On the Washington State line, a short detour off the main road leads to The Oasis, a sprawling roadhouse that has expanded dining room by dining room since it opened some seven decades ago. The Oasis is to modern restaurants what an old pickup truck is to late-model cars: ramshackle and rugged, but endearingly soulful. Art on the walls, much of it displayed with price tags attached, includes portraits of John Wayne and Nez Perce Chief Joseph; in one lounge at the far end are video poker machines and blackjack tables; another dining room is outfitted with handsome chrome-banded black formica dinette sets. We knew we would like this place as soon as we were seated for lunch in a room that provided a good view into the bar. There, perched on stools, were three large X’s in a row: suspenders on the broad backs of three gents in cowboy hats and pointy-toed boots having drinks and shooting the breeze. “How-do?” asked one, tipping his hat in our direction.
“Doing fine,” said we as our beef arrived. The sirloins, branded with a neat field of cross-hatch char marks on the surface, were slabs of juice and flavor with agreeable tooth resistance. Hot beef sandwiches are made from slices of prime rib. The meat is piled in sheaves atop two slices of velvety white bread that seem able to absorb ten times their weight in gravy.
Many customers who come from afar to dine at The Oasis make a grand night of the occasion by treating themselves to the most celebratory of all restaurant meals, surf and turf, the price of which ranges to over $25. (Lunch is generally around $10.) The menu is replete with land and sea permutations: prime rib or sirloin are available with lobster tails, fried or sauteed prawns, scallops, or grilled oysters. At the other end of couth, this kitchen also turns out a roster of impressive blue-collar classics. Chili, for example, is quite delicious, served in a broad glass bowl under a fistful of onions and a mantle of melted cheese. It is made with chunks of that tender prime rib, beans, and tomatoes, and while not especially fiery, it delivers an agreeable cumin-flavored punch. The kitchen also serves a slab of liver that would do any truck stop chef proud: dark, tender, smothered with onions.
Breakfast at The Oasis is another big-eats meal, served all day with the exception of pancakes and biscuits, which are available only until 11am. The exceptions are significant, because biscuits are the noteworthy morning meal in this place. A full order of biscuits consists of three behemoths and a cascade of thick gravy.