Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Pizza like Uno's used to make: B.J.'s Restaurant and Brewhouse

This is an easy review to write for one audience: the audience that grew up/lived in a city with a Pizzeria Uno. Uno's was a chain of restaurants that served as their specialty a deep-dish Chicago-style pizza, alongside a few burgers, pasta dishes, and soups and salads. I had one in Lawrence, Kansas that I used to visit with some regularity because their lunch special (small pizza, soup, drink, 30 minutes or less) was very convincing at about $8.

B.J.'s Restaurant and Brewhouse is about the same deal, except they focus on pizza and beer. It's got a functional not-quite-sports-bar atmosphere, a crowd that's usually a mix of parents with kids and parents out for a night without the kids, and some decent pizza choices. The deep dish pizzas are baked in heavy, well-oiled pans that should (and sometimes does) result in a crispy outside and bready interior; there's also a gluten-free and thin-crust option, but I admit to having never tried either of those. If you come to B.J.'s, it's probably for the real pizza -- and it should be.

And the pizza is pretty good. It's commercially good, I should say. The Mediterranean pizza (Kalamata olives, peperoncinis, feta cheese, roasted garlic, sundried tomatoes, chicken (optional), and pesto) is a satisfying mess of salty tastiness. Most of the pre-set pizzas offer an overwhelming pile of ingredients, ranging from the Southwestern (chipotle tomato sauce, blackened chicken, green chilies, cheddar cheese, diced tomatoes, fresh cilantro) to a three-meat variety or a pizza-like take on Buffalo chicken wings. You can also make your own pizza from a list of ingredients, with each one costing you up to $1.50 more.

The red sauce on the pizzas is usually nicely done, with a few chunks of stewed tomato popping through the cheesy toppings. You can get most of what you'd want on a pizza here -- standard meats, usual veggies, and a few café outliers, like meatballs or the above-mentioned olives in place of the standard canned black.

That said, this isn't a great value for dinner. One medium pizza has about six slices and feeds about 1.25 C and Jenn combinations, and it costs right at $20. Yeah, $20, for a pizza in what's essentially a quieter Applebee's -- that's a hard sell for me, and it's the main reason that I rarely remember B.J.'s when I'm hungry for pizza. However, if you're free for lunch, and already somewhere over the Ferry Street Bridge, B.J.'s does offer some good lunch specials: pasta with soup or salad for about $10; a gigantic baked potato with pizza toppings (I like the veggie Alfredo combination) with soup or salad for about $9; mini pizzas starting around $6 or $7; and an unlimited salad-and-soup combo vaguely reminiscent of the Olive Garden (though without the tasty breadsticks). There are also burgers (real and veggie), main-dish salads, and a few dressed-up fish dishes like Thai Salmon and Shrimp Tacos.

While you eat, you can enjoy one of B.J.'s brews -- though I have to admit, I never have. I've ordered them, sure, but they're mostly unmemorable, with the exception of B.J.'s Jeremiah Red. C has ordered that beer at least three times on the strength of its description and ended up not finishing it on the strength of its bitter taste. The Tatonka Stout pales in comparison to Oakshire's offering, and you're better off with a Widmere than with B.J.'s special Brewhouse Blonde. What can I say? It's chain beer, and it tastes like it.

If you have any room left, try a Pizookie, which is a cookie or brownie baked in a pizza pan and topped with ice cream (and, possibly, Lipitor).

So yeah: it's a mix of food that seems indigenous to the Commercial Upscale Pizza Chain, like Uno's or Old Chicago. The taste is about the same; the service is about the same; and the prices are about the same. Still, if you're a) not from Chicago and b) craving a deep dish pizza, this is about the only place you can turn to in Eugene, and they'll consistently do a good job of curing that craving for you.

A bit of perhaps telling trivia: Pizzeria Uno, now Uno's Chicago Grill, just exited bankruptcy yesterday. Is the Chicago Chain doomed?

B J's Restaurant & Brewhouse on Urbanspoon

Monday, July 26, 2010

A Bite in Review

Saturday, we braved the heat -- at least briefly -- to attend the second Bite of Eugene. There were more people in attendance than I would have expected, given the heat and that the event seemed to sneak up on me with almost no pre-event press. Booths from wine vendors, food vendors, and dessert companies made a neat little J-shaped line of goodness right near the river. Desserts -- including coffee (hard sell on a summer day? Not in Eugene ), Kailua Shaved Ice, Lochmead Dairy Farms ice cream, and Coconut Bliss ice cream from Luna & Larry's -- started things off by the main stage, and then slid easily into a trio of tasty baked goods purveyors: The Divine Cupcake and Holy Donuts! were out for the vegan crowd while The Sassy Cupcake was there for the rest of us.

