Monday, November 11, 2013

Fly North: The Wild Duck Cafe (Coburg Rd. Edition)

Remember when BJ's was just an overcrowded chain restaurant with a terrible parking lot in a scrunched up corner of Coburg at Willakenzie? Yeah, it seems like forever ago because the Gigantoplex that is the new BJ's fits in at VRC like kittens with YouTube cameras, I know. But hey, whatever happened to that strange little space it used to occupy over by Safeway and Dairy Queen and Sheldon?

Oh, right: It became the second wing of the Wild Duck Cafe franchise. The original Wild Duck is down by campus, and that, right there, is the reason I've never been. I'm getting old and cranky and I regularly tote 20 pounds of cranky old baby with me, so finding a parking space near campus and The Matt (sigh) that won't get us killed or make us want to kill anyone is too much effort. However, a new cafe in a familiar old place? Sure!

The bottom line is this: If you aren't eating breakfast at the Wild Duck Cafe -- and you're not, because I've personally checked -- then you're missing out.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Everything Old is New Again: Revisiting Hop Valley

As Hop Valley is basically where this blog started, for me, I figured it was an appropriate place to re-start it in the new year. The restaurant has gone through at least two major menu changes since I initially reviewed it in 2010, and the newest menu is one I'm happy to discuss (unlike the middle menu).

Gone is the heavy book of many choices. Instead, the new menu [in PDF] is exactly what one expects of a brewpub: a single, large, heavy piece of paper, often slightly drink-stained, listing a few predictable categories of fare: appetizers, pizzas, burgers, entrees, salads, and sandwiches. The back is filled with still solid beer choices and a few specials (burger and brew for $8.95 on Sunday). Luckily, Hop Valley hasn't abandoned what made it a good place to dine in the beginning: there's still good beer, there's still a great happy hour, and there are still just enough small, thoughtful culinary touches to keep that predictable list of foods enticing.

One theme of the whole menu has always been beer, and now it's again quite visible in the Ale-Battered onion rings, fried fish, and chicken strips. (The onion rings, which are small enough for easy handling and devouring, sweet enough for even those who don't particularly like the onion part of the equation, and in a generous enough portion for sharing, are particularly good). Other offerings have beer references in the title (the Braumeister burger, the Brewben, and the Hoppin' Cobb Salad), but other than a possible splash of ale in the house-made bread or the addition of beer to both regular soups (Bacon Beer Cheese and Brew-House Chili), most of these seem like plays on words. What's nice, though, is that every dish on the menu is, really, good food to go with the good beer on the back. The servers are generally able to recommend a specific matching brew for whatever you're eating -- assuming, as often happens, you've finished your first by the time the food arrives.

Which brings us to the first rule of Hop Valley Club: You should probably get a beer or, at least, try the smokey house root beer.

Several old favorites have stayed: the smoked mozzarella sticks are still around, joined now by Jalapeno Cream Cheese Hush Puppies and a sausage sampler platter. That last, along with offerings like the new, tasty Chicken Schnitzel sandwich, indicate a lean toward Bavarian cuisine that's interesting and, perhaps, Oktoberfest inspired. (I do miss the soft pretzels on this menu). My favorite dish -- the macaroni and cheese -- has also been re-imagined, returning closer to its original menu roots. Gone is the last menu's offered macaroni and cheese topped with duck breast -- an interesting idea, but one that priced what had been my favorite entree out of reach. Now, the mac and cheese is creamy and well-made with smoked gouda, and you can splurge and add Andouille sausage, chicken, or broccoli for $2.

The tuna sandwich that was C's staple before is still around, though it's been given a facelift, too: it's now chili-rubbed and comes with lemon aioli, tomato relish, and a side of house-made chips or fries. For $13, it's not a cheap sandwich, but it's not a bad price for the substantial and perfectly rare tuna you get.

Sandwiches, in fact, seem to have earned the biggest renewal: there's a Cuban sandwich that's lean and lightly sauced, a Dagwood that promises German bologna, turkey, and ham, the turkey (Hoppin') club, and a BLT with candied bacon, each for just at $10. The burgers, which come either cooked normally or smoked pink, also hover near the $10 range, as do the new (and as-yet untested, for us) Pizzettas. (My vegetarian heart is sad to see the Garden Burger gone, but I'm choosing to see it as an excuse to Eat More Mozzarella Sticks).

