Green. It’s not just the team color of the hometown university, it’s central to the culture and everyday life in Eugene, Oregon. In fact, the term “green friendly” takes on a deeper meaning in this city, nestled in the shadows of the Cascades, because the people are extremely friendly, and their practices are wonderfully green.
Consider my first stop at Lion and Owl. “If farms don’t have it on their list, we take it off the menu,” said owner and chef, Crystal Platt. At Lion and Owl, they source their ingredients straight from the nearby Willamette Valley, using vegetable scraps as much as possible to invent new items, and donating the rest to a local farm to feed the pigs; clearly, nothing goes to waste here. Including the site of their first foray into food service – an Airstream Trailer! What once served as their mobile kitchen and eatery is now permanently parked INSIDE of the restaurant and has been repurposed into a full-service bar.
Just when I thought that might be the most surprising part of this visit, chef Crystal served me their signature Buckwheat pancakes. One bite and I declared (with a mouthful), “those are some of the best pancakes I’ve ever had!” Nutty, decadent, and delicious! It’s no wonder Lion and Owl has earned a reputation in Eugene for being an elevated brunch restaurant – and you should eat your lion’s share of the pancakes when you’re there!
Earlier, I mentioned the ‘hometown’ university, but that might have been a misnomer. Typically, we associate the idea of ‘hometown’ with ‘small’ but there’s nothing small about the powerhouse, University of Oregon. As I made my way to my next stop, I rode through the campus, making sure to stop by the fraternity house made famous in the cult movie classic: Animal House. With every passing mile it’s easy to see why students are drawn to Eugene; it’s the perfect balance of quaint charm and stellar academics all rolled into one.
And if you’re going to open a restaurant here, catering to the city’s thousands of college students is a really smart idea. That’s just what chef Nathan Crummett does every day at local favorite, Agate Alley Bistro.
From the jerk chicken sandwich on locally made ciabatta to the thin-cut, light and airy onion rings (that I ate by the handful), Chef Nathan’s joy of cooking comes through in every bite. Knowing that he sources local ingredients from the Pacific Northwest and Columbia Valley and forages ingredients from local forests made every dish even better. It’s no wonder that you hear me say, “I could eat this every day,” – it really is that good.
Lest we forget, I am on my bike here, and this next stop caters to cyclists like no other. Just outside of Eugene, in Springfield, Oregon, I made my way to The Pedaler. As its name suggests, this eatery is all about bikes and boards and comes complete with a bike rack just inside the front door. Got a flat tire? You’re in the right place because The Pedaler even does basic maintenance and repairs in the back!
The bites at this cycling haven are equally as impressive, including the house-smoked turkey on the turkey club with avocado aioli that was worth unhinging my jaw to enjoy. And for those rides that really work up an appetite, just gather around a hearty serving of poutine, complete with French fries, white cheddar curds, gravy, and basil on top. It’s roughly a pound of food and you’re going to want every last crumb – trust me! In addition to The Pedaler’s focus on boards and bikes, they’re also passionate about the environment, doing their part with agave fiber straws and compostable to-go containers. They even repurpose their cooking oil for biodiesel – now that’s what I call an all-around great stop!
Next up, Italy! At least it felt like Italy. That’s because Beppe and Gianni’s Trattoria is the real deal. They make their pasta fresh, in house, daily; use freshly foraged morel mushrooms; and make their featured ravioli of the day using only fresh, in-season ingredients. But more than the food, it’s the feeling you get and that’s due, in large part, to the owner’s intentional focus on taking great care of their employees. “We were employees before we were bosses,” said chef and co-owner, John “Gianni” Barofsky, “so taking care of our employees is important – we treat them like family.” That feeling of family is also served up on every plate that comes out of the kitchen.
I’d swear someone’s old Italian grandmother must be overseeing things because the authentic Italian flavors are off-the-charts good! And that’s coming from a biased Jersey boy who knows good Italian food! Even so, this definitely ranks up there with the best of the best!
To me, Eugene felt young and alive, and you can tell the city has gone to great lengths to cultivate its vibrant sense of community. They’ve even turned the empty space beneath roadway underpasses into skate parks and basketball courts, which was definitely a first for me! Whether you’re riding the bike lanes along the Willamette River or cheering on the Oregon Ducks at a home game, you’re sure to become a raving fan of this place, its people, and its food – I sure did.