908 Vance Ave.
By Matt Norris
Look, nobody would confuse this proud traveler for a tree-hugger.
But even someone like me can get a bit awestruck staring up at a 350-foot-tall redwood tree, it’s limbs piercing through a Californian mist.
There’s something mysterious about gazing upward at a grove of 500-years-old redwoods that have stood witness to the centuries before, rising silently into the sky.
Equally amazing, the hearty redwood is virtually immune to insects, termites, fire, and rot. It’s among the most ideal building materials ever created by God.
So naturally, when modern man discovered these majestic giants clinging on the hillsides along the California coast, a new industry was born.
The historic mansions that dot these hillsides—populated with the wealthy, coastal leftists of San Francisco—were built from redwood trees.
Redwood lumber became a lucrative natural resource.
Burly men from across America came up into these remote mountains of Northern California to swing axes and work the sawmills that turned redwoods into hotels, hospitals, and homes.
And these manly men worked up quite an appetite, as you can imagine.
That’s how Samoa Cookhouse was born.
Samoa was a company town for the Vance Lumber Company, where Paul Bunyan types lived in company housing, shopped at the company store, and dined at the company cookhouse.
Every morning Samoa Cookhouse would fry up a hearty all-you-can-eat, stick-to-your-ribs breakfast to line the stomachs of lumberjacks with a long day ahead out in the woods.
Believe it or not, that tradition has continued uninterrupted at the Samoa Cookhouse even though the Vance Lumber Company—and the town it built and owned—is nothing but barbed wire and crumbling buildings now.
Of course nobody swings axes and grinds saws against 350-foot-tall redwoods today. The tree-huggers have put an end to that.
The only folks chowing down at Samoa Cookhouse these days are tourists planning a long day of navigating their SUVs through the paved scenic drives of Redwood National Park.
Oh, well. Tourists have to eat too I suppose. Which explains why Samoa Cookhouse has survived and thrived serving meals for almost 130 years.
The Samoa Cookhouse opened its doors to the general public sometime during the 1960s, after the eco-freaks told Paul Bunyan and his buddies to find another line of work.
They are the last remaining lumber camp cookhouse in North America. It says so right on the historic plaque outside the front door.
The set-up is still the same as the glory days of the lumber camps. Long communal tables draped in red checkered table cloths line the cavernous dining hall.
Industrial sized pots and pans clang in the open kitchen.
Paintings and pictures of mustached lumbermen felling gigantic redwoods line the walls, along with their original tools of the trade.
A 26-foot-long hand saw is mounted above a picture of a dozen men proudly posing in front of an enormous redwood they just conquered.
While snapping pictures and toggling the cruise control on a Ford Explorer may not burn as many calories as working a 26-foot-long hand saw all day, that doesn’t stop tourists from loading up on a breakfast made for a lumberjack.
But just like in the good old days, you won’t get any say in what you’ll be eating at Samoa Cookhouse. Don’t like it? I’m pretty sure there’s a Denny’s somewhere across Arcata Bay in Eureka.
Needless to say, the food was better than I personally expected it to be.
I mean, let’s face it. The system here isn’t that much different from your college “caf” dining hall – or those god-awful rubber chicken dinners you get at every fundraiser and wedding reception.
Then again, breakfast staples often hold up better under mass production than assembly-line prepared chicken cordon bleu.
So coming here for breakfast was a good call.
First to come out was a plate of biscuits and a bowl of sausage gravy.
They weren’t the best biscuits and gravy I’ve ever had, but a good way to kick off a stick-to-your-ribs kinda meal.
Next came communal bowls of scrambled eggs and sausage links.
But best of all were the pancakes, or better known around here, flap jacks.
I’m not normally a pancake guy.
I often find pancakes to be nothing more than bland, soggy sponges for low-quality syrup.
But not at Samoa Cookhouse. These were some of the best flap jacks in the history of breakfast.
Sweet and griddled to a rich dark brown, they held up stoutly to the butter and (really good) maple syrup. The syrup actually complemented the doughiness of these flap jacks, like it’s supposed to.
The waitresses at Samoa Cookhouse will keep on bringing out bowls of food until you holler “Mercy.”
By the time I pushed back from the checkerboard dining table and explored the lumber camp museum and artifacts behind the dining hall, I was more than satisfied.
Stomach lined for a long day ahead, I was ready to venture up into the California forests.
Like everyone else at Samoa Cookhouse, this traveler was going to act like a tourist and cruise through the redwood forests the Vance Lumber Company never got to.
And as I gazed up at trees taller than 30-story sky scrapers and wide enough to drive a truck through, I appreciated the fact that there are still plenty of redwood groves around for travelers like me to gawk at.
Just don’t call me a tree-hugger.
Rating: Seriously Thought about Buying the Shirt.