It was on my second visit to the Depot Restaurant on the Long Beach Peninsula of Washington that I discovered all clam chowder is not thick and served from a huge pot warming on the restaurant’s stove. I found out how a classically trained chef prepares clam chowder—delicately and to order.
Clamshell Clams Chowder and The Depot Restaurant
It was years ago that Chef Michael Lalewicz and his wife Nancy Gorshe fell in love with the Long Beach Peninsula. Chef Michael held positions at noted restaurants in Portland and Nancy was a healthcare executive. (Full disclosure here—Nancy and I once worked together for a Portland healthcare system.)
They fell in love with the Long Beach Peninsula and Chef Michael worked as Executive Chef for a while at the historic Shelburne Inn.
Having his own restaurant was in the cards for Chef Michael’s future and, with Nancy retiring from positions in Portland, they made the move. They loved cooking for groups of friends and transferred this warm vibe to their little restaurant in the red Clamshell Railroad building in Seaview, just a short walk from the ocean.
While the cuisine is eclectic and always delicious, I’m focusing on their award-winning “Clamshell Clams Chowder.” When you order, the process begins. The chefs will use fresh, wild Willapa Bay steamer clams, in the shell, and chopped local razor clams. They create a creamy broth using garlic, potato and leeks. And I’m sure I also tasted a hint of butter. It’s a rich, light broth that surrounds the clams. The dish is beautifully presented and smells oh so fresh and lightly of garlic.
Chowder from The Depot Restaurant receives rave reviews in many articles about the restaurant from Seattle to Portland. The Depot has entered the chowder in the Long Beach Razor Clam Festival competition and won several years in a row. The chowder has been voted winner of The Daily Astorian's Coast Weekend's Peoples Choice Best Chowder for eight years. But for me, the chowder made such an impression that it is now traditionally my starter on a dining adventure at The Depot Restaurant.
But that is only half the story. What’s this about a Clamshell Railroad?
The Clamshell Railroad
As much as I love the food at The Depot Restaurant, I also love the small town beach history surrounding their building. They say the Clamshell Railroad ran not on a schedule but by the tides and that from the earliest times Seaview was a popular beach vacation destination.
While today you can drive to the Long Beach Peninsula, that wasn’t always the case. The story begins in the late 1800s when a wharf was built in Ilwaco, a fishing village to the south of Seaview. The wharf opened up the peninsula. A steamship was able to dock in Ilwaco and a stage line carried passengers, goods and mail between Ilwaco and Oysterville, on the northern tip of the peninsula.
To improve things, a narrow gauge railway was built in 1889 to replace the stage. It carried goods and passengers from Ilwaco to Nahcotta and connected with steamships on both ends of the peninsula. The steamboats could only reach the wharf in Ilwaco after the tide was in mid-flood, which is why the railroad ran by the tides rather than on a regular schedule.
According to the history provided by the Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum, the US Lifesaving Service established a station in 1891 known as Ilwaco Beach, mid-way between stations at Cape Disappointment and North Cove. The Coast Guard station there is still active.
The site was in an area of many shipwrecks. It was also adjacent to the rail line. Because the tracks ran close to the ocean, the railroad provided flat cars to move lifeboats and crews to wrecks that were miles from the station. During the summer, excursion trains brought people to watch the rescue drills at the Ilwaco Beach (now Klipsan Beach) Lifesaving Station.
The side-wheel steamer T. J. Potter began service from Portland, Oregon to Ilwaco, traveling down the Columbia River. In 1905, a railroad superintendent dubbed the railroad “The Clamshell Railroad.” According to Nancy Gorshe, “It was built, in part, to move clams and oysters from Willapa Bay to San Francisco during the Gold Rush when they oystered out in the San Francisco Bay.” This railroad carried passengers and freight up and down the peninsula until ceasing operation in 1930 when cars were able to access the area by road and ferry.
The Clamshell Depot Becomes The Depot Restaurant
Seaview, home of The Depot Restaurant, was a popular place for people to vacation. Many built summer homes there. Before the railway depot was built there was just a platform and a shed.
Ultimately, a long wooden boardwalk ran along the tracks and past businesses serving the vacationers. Departing passengers stood on the boardwalk the length of the block awaiting a train’s arrival and, of course, enjoyed the ice cream and seafood for sale.
Today, the little depot houses Michael and Nancy’s cozy restaurant, including an outdoor deck surrounded by beach grass and flowers.
A long counter lined with red-shaded lamps adds both a vintage and warm feel—very welcoming on a winter evening. Nancy, who manages the restaurant, usually is there to greet you and is quick to offer one of their local and international wines. Enjoy the Clamshell Railroad memorabilia as you wait to be escorted to your table.
Chef Michael and his sous chef are always hard at work in the small kitchen in the back of the depot, visible to diners. If you want to watch Chef Michael create your dinner, ask for the Chef’s Table. You’ll be amazed at what comes out of that kitchen!
After dessert and a leisurely coffee, head out to the street. It will take you directly to the beach at Seaview. In season, you’ll see people digging for the elusive razor clams that were finely minced into your chowder. It’s a farm to table and sea to table ethic at The Depot Restaurant!
When You Go to The Depot Restaurant
The Depot Restaurant has developed quite a following for their special dinners like the October Wild Mushroom Dinner and the November Lewis and Clark Wild Game Dinner.
And there’s something for families, too. Enjoy Burger Night with a twist… The Depot Restaurant offers Portabella mushroom, oyster and buffalo as well as beef burgers. Watch The Depot event calendar.
The Depot Restaurant is on the Seaview Beach approach at 1208 38th Place and L, in Seaview, Washington. Call 360.642.7880 for a reservation.
The Long Beach Peninsula is located in Southwest Washington an easily drive-able distance from the Portland and Seattle areas. You can access the peninsula from historic Astoria, Oregon via the Astoria-Megler bridge crossing the Columbia River. It’s a 20-minute drive from there. The Long Beach Peninsula website for visitors has great ideas on places to stay and things to do on the peninsula.
Enjoy more articles on the Long Beach Peninsula from Wander authors.
Note: As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with a meal for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.