Gildshire Magazines likes a good game of hide and seek. So, let’s play. Hidden in a corner of California is a County, known for agriculture, tall trees, and fog. In that County is a city, really a small town by any reasonable standard. It is the population and shopping hub of its region. Hidden near this city is a particularly hidden town, off the beaten path of even the most obscure beaten path. Nestled here is one of the West Coast’s great dining experiences. In Humboldt County and near Eureka, we found in Samoa the famous Cookhouse! It gives new meaning to the term “hidden gem,” and is a restaurant we are proud to feature.
Samoa Cookhouse is open 7 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday. They close at 8 p.m. Sunday evenings. That said, the Cookhouse opens at specific meal hours. Call 707-442-1659 for meal time details, or just show up. There is always another meal, right around the corner.
First, a little history. When the frontier was being tamed by westward expansion, logging was the Number One industry out here. The wood from the trees built the cities and the homes in the cities. The logger who turned the big trees into sticks of wood was a man among men. Muscled beyond anything a NordicTrak could dream of creating, he got up before sunup and worked past sundown. At the end of the workday, he wanted three things, two of which he could get in camp. A bath and a meal. First would come the meal.
The logger had no interest in niceties and fine dining. His job used up 5,000 calories a day and those calories need replenishing. Platters of roast beef with mashed potatoes and a tureen of brown gravy. Plates of fried chicken with white gravy. A hearty pie for dessert. This was the logger’s evening meal, slammed down in a hurry because the wake-up bell was to ring in too few hours. He still needed that bath. Sunday was coming, after all.
This was life in a logging camp circa 1890. That was the year the Samoa Cookhouse first served food to the loggers on the North Coast. In the 127 years since it opened the Cookhouse has undergone changes, but surprisingly few. The logging camp adjacent has long been shut down, but the food still comes to the table, hot and hearty.
Visitors to the Samoa Cookhouse will immediately notice a difference from the restaurants they normally frequent. There are no intimate booths or two-person tables. The loggers sat 12 to a table, and so shall we, as well. There aren’t 12 people in your party? Great, because part of the fun at the Cookhouse is sharing a meal with people who are strangers, to start with. Fast and life-long friendships have been born at this place! Heck, families have been created from chance encounters at the Samoa Cookhouse. All it took was dinner, lowered eyelashes, followed by a napkin inscribed with a phone number.
Don’t expect to receive a four-page full-color menu ala Dennys, because the loggers got the food they got. For a set price you will receive soup and salad, followed by a meat dish (at lunch) or two types of meat (at dinner). Alongside the large portion of entree will be plenty of homemade bread with butter, and at least one vegetable. Included with your meal are coffee, tea, milk, and soft drinks. After dinner, expect to find a delicious dessert on your table.
A recent dinner was soup and salad, bread, roast beef and chicken parmesan, with green beans, and mashed potatoes. For dessert, leave room for pineapple cake.
Visitors to the Cookhouse during breakfast hours can expect the same sort of treatment. The morning bill of fare leans heavily to scrambled eggs and sausage. Right next to the cackleberries and pig meat you’ll get pancakes, French toast, biscuits and country gravy etc. Recent visitors wax eloquent about the quality, not to mention the generous amounts, of breakfast juices available.
Are you still hungry? It can keep on coming until you tell it to stop or expire at the table. Take a loaf of the homemade bread home, as a reminder of the meal you just devoured.
For all the quality food and unique atmosphere, there is more to do at Samoa Cookhouse than letting your belt out a notch. It’s really a museum of the age of its founding. Original lumber and sawmill equipment adorn the walls, returning us to a time that will never reappear.
To reach the Cookhouse, find historic Hwy. 101 in far-northern California. Take the Samoa Bridge (Hwy. 255) from downtown Eureka. Turn left at the end of the bridge and look for signs. You really need to try this place, because it’s nine miles from modern-day Eureka, and 100 years from the rest of your day. Come and get it, before Zeke eats it all!