboard from a single log reclaimed from the Sixes River — some of the best salmon fishing waters in the world, just north of Port Orford.
“The Loft was assembled to create a contemporary elegant feeling, which contrasts with where you are,” Mecredy adds. “You can sit back and relax in the soaking tub, which has a view of the ocean. It’s amazing.”
All of this was the — some say crazy — brainchild of Hawthorne and his brother Greg, who launched the family’s first successful gallery in Big Sur, Calif., in 1995. When Chris, whose art expertise is working with hot glass, decided he wanted to build a similar fine-art attraction where he lived in Port Orford, Greg offered to partner with him and they found the land where Redfish now sits.
“The more we looked at the property, the more we started thinking, ‘Gosh, this would be a really wonderful location for a restaurant and would probably attract more people than just a fine art gallery,’” Chris Hawthorne says. “It seems like galleries need a little more to attract somebody to the area, so we hatched the idea to get into the restaurant business while everyone was saying, ‘Are you insane? Don’t you know the restaurant business is so difficult?’ All the cliches you hear about restaurants. But my brother is a perpetual optimist, and I guess I’m a terminal optimist myself, so we decided to go against everybody’s sound advice and pursue a restaurant as well as a gallery.”
And when Chef Jeremy Kelly joined the team in July 2011, the goal was to keep Redfish’s reputation as high as its lofty perch above the crashing surf below. Trained at the Culinary Institute of America with a French apprenticeship on his resume and subsequent experience everywhere from the Caribou Club in Aspen to his own Napa River Grill restaurant in Louisville, Ky., Kelly focused on introducing more coastal food to the menu.
“When I came here,” he says, “the chef was very focused on French food, but I didn’t want to limit myself, nor did the owner want to be locked into one cuisine. So I’ve kept those doors open, and that’s more my style. Not so much the fusion thing that I think is beaten to death — more just different styles, not fusing cuisines but different techniques. There’s an Asian flair to some of my cooking, Spanish as well — I don’t like to limit myself.”
And it’s his experimental nature that has allowed Kelly to create dishes like the mouth-watering cioppino, which he tops with crab legs for a fun-yet-messy-yet-amazing assault on the senses of smell, taste and touch.
“Paramount for me was freshness, starting with great seafood and not doing much to it,” he says. “I think what separates the dish is that when cooking the seafood I deglaze it with Pernod, an anise-flavored French liqueur, and then the smoked Romas [used for the sauce] just kind of give it a sweetness. And I also use an Asian chili paste in there to give it a little heat. It gets some very good feedback.”
It will certainly keep me coming back for more, hopefully with a few nights’ stay at the Loft. Because from now on, Port Orford is definitely a destination.