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Camas, WA – Twilight Pizza Bistro

The Big Schmear

I’m not a very disciplined writer.  Well, I’m not very disciplined at anything, actually.  Point being, when I set out to have an experience, and subsequently write it up, I don’t have a structure or point in mind ahead of time.   I write about what moves me (or doesn’t) at the time of the experience.  It’s based on emotion, only, rather than fact;  I don’t take notes, and I’m a lousy photographer, so my pix never adequately describe my experience, either.

I’ve never been to Camas before, never really had a reason to head in that direction.  Though I had heard good things about Twilight Pizza Bistro, there didn’t seem to be any reason to make the trek from Southwestern Portland.   I was wrong.

Last night, owners Don and Morgan invited a friend and I to sample the “best Italian food in Clark County,” as they and hordes of their customers describe the fare.

Opened in 2007  in a historical building in downtown Camas; Camas is situated near  the north bank of the Columbia River, approximately 20 miles East of Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA.

The owners wanted to create a “family-centric’ dining establishment, with a full-service menu serving Italian style cuisine and pizza.   Appetizers include a variety of twists concocted from pizza dough, as well as steamers and wings.

The soup and salad choices are lengthy, and gluten-free choices are available as well.

Our “over the top” server Tim showed us to the table and explained the menu choices.  It was a Monday nite, dinner time, and every table was full. (They are moving to a new, expanded location in the Spring, (watch their website or follow them on Twitter for updates).

If I was writing this piece from the heart, I’d tell a tale of a young newlywed couple that created an establishment five years ago, built with equal parts of love, restaurant knowledge, family recipes, and hospitality-centric personalities.   But if I wrote it that way, I doubt I would motivate you to try Twilight, and this morning, that’s my goal – to get you in there.  If I can get you in their front door, there is no doubt in my mind that you’ll return over and over again.

Don and Morgan visited our table several times to talk about their passion, their methods, their ingredients, and their hopes and dreams for the future.  My dining companion for the night was our dear family friend Gigi Petery, former personal chef and future psychologist.

One of the things I carped to Don about, in general, is my annoyance with people that get into the “hospitality” business, but ‘aren’t.’   This can’t be said for Don and Morgan.  They DO get it.  They DO understand why people come to their restaurant, and do everything they can to make the experience a great one.

There’s an old-timey restaurant on the way to the bayous and swamps out of New Orleans, a dated Italian joint, one of my favorite places in the world; it’s called Mosca’s.  Some say the original family cooked for Al Capone, and headed out for New Orleans when that stage of their career ended.  “Insiders” walk into Mosca’s, and decline a menu, giving the waiter the simple instructions of “feed us.”

I’d be VERY comfortable doing the very same thing at Twilight.  In fact, we glanced at the menu, but told Don our personal likes and dislikes, and asked him to prepare what he thought best.

When our food was brought to the table, I had a second realization about Don.  HE CAN READ MINDS! He knew exactly what would please both of us, instructed the kitchen in those points, and delivered the goods.

We started with the crostini plate, which they call “The Big Schmear.”  A sliced toasted baguette, accompanied by a whole roasted head of garlic (which I hogged, sorry Gigi), whipped butter, and a ramekin of oil and balsamic vinegar. OMG, as you hipsters would say!  It was delicious.  The garlic was done perfectly, roasted to the point to where you can squeeze a clove onto a baguette piece, and have a “died and gone to heaven” smile on your face with every bite.  Mrs. Burgerdogboy (she was under the weather last nite, at home with chicken soup), roast a bulb a couple times a week, it’s easy, delicious, and garlic is good for you.

We both were in the mood for pizzas, and we weren’t disappointed.  Don and Morgan thought their ‘T-Rex” was the way to go for me, and the Tree Hugger was the choice of Gigi.  AGAIN WITH THE ESP!

Twilight starts with fresh made dough, a base of basic red sauce they have seasoned to perfection, and the finest quality meats and vegetables.

Pizzas come in five sizes, which range from “individual” to “BurgerDogBoy” size (16″), which their menu describes as serving 5-6 people.  Or me.  Atop the fresh crust and red sauce, the T-Rex has hand-pulled chunks of Italian Sausage, Hormel Pepperoni, Canadian Bacon, and Andouille (“on doo eh”) (a spicy French sausage popular in the Southern US).   Although not on the menu offering for the T-Rex, on my version, Don threw on a few more whole, roasted garlic cloves.  Nice touch!

Gigi’s Tree Hugger was a vegetable lovers delight.  Mushrooms, bell peppers, black olives, sweet onions, zucchini, and sun-dried tomatoes.  Server Tim suggested a few fresh sliced tomatoes as an accompaniment for Gigi and it was a great suggestion.

Cooked in a standard Baker’s Pride pizza deck, the pies do take some time, and the menu cautions you about that.   How much time do they take to bake? Exactly the right amount, judging from the results.  The pies are baked perfectly, and come out to the table with there being no doubt in your mind that this pie was prepared fresh and is ready to eat.  The crust is only very slightly browned, there’s no charring, the outer rim is slightly crispy, and the chewy factor increases as you work your way to the center of the pie.

Look at the bottom of a pie, and you will get a sneak peak into the fastidiousness of the owners, recognizable by the appearance of the bottom of the pizza.  No oven residue, no charred spots.  Perfect.

The owners of Twilight did their research when it came time to select what toppings they were going to offer.  Most of the meats are from the acclaimed Chicago purveyor Fontanini.  I have had NO BETTER Italian sausage in Portland than this.  One only need look at my waistline to know just how much Italian sausage I’ve consumed, and in fact, Twilight’s food is in the negative calorie category(1) for those of you concerned with such matters.

On my next visit, server Tim suggested I try their most interesting pie, so interesting that he ordered it seven times in a row, as a customer, before he came to work at Twilight.  The “Southern Comfort” adds a hint of bbq sauce to the red, and adds chicken to a variety of meats. Sounds wonderful.

Having no room for dessert, naturally our hosts insisted we try them, and we shared the creme brulee, and a rhubarb crisp, topped with creamy Tillamook vanilla ice cream.  They were both superb, and I hogged the crisp (sorry again, Gigi!).

The menu is chock-a-block full of things I want to try:  steamers, pastas, and a salad or soup or three I’m interested in.   While Twilight is quite a distance from my house in SW Portland, I will happily find an excuse to get back to Camas for more, and soon.

Thanks, Don, Morgan, and Tim for a superb experience. You deserve all the success and kudos you have received, and best wishes for achieving even greater heights when you move to your new location!

The T-Rex

Tree Hugger

(Ed. disclaimer as required by law):  Twilight Pizza Bistro comped out meal).

(1) I am teasing of course.  There is no such thing as “negative calorie’ food.

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