The Sassy Cupcake may be my number-one favorite discovery of The Bite. They served five flavors of mini cupcake, at $1 a piece, and I went back for seconds. A friend of mine sampled the Peanut Butter Fudge cupcake, which had a fudgy cake base and peanut butter frosting: he called it "intense." I tried, in order, the The Sassy Cupcake -- a buttery, almost pie-crust textured cupcake base with cream cheese frosting/filling and a raspberry on top; the Pink Lemonade Cupcake, which had a lemon cake base and a topping that tasted exactly like the bright, canned pink lemonade of my childhood (in a good way!); and the Smores Cupcake, a graham cracker cupcake with marshmallow filling and a chocolate/fudge icing. C tried the Maple Bacon Cupcake, which was pancake cake with maple frosting and, yes, bacon on top, and said, "I could eat many of these."

It's a commercial/catering only bakery, so there's no danger (yet) of my going on an in-store binge, but through the Sassy Cupcake Facebook Page, I do hear rumors of a cupcakes-by-the-dozen sale. I will be there with bells on, and possibly with Kristen at my side, since she's very good at stabbing others in the name of food defense.

Other tasty nibbles:

  • Belly made an appearance, with a small stand selling $2 pork or veggie tacos, watermelon dusted with chili powder, and strawberry agua fresca. I went with the latter two and was extremely pleased -- will have to duplicate the watermelon trick at home.

  • Cornbread Cafe was also there, next to Belly, in a beautiful fusion of pork smoke hovering over your favorite vegan comfort food stand. The flavor of my southern-fried tofu didn't need that embellishment, though C's cornbread -- a cakey mess that looked more like sweet baked polenta than anything in the bread family -- could have stood a little help.

  • Bates Steakhouse made true believers out of two friends with what looked like a juicy, well-sauced tri-tip sandwich.

  • The line at Kailua Shaved Ice, plus the rapturous faces of those who got a cone, makes me believe that they're doing something very good in there. I can't wait to catch them (with no line!) soon.

  • One culinary oddity: There was a booth promoting pickled potatoes. I have to admit, those little things were surprisingly tasty -- like potato salad on a stick! I realized after typing that sentence that few people in the world have the enthusiasm I do for potato salad, but -- what can I say, world, I love it.

Anyone else make it out there? What do you recommend? What makes it worth the trip next year (or what could be better)?

Friday, July 23, 2010

What to do with your weekend appetite

There's a ton of events going on in Eugene involving food. Here's a few I'm intrigued by:

  1. Whiteaker Neighborhood River Festival. It promises "free food," which is, incidentally, my favorite kind. Also: gigantic slip-and-slide. Until 11 p.m. tonight at 301 Adams.

  2. Bite of Eugene. Free admission and tons and tons of food vendors and food events and wine and beer? YES. I will be there with bells on, or at least with cash-in-hand and camera and appetite. Included in the mix will be Adam's Sustainable Table, Belly, Cornbread Café, and Olive Grand, among other Eugene establishments that I've been meaning to check out but haven't quite managed to visit yet. I'm most looking forward to the Iron Chef-style showdown between Café Zenon's chef and the eponymous owner of Adam's Sustainable table. And, oh, did I mention food? 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. in Alton Baker Park.

  3. Dairy Free Ice Cream Day. Only in Eugene, right? The makers of So Delicious! Soy and Coconut milk will be distributing free -- yes, there's that word again -- free! coconut-milk treats to those who attend. Music and a prize drawing will also be included, as well as the smug satisfaction that comes from participating in a protest against last weekend's National Ice Cream day. You tell 'em, So D! 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Alton Baker Park.

  4. Finally, this might seem off point, but how about a movie? The Bijou is showing I am Love, an Italian film that stars not only Tilda Swinton but also absolutely ecstatic food scenes. (Maybe send the kids for dairy free ice cream while you go). And then there's that Salt movie... tasty? I'll tell you later.

Food Slideshow!

Well, let's see if this works! If it does, it will have a few photos of our food adventures over the last few months, with more to be added. (If it doesn't, uh, let me know in the comments!)

I'll add more when I can. For now, it's making me hungry just to think back. Mm. Food.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Parking lot pizza party: Hideaway Bakery Pizza Night!

I used to live in South Eugene, and as such the only coffee place of mention near me was the Hideaway Bakery. Thank goodness for proximity -- Hideaway lives up to its name, nestled into the back half of a building shared with Mazzi's only-open-on-the-evenings Italian food. Blink and you'll miss their small, curbside sign -- and what you'll really miss are their pastries.

I spent many a happy mid-morning with a cup of Hideaway's coffee and one of their almond-blueberry pinwheel pastries or their amazing, buttery chocolate croissants. During the rainy season, you can huddle indoors by the smoky fireplace in a mirrored room with about ten sturdy, square tables and take advantage of the free wifi. On sunny days, or lightly misting days, the patio (which is mostly covered with see-through tiles) offers a nice chance for fresh air and is framed with hanging baskets of flowers and small topiaries -- though it's also one of the main Eugene hangouts for big, ugly, buzzing flies.

Hideaway serves breakfast pastries, cakes by the slice or whole that are suitable for service at any dinner party, and a selection of fresh pasta at lunch time. The lasagna was a little bitter (over-fennel-seeded) for my taste, but the ravioli is reliably good (and often interesting, with fillings beyond just cheese). The one weakness -- besides the flies -- that Hideaway seemed to have was its early closure. I was chased from the patio at 4 or earlier on several days by a friendly broom-wielding barista eager to close the place up.