The best bargain here, though, is still at Happy Hour, the menu for which is pictured at right. Offered 3-6 weekdays and 10-close Sunday through Thursday, this is a worthwhile place to stop after a cheap movie at the Gateway Mall or just on your way home from work. The burger remains the best value on the menu -- $5 for a 1/2 of local, never-frozen beef, with chips? Even with the additional charge for cheese, it's almost enough to turn me back to omnivore status... or it would be, if those mozz sticks weren't so darned tasty.

Hours: Open until at least midnight, usually, with happy hour specials after 10
Location: 490 Kruse Way in Springfield (behind IHOP, off of Gateway/I-5)

Hop Valley Brewing Company on Urbanspoon

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Comfort Breakfast Club: The Glenwood

If you've been a student at the U of O since the Animal House era, you've most likely been to The Glenwood at least once -- and probably, judging by the Sunday lines, it was on a parents' weekend because the Glenwood is the place everyone thinks of when they realize that their usual breakfast haunt (be it Keystone or the burrito refrigerator at 7-11) just isn't quite nice enough to take Mom and Dad (particularly when they're paying).

The Glenwood has one of the most mom-and-dad friendly menus in town. Whether your mother is back on Weight Watchers (and thus drawn to entrees like the Oatmeal with Blueberries for $5) or your father is trying South Beach (and thus will be chowing down on Huevos Rancheros with a side of cottage cheese for $7), there's almost literally something for everyone at Glenwood. Spent your first year in college discovering the beauty of veganism? You can swap out the eggs for tofu under the Ranchero sauce and even get a veggie patty on the side. Spent last night getting so hammered that nothing but the finest in pig products will do? There are sides of thick bacon available; you can also order an espresso drink, even if Mom and Dad are sticking to Cafeto coffee, strawberry lemonade, or Coca-Cola.

Portions at the Glenwood are deceiving: the food comes on plain plates with no decoration, often heaped into little piles slid-right-off-the-griddle piles, but that first disappointing glimpse means nothing. There is more food in every order than you will need. Do not be fooled by the simple, slight-sounding "two egg breakfast." It may sound virtuous, but by the time you've paired it with their just-this-side-of-hashbrowns home fries (a small fist-sized pile of thin, chopped potatoes browned crispy on at least one side) and, say, a link of chicken-apple sausage, there's more on that plate than just two happy (scrambled, poached, fried, hard boiled, you name it) eggs. There's a stomach-sized meal.

The Glenwood boasts an impressive four full -- full -- pages of breakfast entrees, and they will and should catch your attention over the lunch and dinner specials. Though the entire menu is written in a ridiculous script font, let neither that nor the many choices dizzy you. Stick to basics: dense pancakes in four varieties, including sweet potato; forearm-sized omelettes stuffed with nearly any topping you can find in the Northwest (so, yes, avocados, but also smoked salmon, black beans, shrimp, Tillamook cheese, etc.); and eggs Benedict and Florentine. I'm reliably informed, by my own tastebuds and K's, that the Glenwood boasts the best Hollandaise in town -- creamy, just tangy enough, and, on the weekends, sometimes gone before noon.

Beyond the Hollandaise, though, you'll find plenty of comfortable food at comfortable (sub-$10) prices here. Nothing I've eaten there for breakfast, besides the Florentine, has really wowed me; I don't crave their specialities as I might others', but I know that the Glenwood will provide a consistently okay eating experience. Nothing on the expansive but cautious and familiar breakfast menu is a bad idea. Hazelnuts, after all, are good on (and in) pancakes and waffles, even if their addition no longer feels very creative.

Few places are as perfectly Eugene as Glenwood, in both of its incarnations. Then again, few places try as hard to embody Eugene in a menu as the Glenwood does, so that works out just fine.

The campus location has seating up and downstairs; choose upstairs for slightly better acoustics but often slightly slowed service; downstairs is great for people watching and constantly refilled water glasses. The Willamette location, when full, isn't the best for your most hard-of-hearing guests, but it has a bit of parking-lot-adjacent outdoor seating that's nice in the summer. Expect to wait at either location before noon on Saturdays and Sundays, particularly if it's parents' weekend. Locations:
Campus: 1340 Alder Street.
Hours: 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.

