My big memories from childhood include family vacations to the Oregon coast. From our home in Central Oregon, the coast was more than 6 hours away so it was a special treat when we’d get to go. On the way from Grandma’s house in Salem to Lincoln City, we’d sometimes stop by fruit stands near Independence. In Grand Rhonde there was a dusty used book store where we could find Archie comics and my mom would stock up on romance novels. Though we never traveled without a jar of peanut butter and a loaf of bread, by the time the air started to smell like the ocean, our tummies were rumbling. It seemed like we ALWAYS stopped in Otis for Pronto Pups.
Pronto Pups are corn dogs. The naked impaled wieners hung stick up, sad and grey until an order was placed. We would watch as the dogs were dipped into batter then plunged into a bubbling vat. The coating seemed to grow right before our eyes until the deep-fried and deep golden brown corndogs emerged.
While restaurants and deep fryers may have been common in most places at that time, we lived in such small restaurant-free towns (Antelope and Wamic in the early 1970s) that having food at this little hut was like having dinner out. Had food carts been around then, I’m sure that the Pronto Pup stand would have been considered one. As our completed orders were passed through the small window to where we stood on the gravel parking lot, they were treated like gold. I’m not sure if they were super expensive or if our parents knew that after the first bit or two, we really didn’t like them, we always ordered just one or two for the four of us. The scarcity mentality added to the overall experience and I truly considered this fine dining.
When I visited Lincoln City recently for my sister-in-law’s birthday, I used the Pronto Pup stand as a reference point when telling my husband about where we had lunch. Though during our married life we’ve never stopped for the famed Pronto Pup, I’ve told him about the experience nearly every time we’ve gone by.
He clarified, “You ate lunch at a Pot Shop?”
“No silly! The Otis Cafe is next to the Pot Shop across from the Pronto Pup stand.” At that moment I realized that he was more aware of his surroundings that I gave him credit for. each time I’d been telling about the wieners of my youth, he had likely pondered the marketing genius of legalized pot dealers setting up next to a place where wafting scent of deep fried sausages address a case of the munchies.
Otis Cafe is next to Otis Collective and their shared parking lot is always full. I may have been a bit surprised to see how packed the Otis Cafe was since it’s so close to the beach and has no view. I was equally surprised by the heavenly smell of baked goods that greeted me.
The restroom (a single cubby with a view of the kitchen through the poorly hung door) was not impressive but getting there was! Rows and rows of cooling bread made the journey to the toilet an exercise in deep breathing. If you imagine the intensity of Costco’s bakery coupled with the wholesome goodness of grandma’s kitchen before a major holiday, you’ve nailed the experience. Hints of pumpkin, cinnamon, and molasses enveloped me.
Rows and rows of bread cooling on the counter made me forget that I’d given up carbs just three days before. I wondered if the pocket knife in the emergency kit in my car had a blade big enough to slice bread. I imagined that the perfect crust would give way to chewy goodness inside so if my knife didn’t work, I could eat easily pull off hunks of bread as I drove.
We’d come for my sister-in-law’s favorite, their famous potatoes. Shari’s has a version of stuffed hash browns that are pretty amazing and I’d later tell my family that if you think the potatoes at Shari’s are good, you’d love the Otis speciality. By the time I was done with my Otis omelet I was so full that I was able to avoid the temptation of buying a loaf to go. Two cookies were presented to the birthday girl and she enjoyed them with “mmmms” and eye rolls.
There was a constant stream of people coming into buy bread to go. The quick exchanges reminded me of the drug deals I’d seen on television so I wondered about the business at the cannabis shop next door. Between Pronto Pups and pumpkin bread, this little part of the world sees a lot of traffic.
Next time I drive through Otis, I’m taking my family back to Otis Cafe. I’m also going to question the locals about whatever happened to Pixie Land. If Pronto Pups were fine dining, Pixie Land (also in Otis) was Disney World. How did something so amazing just vanish?