This summer, though, Hideaway is (again, I believe) offering pizza nights. A large but somehow portable stone oven has found a home in Hideaway's little parking lot, and on Tuesdays when it doesn't rain (so: now until September?), it gets fired up -- and so does a whole crowd of Eugenians.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Gyros Magic: Poppi's Anatolia

So, there's a place to get a great New York gyro here in town. I love Albee's for their New York gyros, but when I am craving something a little more Greek, I go to Poppi's Anatolia.

Poppi's has the strangest menu of just about any place in town that I can think of. They're a combination of Greek/Mediterranean and Indian food. I confess I cannot really tell you how the Indian food is. Every time we come here, I want their gyros (they say "yiros") sandwiches. They're really good: tomato slices (always passably ripe or better), good flavorful tzatziki sauce, thinly sliced onions, and a dusting of cayenne that really works for these. I almost always go with the traditional yiros, though G's been brave and branched out to try the kotta, which is also delicious. They're both really affordable choices for lunch at 5.75.

Other standouts on the menu so far are adorable little loaves of bread they call Greek Peasant bread; it's whole-wheat with whole fennel seeds for flavor, and it's amazingly tasty. They sell it as a side for a whopping forty cents, and they could easily charge more. It's delicious with cold butter. I would also recommend the Potato and Onion Bhajias, spicy garbanzo flour fritters, which come with a dressing of what we think was chopped coconut and mint. It was really different, and so, so good.

Special note: the service at Poppi's stands out among downtown restaurants. They're always pleasant, knowledgeable, and unobstrusive.

Location: 992 Willamette

Hours: Monday - Thursday: 11:30 - 9:30; Friday 11:30 - 10:00; Saturday 11:30 - 3:00, 5:00 - 10:00; Sunday 5:00 - 9:30

Poppi's Anatolia on Urbanspoon

Hot hot hot: Dizzy Dean's Doughnuts

The reigning champions of Eugene donutry have already been crowned: Kristen votes for Lee's; VooDoo is practically (hey!) a religion; and Holy Donuts wins the vegan crowd, known in Eugene as "everyone else." There are, however, trusty, traditional, mediocre donuts available in Eugene outside of a Safeway: They can be found, all day long, at Dizzy Dean's.

This place is everything that doughnut shops have always been. It smells like sweet dough, too much glaze, fry grease, and the smoke of a 1970s diner. Did anyone ever smoke here? I have no idea, but they should have. The place makes me want to smoke.

It is, in a word, unpretentious. Donuts are $.80 to $1.35, depending on their degree of dress. Dizzy Dean's has been (the times I've visited) staffed by a single person who's frantically trying to do eight things at once: make the donuts, sell the donuts, pour the coffee, answer the questions. It is stuffed into the space leftover when Staples took a spot on West 11th, and it has mis-matched dining chairs set up against tables that would have been comfortable in a 1980s McDonald's. There's six kinds of coffee being served from big, heat-retaining carafes, but you know without trying they're all going to be strong, dark, and kind of bad.

Dizzy Dean's serves Hot! donuts at different times of the day. You can tell whether there are any available because they actually light up a neon sign outside, saying "HOT DONUTS!" The donuts are kept in a warmer, next to the other donuts, the oldies that didn't make the cut.

Here, in the oldies case, there's at least substantial variety. All of the traditional favorites -- bars in maple and chocolate; plain glazed and cake donuts; chocolate-frosted cake donuts; twists in plain and cinnamon -- are here, but they're joined by their desperately over-done friends. Damn you, VooDoo Doughnuts, for this: Dizzy Dean's now has a Bacon Maple Bar, and a purple-frosted donut with a piece of taffy stuck in the middle that resembles the Grape Ape. It has donuts with crushed Oreos and donuts with Butterfinger candy on top. The chocolate donuts sometimes have sprinkles, nuts, and stripes. Those donuts have their place -- and it's in the stunt bakery downtown.

What you could come to Dizzy Dean's for, instead of the eye-candy (sure to disappoint once you take it home; aw, isn't that always the way?), are two things: the filled donuts and the crullers. In the filled donuts, I applaud the lean toward variety, because these all seem like natural extensions. Raspberry, hurrah! Lemon, sure! Marionberry? Why not. Bavarian cream? Fine by me. There's also chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla, and those are all welcome varieties that seem exactly in line with the mission of a small-time doughnut place.

The crullers, too, are something. They have an eggy, almost custard-tasting dough inside, hidden under the shelter of glaze so crisp and enthusiastic that it calls to mind the mechanical glee of Krispy Kreme. They come with a variety of flavored toppings, but why, oh why, would you put maple on this? Why raspberry? Why anything?