South Eugene: 2588 Willamette St.
Hours: Weekdays: 6:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday: 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Glenwood Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Friday, August 5, 2011

Shockingly good: El Super Burrito

Truth be told, I have eaten here three times in the last four days. Once, I told myself it was so that I could write this blog post and provide you with some photographs, but then I forgot my camera, and ended up eating here anyway. Twice.  I think I am officially obsessed with this place.

Once, it was Bene Pizza, and it was the cheeky, upscale awesome pizza-and-salad place I craved most often. But Bene went toes up not too long ago, and this place moved into their location. I giggled at the name and sign combination.  "El Super Burrito"has a logo that is actually a little donkey wearing a mask and a cape. It killed me every time we drove past, but I couldn't ever seem to convince G we should try it.

Yesterday he relented, and so we tried it! And it is my new obsession.  I think I have a new first love when it comes to cheap Mexican food.

First Meal:
G--chicken fajita burrito.  So yummy.  Everything grilled, including the interior vegetables.
Me--a ground beef taco salad (it was the daily lunch special, so it came with a drink and was just 5.00. Ridiculous. Really good.)

Second Meal:
G--Torta Cubana--this sandwich is a wonder. Friend chicken cutlet, carnitas pork, and a slice of ham. Tomatoes, chipotle mayo, slices of avocado, and sour cream. Copious meal for 5.00.
Me--Ground Beef Enchiladas--not overly wet. Not tubes of cheese. Tests like its component parts and not just a gooey mess. Also really good.

Third Meal:
G--Super Fries--french fries covered with a meat of your choice (carnitas, in this case), cheese, beans, and sour cream.  Ask to add tomatoes. They make a huge difference.
Me--Torta Cubana--Still yummy. I didn't put it down after I picked it up.

This place has served us six completely delicious and extremely reasonably priced meals, so far, and I have to say the real stand out remains the torta cubana.

ETA: On the weekends, they make a special hot sauce that is not to be missed.  I asked if they had a name for it, and they don't, so G and I have been calling it "weekend sauce." It's tangy, and tastes like the underlying ingredients have been roasted.  SO good.

El Super Burrito on Urbanspoon

Hours: Everyday, 8:00 AM to 8:30 PM

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Two Cheers: Three Forks Wok and Grill

The avalanche of groupon-imitators that began last summer has brought C and I to a near-stand still on eating. We have a basket full of coupons and can never decide where to go next -- in part because once we use one, we usually want to go back to that place immediately. Such has been the case with Three Forks Wok & Grill, a restaurant we frequently shop and study near, but not one I regularly craved, until a half-off coupon reminded me of the beauty of their sweetly-crunchy slivered almonds set atop coconut curry, jasmine rice, and tofu.

Three Forks is a Eugene-grown business that has semi-recently expanded from a single storefront in the Willamette south strip mall to a second location in the Delta Oaks area. It is also a regular participant in every festival that cascades through Eugene in the summer -- my first taste of their wares, in fact, was at the UO's Street Fare, nearly five years ago.

The menu here is eclectic and difficult to define except in the way that the sign does: all of the food is either grilled or cooked on the wok. Another way to describe this place: it's a local, pan-Asian Chipotle model.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

It's Delightful, It's Delicious, it's De... vegan?: Divine Cupcakes

I have an apology to make.

I have tasted The Divine Cupcake's wares a few times before, but not under optimum circumstances. I've had them at food fairs three times: twice under a sun that's normally illegal in Oregon and once during a downpour no one was prepared for. I've also had them late in the day in a coffee shop, where they had been sitting in a plastic case that was probably left open for a few hours during the morning rush. Every time, I've been enticed by the flavor combinations -- real ginger in your gingerbread cupcake? Sure! -- and each time, I've been disappointed by a slightly dry cake under admittedly scrumptious frosting.

My apology is this: I have blamed veganism, and for this, I am sorry. I should, instead, have blamed the weather, the venues, and my own sorry supposition that it's ever fair to judge a food when it's out in the wild instead of on its home turf. These aren't Cheetos we're dealing with, after all -- they're sweet little baked goods. There is a certain required delicacy that must be respected.

