Road food

My family and I have traveled up Interstate 5 to visit my wife’s sister’s family in southern Oregon many times. While we’ve stopped in several of the tiny towns that dot the map along the freeway for fuel, food or rest, there are many more that we’ve just driven right through.

On our way back from a recent weekend trip we approaching the small town of Williams (pop. 5,123). It was too late for lunch and a bit early for dinner, but we were feeling peckish. We were about an hour and a half or so away from home and we debated on whether we should stop or just power our way on home. Finally we opted for an early supper.

Williams was one of those towns that we had never stopped in before, not even for gas, so we didn’t know anything about it. Using the Urban Spoon app on my smartphone, I looked for a place to eat. I felt like beef, so I dialed in “steakhouse” and gave the app a spin. For variety we tried it several times but only one name kept coming up over and over again: “Louis Cairo’s”

With just that one choice, the decision was made for us. We got off the freeway at the “E” Street exit and drove under the Williams Arch to our destination on 7th Street. There was a bit of a ghost town feel as we passed several closed storefronts. It was our first time in the town, so we didn’t know if it was because of the recession or if it’s always been the case that the town looked like it’s seen some hard times.

As I said, it was a bit early for dinner, and while there were some patrons in the bar, we were the only ones in the dining room. Maybe it was just our eyes adjusting from going from the bright outside sunlight to indoor lighting, but the restaurant seemed a bit dark. The nicely appointed wood furniture was a deep dark brown/burgundy as was the wall-length wine rack next to us.

A story on the back of the menu gave the restaurant’s background. Louis Cairo was a son of Italian immigrants who settled in Colusa County. He had a varied career as a bellhop and singer in San Francisco. During WWII he built Liberty Ships in Richmond. He returned to Williams, where he established the restaurant named after him in 1945, and the business has been family-owned since.

One of the appetizers was their “world famous” Louis Bread. The restaurant claims: “there’s a clove of garlic in every bite.” Our server said that if you like garlic, you’ll love this bread. We like garlic well enough, so we ordered it. I guess we didn’t like garlic as much as we thought. After only a bite or two the garlic was overwhelming. Fortunately, one of us had a pack of chewing gum, or else we would have had to drive the rest of the way home with the windows rolled down.

My son ordered the 12-oz New York steak, and I had a 14-oz rib eye steak. My wife had the surf and turf, a 5-oz filet mignon wrapped in bacon with breaded deep-fried prawns, while my daughter had the scampi.

Both the steaks came with a miso butter topping and grilled onions. I ha a baked potato on the side while my son preferred potatoes that were mashed. The meat cooked to perfection (mine was medium rare and my son’s was well done). I’m the type that usually salts and/or peppers my steaks to my taste after it arrives at the table, but these steaks were so well-seasoned that there wasn’t any need to add anything else. My son said his steak was cooked perfectly, and he liked miso butter — high praise from a picky 15-year-old.

My wife declared her dish, the surf and turf, fine. The beef itself was very tender, but the bacon didn’t really add anything. She liked the prawns very much. The breading wasn’t overpowering, and the prawns were cooked very well.

My daughter enjoyed her scampi, though she thought the side of spaghetti with marinara sauce was a bit “doughy” but otherwise tasted good.

Each dish was presented very nicely but not so precious that you didn’t want to eat it in fear of ruining the presentation. The service was prompt, courteous, friendly and professional but not over solicitous. In other words, the staff did their jobs perfectly.

It was still light outside by the time we were done, and several people who looked like regulars entered the restaurant as we left.

Louis Cairo’s was a bit pricey (about $140 for the four of us, tip included), but the food was wonderful. I don’t know if I’d travel all the way up there just for dinner, but we found a reason to make Williams a frequent stop on our long trips to Oregon.

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