Dizzy Dean's is clearly a store that wants to catch up to its big, famous, beloved rivals. The path to that, though, is focus on the fundamentals. I think that's within the store's grasp, but right now, it's too busy having its head spun -- and trying to spin those of its customers -- to settle down and excel at the everyday.

Location: 2380 W. 11th

Hours: 4 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day.

Dizzy Dean's Donuts on Urbanspoon

Monday, July 19, 2010

A Vegetable Love Story: Ratatouille

Once upon a time, there was a blogging girl and a guy who was afraid of Facebook who used to get together for coffee/drinks/French fries nearly every afternoon at Midtown. There they sampled Manhattans and Old Fashioneds and talked about their various writings and readings and friends and what-have-you. Sometimes, they left Midtown and went in search of dinner together, but not together, because they were just friends.

Of course this story has a twist into more than friends territory, and though it's hard to mark an exact beginning for that twist, one of the major bumps along the way involved a dinner invitation. Just across the street from Midtown, there's a tiny little bistro-looking place called Ratatouille. Now, our hero (ahem) happens to be a vegetarian, and so she'd heard that Ratatouille was extremely friendly to folks like her. The guy -- should we just go ahead and call him C? -- was a fairly enthusiastic meat eater, someone who had, on a recent outing, eaten three McDonald's cheeseburgers without breaking the slightest what's-in-this sweat.

So it came as something of a surprise when he suggested we dine there.

It was a lovely meal. I had a pasta in a cashew cream sauce that wasn't that far removed from the cheesy cream sauces that you'd find nearly anywhere, save that no butter or real cream had touched the whole wheat noodles. C had the blue cornmeal empanadas, which came with artful pools of chocolate mole and crema. We were the only people in the restaurant that night, and our service came at the hands of someone we suspected was the owner, who talked us into a shared piece of vegan German Chocolate Cake.

Once you've found a cheeseburger-lover who's completely content to share vegan cake with you, well -- vegetarian girls, you know what I'm talking about.

So, anniversaries. It's now been just over a year since C and I upgraded from "all the time hanging out" to this dating thing, and that required a celebration last weekend. We went back to Ratatouille and found only one significant change: there were several parties of diners enjoying the place, which made for a warm, bubbling atmosphere of conversation and celebration along with allowing for much more admiration of other people's food.

We started with an appetizer of an heirloom tomato, cut horizontally and layered with fresh basil leaves that had been lightly tossed with a gentle greenish curry dressing (which also dotted the plate).

IMG_1558.JPGEggplant Parm

For the main dishes, we both went with eggplant: I had the eggplant parmesan, which comes on a bed of polenta made with a very, very few mushrooms and green beans. The eggplant was perfectly cooked, soft but not falling apart, lightly breaded, coated with orange cheese, and topped with an acidic, salty tomato sauce that would have been too intense were it not for the cooling, creamy polenta underneath.

IMG_1557.JPGC's Eggplant dinner

C had an eggplant dish that involved slightly custardy eggplant slices with layers of smoked onion ratatouille between them. Of the two dishes, I thought his won; he said he'd order mine next time.

There was no room for dessert or even for the fresh hibiscus tea that one hostess suggested, nor for the extremely tasty-looking pot pies that kept drifting by. I struggled with the choice between the eggplant, the zucchini lasagna (which can be made vegan), or the house pasta special of whole wheat noodles with sauteed squash and that same, tasty cashew cream sauce and toasted hazelnuts.

This is one of the few places in Eugene where it feels appropriate, maybe even necessary, to dress up (though strangely our waitress wore shorts). Maybe the prices -- ranging from $15 to $20 a plate for an entree; $7-$9 an appetizer -- are part of what makes Ratatouille feel fancy, but some of it is also a cultivated, quiet, artful atmosphere that the chef himself creates through careful displays of food in portions that encourage you to savor each bite.

Highly recommended.

Location: 1530 Willamette St.

Hours: Lunch: Monday through Friday 11-2 p.m.; Dinner: Tuesday through Saturday, 5 to 9 p.m.

Ratatouille on Urbanspoon

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Remember the Elephant!: Aiyara Thai Café

Tucked into a completely uninspiring strip-mall next to the Eugene area's least awesome mall, Aiyara Thai Café isn't the first place that perhaps comes to mind when you think "mm, thai." The competition in Eugene is fierce, after all, and good options abound -- so why would you go to Springfield?

You'd go because Aiyara does things that all of the places in Eugene seems to struggle with: it makes good Thai food, pretty cheaply, and fairly quickly, and it does it without any of the airy pomp and circumstance that most of the local places seem to charge for. There is, yes, the requisite poster-sized picture of the Thai royal family, but beyond that, you've got plain tables and chairs in a big might-have-once-been-a-shoe-store type room.

This isn't a bad thing. While dining at, say, Ta Ra Rin or Chao Pra Ya feels like an event, Aiyara feels like a place you could drop in for lunch without any forethought. I've eaten here alone many times without feeling that I'm soaking up valuable table space, which I count as a blessing.

