Garibaldi is little more than a bend in the road at the northern end of Tilamook Bay, Oregon. A town of roughly 800 people, it perches near the intersection of ocean and bay, atop a body of water that is rich with clams, fish, and the ever-desirable oyster. Home of canneries and commercial fishing boats, this small town offers one of the best oyster burgers on the Pacific coast.
The town draws its name from the 19th century Italian general and politician, Giuseppe Garibaldi. One of Italy's greatest generals, Garibaldi was instrumental in the eventual unification of his country. When local landowner Daniel Bayley was asked to name this town in 1870, he chose to honor the Italian hero by naming it Garibaldi. The town has declined from its peak population of more than 1,500; only one of the saw mills that once employed local workers continues to operate. Today the residents draw sustenance from the ocean, as well as the tourists that flock to the town for sport fishing and fresh sea food.
The Troller is located in a ramshackle white building out on the docks, across the street from a row of canneries. I am distressed to see that the business is for sale. If the management changes, will they cut the oyster burger from their menu?
The Troller is a fisherman's haunt. The back walls, near the restrooms, are lined with 8x10 black and white photos of the trollers and fishing boats that once sailed from this port. Old nets line the wood-planked walls. A framed certificate of appreciation from the local Coast Guard Auxillary attests that the Troller is a place where professional seamen gather.
The restaurant reeks of authenticity. Although near-empty at the moment, you can imagine what it would be like on a cold, pre-dawn morning, just before the fleet was about to sail. Gnarled, rope-twisted hands wrapped around coffee cups, pipe smoke embossing the darkened wood, fishermen waiting for the tide to turn. It has atmosphere, even on a lazy afternoon with dust motes dancing in the sunlight. You simply know the oyster burger is going to be good, for real fishermen wouldn't tolerate second rate fare.
They call this a Bay City Oyster sandwich. It features two fresh oysters that grew up in the tidelands of Tilamook bay, just across the water from where we sit. Lightly breaded, these oysters have been tossed onto the grill to sizzle until they approach a state of creamy, crusty perfection. The price for the oyster burger is a reasonable $9.00, with a a $1.00 upcharge for fries.
The Bay City Oyster sandwich is a testament to the craft of the oyster burger. It begins with a sesame seed hamburger bun. Working up from the bottom, we find a thick layer of tartar sauce, a bed of sliced lettuce, two thin slices of well-ripened tomato, a pair of large oysters, a second spread of tartar sauce, and the upper bun to crown the sandwich. Four slices of dill pickle come on the side, and I quickly place them over the oysters.
Two layers of glutinous tartar sauce make this oyster burger succulent. I had expected the tartar to dominate the burger, but it is mild and does not overwhelm the fresh, sea-foam taste of the oysters. The thick nest of chopped lettuce—far superior to a single leaf peeled off the head—adds welcome texture to each bite.
French fries are often nothing more than filler. Nevertheless, the Troller brings the same care to its fries that is evident in the burrger itself. The potatoes are light and golden, with a satin exterior that encloses a melted potato center. Well worth the $1.00 upcharge.
The Verdict: 9/10. The Troller's oyster burger approaches perfection and is strongly recommended. My only worry is that the Troller is for sale. Will new management change its signature dish? Will they cut the oyster burger from the menu? I shall have to look in next time I pass through Garibaldi.