The sleepy town of Wheeler is now home to a hip waterfront eatery obsessed with Tillamook food producers and under-the-radar Oregon wines.
Back in the early aughts, Chantelle Hylton booked bands at Portland’s then-extant Blackbird music club on Northeast Sandy Boulevard. During its short but remarkable life, the Blackbird gained a rep for hospitality: popular among touring musicians who might have otherwise skipped a Portland stop, and fiercely loved by locals troubled by the loss of other iconic venues—the X-Ray Cafe, La Luna, the Satyricon.
It’s a Portland backstory that might seem unrelated to a once-crumbling bar and grill in Wheeler, Oregon. But on Friday, March 16, Hylton and her partner, Patrick Rock (a conceptual artist, Portland State University professor, and Wheeler native), are set to open one of the more ambitious restaurant projects in recent North Coast memory.
The new Salmonberry Saloon occupies a shingled, bay-facing, two-story space most recently home to the Tsunami Grill. Like its dive-y predecessor, the Salmonberry makes the most of its stunning Nehalem Bay views, with a long, wide deck right on the waterfront. Unlike the Tsunami, the Salmonberry is sleekly chic, with a bright, chalkboard-and-blond wood interior, an extensive Oregon wine list—Hylton’s a fan of Oregon’s nascent natural wine scene—and a menu touting some of best raw ingredients the North Coast has to offer, from Nestucca Bay Creamery cheeses to seafood from Nevør Shellfish and Jeff Wong’s Garibaldi-based Community Supported Fishery.
At the Salmonberry Saloon, Dundee-based Day Wines is the house wine, served on tap alongside bottles from Statera, Antica Terra, Ovum, and natural cidery Art and Science. On the kitchen’s upscale pub grub menu, highlights include the Nehalem River Valley’s delectably spicy salad greens, Phil’s Wild Bread, and CSF’s fresh-off-the-boat rockfish. (“All of it is local,” says Hylton—right down to the Monarch vodka in the bar well.)
The Blackbird connection extends beyond the obvious. Like that institution’s role as a fulcrum of the Portland music scene some 16 years ago, the Salmonberry is launching at a time of transition for the Nehalem area. There’s a cultural and economic shift currently underway in quiet Tillamook County, says Hylton, from the North Coast Food Trail launching in mid-April to new music festivals like last year’s first annual Stackstock in Cannon Beach. By this summer, Hylton says, the Salmonberry will also book bands in the restaurant’s expansive upstairs.
“That was a cool time for Portland,” Hylton says of the scrappy energy of the Blackbird days. “I can feel it start to happen here.”
The Salmonberry Saloon will open for lunch and dinner service on Friday, March 16, at 380 S Marine Drive in Wheeler, Oregon.