4000B4E1-C7FF-4023-B472-C3BE2BE2A73D.jpgGreen Curry/From Aiyara website

So what about the food? It's pretty good. The typical dishes -- Pad Thai and Pad Se Ew -- are exactly that: typical. They're well done and come in full-plate portions and they taste about the same as they do everywhere. Where I think Aiyara is best is in its wide selection of curry dishes. There's a red and a green (both of which have received solid thumbs-ups from C), a Panang Curry that has a rich buttery initial taste and a slow-building spicy kick, and my favorite, the peanut curry, which can come over rice or noodles. It's a dish that's surprising in its sweet-and-sour flavor, and (at least when served with tofu) has little spice. (You can request extra spiciness on any dish; the default seems to be mild/medium area on most things, unless they've got red stars in the menu).

A bowl of peanut curry and a dish of rice costs about $9; the only way to spend more than $10 on a dish is if you want prawns -- and someday, I'm going to get over my distaste for those just so I can try the Pineapple Curry with Prawns, a dish that looks and sounds amazing. Appetizers -- including pork-filled spring rolls and my favorite, deep fried tofu -- run about $6. Everything comes up quickly, which is kind of a shame, because while you wait you can hear the chefs converse with their ever-present waitress as you wait; I once had the pleasure of hearing her explain the phrase "hook up" to them while I munched on fried tofu.

Aiyara is about as vegetarian friendly as any Thai place can be. There's fish sauce and oyster sauce in wide use, though they can make several dishes vegan (or gluten free) upon request.

Location: 1010 Harlow Road (in the strip mall that contains Ben Franklin), Springfield

Hours: Monday - Friday: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. (but good luck ordering any food after 8:20); Saturday noon to 9

Aiyara Thai Cafe on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

National Ice Cream Month: Where to get it in Eugene

Apparently, not only is July National Ice Cream Month, but this Sunday is National Ice Cream Day, known also as "Sundae Sunday." Lucky for us all, Eugene is a town replete with ice cream offerings. Here's a few suggestions for places in which to indulge:

  1. The Obvious: Prince Puckler's is Eugene's most famous and well-loved local parlor. Its 19th Street emporium of sweets is constantly crowded (on hot days) by those who enjoy flavors that run from regular old vanilla to Green Tea (once ordered by then-Senator Obama) to nearly any combination of coffee and ice cream and tastiness you can think of. They've been around for 35 years, now, and if that longevity doesn't convince you, maybe their sales will: on Fridays, they have $4 Euphoria Chocolate Sundaes with bananas and whipped cream which are (I speak from experience) not to be missed. They also serve non-dairy ice cream. (1605 E. 19th)

    • Not up for the crowds? Try their less visible location on 11th, which is paired with a Hodgepodge and a drive-thru. (2190 W. 11th)
  2. The Less Obvious: Euphoria Chocolate Company. Yes, they're better known for their melt-in-your-mouth-and-your-hands chocolate truffles, but Euphoria also makes ice cream bars -- creamy vanilla dipped in their local-legend chocolate. (They also sell frozen dipped bananas, but it's not national fruit month!). They'll add other toppings, too. Oreos? Nuts? You name it. On Thursdays, they're only two dollars -- which might leave you with enough for a truffle or four for the road. (Multiple locations, including: 6 W. 17th; Oakway Center; Valley River Center).
  3. The Chain: Cold Stone Creamery. OK, so, sure, you can get this ice cream in any mid-sized city in the country. That doesn't really make it less tasty. Cold Stone specializes in plain ice cream flavors -- Sweet Cream; Coffee; Chocolate; Strawberry -- that you then add tons of toppings to. The toppings then get mixed/beaten into your ice cream on cold stone slab -- ah, you get it, I know. What you might not know is that the best way to enjoy this ice cream is at a discount -- readily available to anyone who's got a Survival Kit coupon book floating around. They're the green ones you pick up at the bookstore at the beginning of every term (for students). You can also access a buy-one, get-one coupon here, which makes the buying and enjoying much cooler. Me? I like sweet cream with strawberries, whipped cream, and bits of pie crust mixed in. (Oakway Center)
  4. Even More Chains: We also have a couple of Ben & Jerry's locations in town -- one at 485 Coburg by Newman's Fish Market and one next to the gigantic Market of Choice at 29th and Willamette. I'm a fan of the second one, which offers a few tables outside at which to enjoy your ice cream. If you're really chain-hungry, check out the multiple Dairy Queens in our midst: Coburg has a pleasantly old-fashioned inside and almost always a line at the drive-thru (particularly right after high school events at Sheldon); 13th and Hilyard has the campus version. You can also (I'm told) still find a Baskin Robbins in the same building that houses the Fred Meyer on West 11th.
  5. Not Quite Ice Cream: If it's Frozen Yogurt you crave, there are two versions readily available in town: organic, local, actual yogurt at Vanilla Jill's [check out Kristen's review] on Coburg, or the FroYo I grew up with, an animal far removed from actual tanginess, at the TCBY on West 11th.
  6. Also Not Quite Ice Cream: Oh, gelato. It's now available in several places in Eugene:

    • Lago Blu Gelato. I've reviewed it before, I'll review it again, because I like an excuse to eat gelato. (Crescent Village)
    • Sweet Life Patisserie. They have a little, oft-neglected case of gelato at the very end which is usually hidden by the line of people waiting to get to the pie/cake/ordering stage. Don't go so fast! They have numerous tasty flavors available, and they're willing to make an affogato with any of them (do try the Dulce de Leche this way. It's amazing). (755 Monroe St.)
    • Market of Choice grand palace on Willamette. I know, you're thinking: really, a grocery store? But up by the bakery there's a small case of about 8-10 gelato flavors, and they're worth checking out -- because here you'll sometimes find the wildest gelato flavors available in Eugene (to my knowledge). I once sampled sweet corn gelato here. What did it taste like? CORN. Points for adventurousness. (67 W. 29th)
The list could go on. Many restaurants in town make their own ice creams or frozen dessert treats. I had some excellent beet ice cream at Nib once, for instance, and I believe Ratatouille nearly always features a non-dairy sorbet dessert option. McMenamin's North Bank has that delicious Terminator Stout Milkshake. Kristen swears by the soft-serve at Dickie Jo's. Etc. If it's ice cream, whole ice cream, and nothing but ice cream you want to celebrate with this weekend, though, I recommend the list above. And inviting me along! ;)

A tiny thank you

Thanks, everyone who's reading -- we've just become the most-read blog at Urbanspoon (by one view!). It's been fun recording thoughts on food and drink and Eugene here, and I'm looking forward to doing much more of it as the year winds on.

Until we next meet, then -- cheers!

Good Food Eugene Eugene restaurants

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Sweet Life: Not a review

This is not a review of Sweet Life. This is just a post of bragging, Eugene. This is an I-got-some-and-you-didn't post.

This is a post featuring a blurry picture of the dessert-of-the-month at Eugene's perennial favorite bakery. It's Sour Cherry Cheesecake, and it's made from sour cherries resting on a half-inch layer of pastry cream, under which there's cheesecake that is the perfect combination of light and heavy, sweet and sour, fattening and... no, ok, there's nothing good for you in this cheesecake, from its sugared topping to its buttered-crumb crust.

But you want it anyway, right? It's $4.25 a slice. Go with my blessing.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Cart Food on the Calendar: Thoughts on, and a Schedule of, Upcoming Oregon Fairs

One thing I love about Lane County and greater Oregon is that this place is serious about not only its fairs, but its fair food. Since today is the hot, hot, hot kick-off of Oregon Country Fair, I thought a little guide to Great Fair Food might be in order. But first, a few rules:

  • Try at least one new, strange thing. Oregon fair food is famous not just for its portability (meat on a stick!) but for its variety. So no matter which festival you try this summer, you'll have your choice of traditional and wacky. Someone's going to have tea made from dragonfruit or a basket of Thai street snacks or a French almond pastry that you haven't heard of before. Try it.
  • Make your sample your meal. Most festivals require a certain amount of stamina and hydration; if you spend all of your fair-going money on wacky things and only end up liking half of them, you'll be broke, hungry, and thirsty long before your friends who stuck to funnel cake and basket-o'-chicken.
  • Understand that the fair circuit in Oregon is exactly that -- a circuit. The vendors you'll see at Country Fair are quite likely to reappear in a few weeks at the Lane County Fair or at Saturday Market. So:
  • Treat the fair, any fair, like a one-time only chance to eat as much random fried crap as possible. The occasion will come again, and again, and again. You'll enjoy it more if you aren't in the hospital for cardiac bypass the next day.
So having said all of that, what's worth trying? Here are my favorites of the "regulars," but I'm sure others have suggestions (and I'd be glad to hear them):
  • Maty's Peruvian. I used to wait impatiently for the UO Street Fair to bring Maty's, and their tasty plantain chips and vegeterian tamals, back to me every year. Now, though, I don't have to; they show up at most major fairs (saw them at Art and the Vineyard last weekend and at Country Fair last year). They also seem to be experimenting with participating in the small alternative Saturday Market held in Crescent Village. Very tasty.
  • Dana's Cheesecake Bakery. Available at Saturday Market, Holiday Market, and Country Fair, this place sells cheesecakes that make Sweet Life disappear from my mind. They also have decent coffee, on the rare days that an outdoor fair is a little too cold for the average summer fair-goer.
  • Springfield Creamery. They have dairy and non-dairy treats. Anything they serve that involves fruit is going to be delightful, sweet, sour, wonderful, cold, creamy... mm. Springfield creamery is better known as the home of Nancy's Yogurts and treats, but at Oregon Country Fair, at least, they let their frozen delights come out to play. Worth a try.
  • Cafe 26. Another OCF-only booth, I believe, this one is the only booth I've ever seen that serves an entire steamed artichoke. (I once watched C eat most of this, ah, treat. It's best with mayo, I think, or butter, or at least assistance).
  • Suzy Q's Kettle Korn. If you're looking for a treat to take home, give Suzy about $5 for a medium bag and you'll have just enough sweet, crunchy popcorn to get you through until the next fair... unless you share.
    chipper swirl.jpg
  • Tippaleipa Funnel Cake. Well, Tippaleipa and I have only just met, but we're already fast friends. You may think all funnel cakes are created equal -- and, ok, I'm with you. The feature that makes Tippaleipa stand out is that it's funnel cakes and more, and the and more includes something called a "Chipper Swirl." It's a gigantic paper cone filled to the brim with potatoes that have been shaved, in curls, and then deep-fried. You can get them flavored or not -- I tried the garlic-parm version, and while it was tasty, the potatoes themselves were the stars of the show and they didn't need the addition.
  • Finally: Thai food. Or a burger. Or, oh yes, French Fries. Many Eugene restaurants (Three Forks comes to mind) find their way onto the fairgrounds -- and there's no good reason not to enjoy their wares. Just because you could get Coconut Curry any day of the week doesn't mean it's not more fun to eat it from a paper basket while you're walking around staring at shirtless hippies. It really does add something.
So those are a few of my favorites. I'll be adding more, I'm sure, as summer wears on. Here's a little schedule of events:
July 9-11: Oregon Country Fair (Veneta)
July 15-18: Bohemia Mining Days in Cottage Grove.
July 16-18: Springfield Summerfest, celebrating 125 years of Springfield. Admission: $5.
July 16-18: Corvallis Da Vinci Days.
July 16-18: Coburg Golden Days
July 24: Bite of Eugene. Alton Baker Park
July 30-August 1: Oregon Jamboree in Sweet Home
August 12-15: Junction City Scandinavian Festival
August 18-22: Lane County Fair at the fairgrounds in Eugene
August 27-September 6: Oregon State Fair in Salem
August 27-29: Eugene Celebration
I won't make it to all of them (or probably even half of them), but if you go, let us know what food stole the show!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Open Thread: What reviews would you like?