So I went on safari to stalk the Divine Cupcake in its lair on 11th Street recently, and I've discovered that my earlier samples were, indeed, not representative. In fact, the cupcakes I tasted there -- and took home in a box -- were spongy, fresh, and rich in flavor. The choco-classic cupcake is dark and satisfying; the pumpkin chocolate chip was so moist as to put pumpkin pie to shame (or at least to bring it to mind). They actually stayed very tasty for two additional days, as we picked new samples from the refrigerated box.

My blood-orange cupcake on a more recent visit sung with notes of real fruit under its flat chocolate topping, and C's "Tao of Green Tea" cupcake (matcha green tea cake, green tea frosting) tasted like a cup of tea itself -- warm, rich, and strangely refreshing.

Like with most dining experiences, the atmosphere is key; thus, the extremely cute Divine Cupcake storefront is almost necessary to the experience. Walk in, and you'll find a pleasant coffee-shop front lounge, with a small couch and two matching armchairs, a few tables, and a four- or five-seat bar. Local art (some of it referencing cupcakes, and all of it for purchase) hangs on the colorful walls. Just past all of this lies the shop, where not only the cupcakes but all of the cupcake accoutrement is kept. There are cupcake accessories (tiny wooden sticks that say, "Happy Birthday!" for you to use at will), there is cupcake art, there are cute bags and lamps and virtually anything one would need to start a book group where no one really reads the book but instead gets together to eat sweets.

And oh, the sweets. They are displayed in a two-level case, and on my visits -- even late in the day -- there have been at least eight varieties on display, plus several others in the mini category. Cupcakes are available in two kinds: standard ($2.50 for a regular sized cupcake; $1.25 for a mini) and gourmet ($3/$1.50). The difference seems to be one of fanciness and imagination. Standards include chocolate, peanut butter, vanilla, fruit (banana, lemon, raspberry, etc.), and maple; Gourmet selections include red velvet, lime coconut, coffee, carrot, and mango, among others. Nearly all of the cupcakes can be special ordered without sugar or gluten or soy, but those in the case are only guaranteed to be vegan and organic (except on certain days, when there will be sugar-free or gluten-free guarantees -- see store or twitter for details). There are also drinks on offer: cappuccinos and lattes, using any kind of milk (cow included) that you can think of, European-style drinking chocolates, and a tea list that makes C get a little emotional (in a good way).

My only concern, having now gone native to experience the wild, divine little beasts in their natural habitat, is that it can be a little tricky to know what's what. Strangers from strange lands might walk in and find that only four of the eight cupcakes have labels, and if there's a crush of people (which, on Friday night -- game night! -- there certainly was) it can be difficult or embarrassing to have to ask for each flavor to be explained.

There are, however, kind cupcake guides to aid you -- and on every visit, there have also been many cupcake veterans to offer suggestions, too. This place is a magical, mysterious blend of everything Eugene has to offer: vegan tastiness, hippie culture, free wifi, and trendy little treats, all in one (biodegradable? I bet it is!) little paper wrapper.

Location: 1680 W. 11th, Eugene
Hours: Monday through Thursday: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Sunday 10-7. Notes: They also offering catering and advanced orders via their web site, and their baked good are available in a variety of shops around town.

The Divine Cupcake on Urbanspoon

Sidecar: Eat Charitably at Newman's and Chapala

Saturday night, C and I had the pleasure of attending a performance of Mozart's Great Mass in C Minor by the Eugene Concert Choir and the Eugene Symphony orchestra. While we waited for the show to begin, I noticed in our program that two -- and only two -- restaurants in Eugene are listed as sponsors of the choir. One of them, Newman's Fish Company, was the sponsor for the evening. The other, Chapala Mexican Restaurant, is, like Newman's, listed as a contributor of between $1,000 and $2,499 to the Concert Choir.

Since we live in a time when the arts are constantly under fiscal attack, and since we live in a community that likes to celebrate its efforts at keeping local business alive, it seems like a good idea to give some blogging high-fives to both of these places. Neither has yet earned a review from us, possibly because neither is a place that regularly makes my top ten favorite places to eat. (That's not because there's anything wrong with them; there's just a lot to eat in Eugene). Yet now, both places are on my list for a meal sometime in the near future. If they -- in hard economic times for restaurants -- found it in their hearts and wallets to support the creative arts, I can certainly find it in mine to support them.

What other restaurants around town are notable for their charitable work? I'd be curious to know, and happy to post a list, if people have suggestions.