Frankie’s Restaurant and the Willamette Valley
At a young age, Cody Utzman, an Oregon native, saw cooking as a way to explore the country. “I realized that no matter where you go in the world, there’s a cooking job available. Whether it’s going to be flipping eggs or fine dining, you can get a job,” he says.
After culinary school, he cooked his way around America, from fishing boats in Alaska to resorts in Hawaii. He eventually landed in the Northeast — first in Boston, securing a job as a private chef for five years, and then in New York City, where he opened four restaurants over the course of a decade. “I saw that you could do anything with cooking,” he says. “You could be an entrepreneur. You could own your own business. It’s an amazing creative outlet, too,” he adds. His creativity led him to a role on Food Network’s reality show “Chopped,” where he was twice the winning chef.
But then a family tragedy called him back to Oregon. “After my Dad passed away, my perspective on what was important changed,” he says.
The chef began spending more time here with his family in the state, and with each visit, it was harder to leave; Oregon was pulling on his heartstrings. Eventually, he packed up and moved west. He brought with him a dedication to seasonal, farm-to-fork fare. In Brooklyn, all of Utzman’s restaurants focused on fresh ingredients. “So many of the great products that I would use, and that chefs want to use, come from Oregon,” he says. He thought: Why not just move closer to the source? In 2013, Utzman and his sister, who is a business partner and general manager, opened Frankie’s in Albany. The restaurant is named for his late father.
The focus is on upscale family dining — comfort foods (chicken fettuccine alfredo, fried pork chops, and fish & chips) made with local ingredients. Since opening, Utzman has built relationships with local growers like Kenagy Family Farms. “They are just a couple of miles down the road from us,” he says. “Right now we are getting all of our corn and tomatoes and peppers from them.”
The chef also tends to his own one acre garden where he grows a smattering of herbs, vegetables and berries for the restaurant. And when the season is right, he ventures out foraging. That’s one reason why his pick for a weekend escape is to Mt. Hood. “I think that Mt. Hood really shows the diversity of Oregon,” he says.
“Kenagy Family Farms are just a couple of miles down the road from us,” Cody Utzman says. “Right now we are getting all of our corn and tomatoes and peppers from them.”
Portland and Mt. Hood
After your dinner at Frankie’s, spend the night at nearby Edelweiss Manor Bed & Breakfast, a historic farm house located on what was once a 300-acre working farm. On your way to the mountain, grab an espresso at Water Avenue Coffee in Portland’s southeast Industrial district. “I think it shows the best of the coffee culture in Portland,” says Utzman. “Everything about their business is top-notch.” In addition to great people watching, you can catch the roasting in action, luxuriating in the toasty aromas from a vintage 1974 French Samiac roaster. Also not-to-miss in the neighborhood: a tasting at the headquarters for Jacobsen Salt Co. and Bee Local Honey, followed by a visit to Ancient Heritage Cheese, the city’s first urban creamery.
For lunch, Utzman seeks out the recently opened Portland Mercado, the city’s first and only Latino Public Market. The one-of-a-kind business incubator includes eight cheery food trucks that serve up an array of Latin America flavors— from Oaxacan fare to Cuban-Argentinian fusion. “Mexican food is my favorite cuisine,” says Utzman. “And I think Oregon has some of the best Mexican food in the country.” His favorite bites: the cubano sandwich from El Gato Tuerto, and tetela de frijol from Tierra del sol — the dish is topped with queso fresco that’s made by Ochoa Queseria in Albany. At the market, you’ll also find an array of food shops with specialties that range from tasty chorizos and sausages to ceviches and esquites.
Now the adventure kicks in. Hit the road, but make sure to pull over now and again to snap pictures of the snow-capped peak of Mt. Hood, the highest mountain in Oregon and the second most climbed mountain in the world. Along the way, make a few culinary pit stops to sample the regional bounty. In Sandy, wet your whistle at Bunsenbrewer, a science-themed microbrewery with an impressive tap list (with beers including the “Bill Nye, the Science Rye” IPA), or try the artisanal gelato from AntFarm Café and Bakery. If your stomach growls for something more substantial, stop in the town of Zigzag at Skyway Bar and Grill, a roadhouse-style barbecue joint that smokes and cures fresh meats in-house.
Once at Mt. Hood, lace up your hiking boots for some exploring. The mountain is a destination for any season — you can hike to wildflowers in summer and swish down slopes through winter and beyond (Timberline Lodge Ski Area boasts the longest ski season in North America). For the most majestic view of the mountain, ride the Magic Mile Chair Lift to 7,000-feet. In the summertime, no skis are needed.
After a hike, you can savor an alpine sunset over dinner in the woodsy Cascade Dining Room at Timberline Lodge. Dating back to 1937, the lodge is a National Historic Landmark, and has starred in many Hollywood films — if only the walls could speak. The dining room offers a taste of Oregon with dishes like cedar planked wild Pacific Coho Salmon and red wine poached SuDan Farms lamb sausage with huckleberries.
An off-road escape to Mt. Hood reminds Utzman why he loves Oregon. “I always say — you are one hour away from one of the greatest cities in the country, one hour from the Coast and one hour from the mountains,” says Utzman. “To have that diversity and be able to live in the central Willamette Valley not only makes this an amazing place to live, but an amazing place to visit.”
Frankie’s by Justin Bailie; Jacobsen Salt tasting room by Leah Nash; Portland Mercado by Scott | Edwards Architecture; Mt. Hood by Carl Zoch.