Maritime Melange
By Cate Gable
Published: 02/27/2010  Updated: 06/20/2019
photo by Gary Hayes

Blending urban and small town ambience and fresh regional ingredients from ocean and farm, Pelicano Restaurant in Ilwaco offers a world culinary tour with Northwest contemporary flair.

Walking into the restaurant, one takes in a panoramic view of the Ilwaco harbor, where fishing boats line the docks and the changing colors at sunset can be spectacular. A resident Blue Heron may stride past. The husband and wife team of Jeff McMahon and Shelly Hedges have created an intimate dining experience in this sometimes sleepy fishing village on the shore of the Columbia River. The food is a combination of McMahon's experience with classic Mediterranean cooking, Pan-Asian flavors, fresh seafood and other regional ingredients. He creates dishes inspired by classic techniques with his own innovative approach.

"It's about the food, of course," says McMahon's wife and business partner, Shelly Hedges, who handles everything about the front of the house. "But, also the fresh flowers on the table, the art, the music, even the silverware." McMahon and Hedges are known for their attention to detail. Locals flock to the restaurant knowing they can expect personal service for a comfort food night or for a special occasion with visiting guests. "We want to offer a whole experience to our customers," says, McMahon. "We want people to feel taken care of," he says, "to come in and eat something they wouldn't have fixed for themselves, perhaps something they wouldn't have thought of."

McMahon's crab cakes are legendary. Another favorite is his Caesar salad, truly one of the best on the coast. The menu changes regularly depending on what's fresh and what's local. "In the summer we get greens and other produce from Naselle farmer Fred Johnson," McMahon shares. The menu often includes dishes featuring fresh salmon, halibut, sardines, tuna, sturgeon and oysters when quality products are available.

The wine list features Pacific Northwest vintages and lesser-known Old World choices that appeal to a wide range of palates. Servers know the wines well and will suggest the best match for any meal.

McMahon and Hedges met in Portland when he was the celebrated chef at the Pan-Asian restaurant, The SauceBox. "I was a student at the Oregon College of Arts and Crafts, at the time," says Hedges, a visual artist with deep connections in the art community. She had just begun gaining attention for her art when the restaurant opportunity presented itself.
McMahon and Hedges admit that when they first moved to the beach, friends from Portland said they would never last on the coast. But, seven years later, they are comfortably nestled into their Ocean Park cottage with two-year-old daughter, Nora.

Pelicano reflects a blend capturing the quality and elegance of city dining with the robust flavors of a salt wind blowing in from the sea. The restaurant location, previously an art gallery, still has that feel as Hedges fills the walls with top-notch artwork. The work of renowned local watercolor artist Eric Wiegardt filled the room with boldness and color featuring European street scenes for the last six months. Now part-time coastal resident Joan Stuart Ross' encaustics add a sophistication that blends with the quiet ambience of the setting.

"It's a challenge to create a fine dining establishment in a rural place," McMahon admits. A challenge that Hedges and McMahon have met with grace and style. Pelicano Restaurant, 177 Howerton Way SE, Ilwaco (360) 642-4034.
Maritime Melange