All right, Eugene campers and eaters. Consider this an open-thread in which we, your hungry and somewhat adventurous Good Food Eugene bloggers, would like to solicit suggestions on the following:

  • Where should we try that we haven't tried already?
  • Where should we go again, that we got wrong the first time?
  • Are there any little features you'd like us to add? For instance: certain categories of food we should include, or some kind of special round-up?

  • Drop us a comment here, OR send us a happy e-mail at goodfoodeugene AT gmail.com.

    You can also, now, follow us and our happy little updates on Twitter: @goodfoodeugene.

    Wheee. Onward, summer.

    Not your father's 1950s: Dickie Jo's Burgers

    When Dickie Jo's first opened, I was excited to try it -- it combined two of my favorite things: diner food and the West brothers, whose Mucho Gusto was a staple of my summer diet. So I trundled on over, with two meat-eating friends in tow, to have a sample of the place.

    It was pretty much exactly what I'd expected: another brightly decorated little place that offered a clear view of the grill and emphasized freshness. The burgers are made from Painted Hills all-natural beef and can be upgraded from "regular" (bun, cheese, lettuce, tomato) to "slightly more interesting" with toppings like pepper jack or blue cheese, caramelized onions, meaty chili, and the special Dickie Jo's sauce -- which is, I think, some mix of ketchup and mayonnaise. The fries can become garlic fries or chili-cheese fries or plain onion rings. There's strawberry lemonade right next to the regular sodas and tea, and the ice cream shakes and sundaes are made with a rich soft-serve vanilla that adds a real-cream flavor to all of their treats.

    That's all very good! I was pleased with my first visit.

    A year and a half later, though, I seem to be about the only one I know who feels decidedly neutral about Dickie Jo's. They have burgers and fries and shakes, free-refill sodas, comfortable (if often full) booths, and the same sprightly, aggressively colorful atmosphere that the other West establishments have, but they lack in one regard: price. Though the atmosphere is designed for casual, quick dining, to get a Garden Burger ($5.99 base plus $1 extra for no meat) with cheese ($.50 extra), fries, and a drink ($1.99), I drop $10. For food that comes in a small paper basket, that's hard to swallow. (Hint: you can drop the fries from your burger combo and save $1.99, bringing your burger down to $3).

    So -- what's the deal, here? The deal is there's a mismatch between the Dickie Jo's of my imagination -- the one that's conjured by their "Lucky 1952" advertisements -- and the Dickie Jo's that exists in Eugene. This is not a standard 50's diner; it's the diner that will remind you of your childhood while also allowing you, now that you're a grown up, to eat sustainably whenever possible. To make that dream come true, you have to pay for it -- and that's exactly what Dickie Jo's requires. The bill is high because the ingredients aren't exactly traditional. "Shoestring-cut Russet potatoes fried in Trans Fat Free Rice Bran Oil and Seasoned with Mediterranean Sea Salt?" Not at my hometown diner.

    The result of all of this is food that tastes... well, pretty much exactly like it would if it was made with $1 burger patties instead of $2. That's the trouble. You pay a premium not for better taste, but for reassurance.

