New Sugarpine Drive-in offers sweet retreat in Troutdale
When it comes to cool summer treats, the butterscotch-dipped waffle cone with vanilla soft-serve ice cream, maple "sugar dust" and rainbow sprinkles comes pretty close to perfection.
Emily Cafazzo and Ryan Domingo call it the Sugarpine Cone, and it's the signature item on the menu of their hot new destination outpost, Sugarpine Drive-in.
Less than 2 miles from McMenamins Edgefield and the Columbia Gorge Outlets, Sugarpine occupies a former gas station that opened to a massive following in mid-July, thanks to several factors.
First, the eatery (adjacent to Glenn Otto Community Park, on the banks of the Sandy River) has been a beacon of refreshment to families who've come to play on the water during one of the biggest heat waves of the year.
Even without its craveworthy menu of waffle grilled cheese sandwiches and barbecue pork, Sugarpine stands out simply because it's outside of Portland's bubble of epic eateries.
Second, Cafazzo and Domingo have serious name recognition in Portland's foodie world.
Cafazzo, an Oregon native, is a professional chef who's worked at Portland's Beast and Toro Bravo, as well as in New York City.
Domingo is a self-taught chef and forager, having worked in restaurant hospitality at hotspots including Pok Pok in Brooklyn, New York.
Since 2015 the couple have run a farm-to-table catering company, Larch Provisions, from their home in Corbett, focusing on scratch-made "wild," seasonal cuisine that they call "New Northwest," which relies on foraged ingredients and artfully presented dishes built on their relationships with local farmers, ranchers and purveyors.
As they neared Sugarpine's opening date, Cafazzo and Domingo took the next genius step — they created their own fan base with built-in support through a $20,000 Kickstarter campaign.
Thousands flocked to the drive-in (which, by the way, is not the movie kind of drive-in) during their first days and weeks — undoubtedly brought in by their adorable branding, their Instagram-famous frose (frozen rose) and other summer fun concoctions amidst the punishing heat.
I made my first trip to Sugarpine after an afternoon of stand-up paddleboarding on the Estacada River, as my husband, two boys and I snaked our way north through the town of Barton, where hundreds of families carried huge tubes to the river for the town's annual Big Float (on the same day as Portland's), just days after their grand opening.
While it was busy, our food came out within minutes — our ice cream first, which we hungrily licked as it tried to melt into a puddle before our eyes.
The Larch Mountain ice cream (choose between cup or sugar or waffle cone) tastes like a magical dessert forest — a cone of soft whip covered in blueberry-lavendar sauce, nestled in a bed of pine nut honeycomb bits atop a blondie brownie.
Look for seasonal specials on the board, such as the recent berry whip (tastes fresh from the field) and strawberry-peach-lemonade slushie — the perfect antidote to a sweltering gorge hike.
Food-wise, everything on the menu is a spin on an old classic — extra points for the super stringy cheesiness of the waffle grilled cheese sandwich (made on a waffle press!) and the fresh slaw (with local cabbage and carrots) stuffed into a sweet, smoky barbecue pork bun for extra flavor and bite.
The salads are also a welcome addition. The signature Sugarpine salad came with a dollop of freshness and flavor: a mix of local greens, herbs, whipped feta, roast seasonal veggies (cauliflower!) and a bit of quinoa for protein, all held together with the creaminess of their homemade goddess dressing.
Large umbrellas make for shade over the picnic tables on the deck, where well-behaved dogs are also permitted to sit with their owners.
Diners can either walk up to the line or drive through; you can of course take it to go, and enjoy it at the river or on the road (just grab lots of napkins).
Tempted yet? Don't just stop at Sugarpine — round out your trip with a walk down Troutdale's charming main street:
n More nostalgia awaits at the Troutdale General Store (an old-fashioned soda counter, and an enormous selection of Christmas ornaments in the basement year-round).
n Calcagno Cellars is a newish wine tasting room that focuses on boutique wines from old-world Italy. The tasting room is open noon-8 p.m. Fridays for downtown Troutdale's First Friday events (Aug. 3).
• On July 28 (11 a.m.-8:30 p.m.), the Bite of East County brings food from local restaurants, treats, local craft beer and wine, live music, art and craft vendors, and children's activities to the lawn at Troutdale's Columbia Park.
n And on Aug. 5 (7 a.m.-3 p.m.), classic cars take over the main street at the Troutdale Cruise-in, a benefit for Soulful Giving and SnowCap Community Charities. The event includes vendors, food and lots of fun for car buffs.