    I like Dickie Jo's, but I still experience a bit of cognitive dissonance when I walk in -- and when I see my bill. It's still a nice stop in the summer, because -- again, unlike the 50s diners of the real era -- this place has air conditioning.

    Location: 13th and Pearl and soon at Valley River Center, next to Mucho Gusto

    Hours: 11 a.m. to 9ish, or later, depending on crowds.

    Dickie Jo's Burgers on Urbanspoon

    Tuesday, July 6, 2010

    We Go Wrong at La Bufa Taqueria

    I hate giving bad reviews. I hate even being lackluster, but that's part of this food review thing. I promised to try new things for you all, and when they don't work out, I should tell you.

    So, on a recent trip through downtown Eugene, I noted a restaurant I had never really made much mind to before. It was La Bufa Taqueria, and they boasted of their "tacos al vapor." They were also closed, so I made note to go back and try them for lunch as soon as was convenient. As it happened, that was pretty much the very next day. What can I say? I really love Mexican food.

    So G. opted for two of the pork tacos al vapor, and what came out appeared to be two pretty standard pork soft tacos. In fact, that's true. Neither of us could determine anything that might have made these tacos "steamed" in any way. They were passably good, if sort of dull and dry, tacos.

    I was hungry for avocado, so I picked something--the Mini-Tosti--that would get me some of the yummy green stuff. The lady behind the counter was nice enough to steer me toward the "mini" or otherwise this thing would have been WAY too large. I could barely finish the half-sized "mini," so the full-sized one might have killed me. The dish was basically nachos: chips, beans, lettuce, tomatoes, chunks of avocado, dried oregano, and (here's where it went REALLY wrong for me) a liberal dusting of that Kraft "parmesan" cheese that comes in a can. WHY?! It ruined what was otherwise a really tasty and affordable ($3.00!) lunch. I don't think this junk should even land on homemade spaghetti, let alone Mexican food. So disappointing, especially on a menu that includes queso fresca.

    I suspect perhaps we ordered wrong, so I am thinking we'll try again some day, but I do have one price quibble that has nothing to do with the quality of the food: $1.75 for a can of soda, in the absence of a soda fountain, is just EVIL.

    Moving On Up: McMenamin's High Street Brewery and Café

    There have been (and will continue to be) some long stretches of silence here, I think, because I am in the process of moving. No, not out of Eugene, but more into the northern heart of it. Like all moves, this one has involved not only a lot of chances to eat out -- my entire kitchen is in boxes, after all -- but also very few chances to write about the eating, since all of my Internet are belong to Comcast.

    Last Saturday, however, I had such a positive experience at McMenamin's High Street location that it cannot go without comment. Picture this: four hungry movers (myself and three guys) with widely varying tastes in food, all of whom are my responsibly to feed and keep happy (since they are the ones who safely delivered my washer and dryer to their new abode). Where could we go that everyone could agree on? And -- above that -- where could we go that would let us take advantage of the sunny, cool first weekend of July?

    We went to High Street. Summer is the season for High Street, after all. More than any other McM property in town, it benefits from the rain with what seems like at least a 100 percent increase in its seating options. The deck out back allows for seating in sun or shade, and although it was right at noon, the emptying out of Eugene for the holidays gave us a quiet lunch with quick service. Better than all of that, though, this is not the High Street of my last memory: no, finally, a full menu has come to High Street. No more cheesy (not in the food sense) French bread pizzas! Instead, all of the usual McM's dishes were there -- the burgers, the sandwiches, and for me, the High Pasta, with its tasty toasted hazlenuts on a plate of pasta drenched in oily pesto and cheese. Real food and unique specials at High Street? Surely you jest.

    No joke, though. The menu is in full force. We had tater tots to start, and they were as solid and crunchy and satisfyingly salty as always. It's a testament to the size of the platter and to the quality of the rest of the food that a few were left behind.

    I really enjoyed my pasta, even though it still seems a bit overpriced at nearly $10. Two of the guys had the same thing: a pulled pork sandwich going by the name of Newton's Third Law, which is a current/temporary special. It involved some equal and opposite collision between shredded pork and a barbecue sauce that had Hammerhead Ale in it; jalapeños, frizzled onions (still not sure what that means), and smoked mozzarella were also involved. It got raves from both eaters. Another mover went with the Terminator Sausage Sandwich, which was apparently not only nicely done but very well complimented by the McM's brand mustard, which features their Edgefield wine.

    I basically left the place reminded of all the reasons I like High Street -- convenient location, often less crowded than Eugene's other two branches, cozy but not ridiculously close together; great beer selection; good, quick, casual service -- while having my number one quibble (lackluster food choices) scratched out.

    The only criticism I came away with was the lack of milkshakes -- oh, my kingdom on that day for a Terminator-Chocolate number. Other than that, High Street, you have my vote for the summer. I'll be back soon -- perhaps to try out your happy hour.

    Location: 1243 High Street

    Hours: Monday - Saturday 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.; Sunday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
    High Street Brewery & Cafe on Urbanspoon