Restaurants, breweries and bakeries
It’s no secret that Oregon’s Mid-Willamette Valley is home to a thriving food-and-drink scene, thanks to its fertile fields and entrepreneurial spirit. As a result, the area is bursting with quirky eateries, intimate wineries and much more. From some of the finest beignets in Salem, Oregon, to farm-to-table dining in rural Amity, Oregon, you never know where you might stumble upon your next tasty bite or spirited sip. All of the following spots are well-worth a visit and guaranteed to get you off the beaten path.
Oregon’s capital city is home to some off-the-beaten-path craft brews. After wandering the globe, longtime friends and Marine Corps combat veterans James Cardwell, Alvin Klausen and Dean Howes turned their passion for great beer into Vagabond Brewing. You’ll find this spacious brew pub housed inside an unassuming industrial park. A robust stout with strong coffee notes, a full-bodied Pilsner and a classic, malty rye are all standouts. Go here to cheer on the Timbers or listen to live music.
In the farmlands east of Salem, there’s no better place to taste Oregon-grown fruits and berries than family-owned Willamette Valley Pie Company. This local producer offers its freshly-baked goodies at the retail shop, including classic cream or fruit pies along with pies by the slice. Great bets are marionberry, chocolate cream, caramel apple and raspberry peach. After grabbing your slice from the counter, head to the comfy seating area to enjoy. In the summer, you can take home fresh strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and marionberries.
A leader in Oregon’s cider revolution, Wandering Aengus Ciderworks and its sister brand, Anthem Cider, create a variety of sweet and dry fermentations in southeast Salem. Sample directly from the source at the taproom, located at the front of its production facility. Along with a dozen or so ciders, expect pints, flights and growler fills. For an American-style cider look for Bloom, a popular semi-sweet with notes of stone fruit and a bright, clean finish. For something more traditional, try the oaked dry cider. It’s made from a blend of locally-grown English and French bittersweet as well as heirloom apples, then aged in French oak for a toasty finish. The taproom is open on select days throughout the year.
It doesn’t get more under-the-radar than at Falls City, Oregon’s, cheery artisan bakery-café The Bread Board. Here you’ll find pizza and European-style breads, all baked onsite in a large wood-fired oven. For a lighter nosh, get the cheese plate, which includes a very generous helping of whipped goat cheese served alongside slices of house-made breads and antipasto. Or try a decadent cinnamon roll the size of a paver stone. The real showstoppers here are the dinner pizzas, wood-fired with a blistered crust. Flavors include staples like margherita and pepperoni as well as rotating options such as potato with smoked gouda. Look for monthly farm-to-table dinners. Open Friday and Saturday for lunch and dinner, with periodic closures for vacation and winter holidays.
For an intimate wine tasting experience that showcases grapes from the east Willamette Valley’s Cascade foothills, head to the award-winning Pudding River Wine Cellars. Originally a poultry farm, this 12-acre property now grows three acres of Pinot Noir, planted in the early 2000s. The cooler, cloudier and rainier climes allow owner and winemaker Sean Allen to craft Pinot Noirs that distinguish themselves from other areas of the valley. You can taste it in the estate Pinot Noir’s earthy, black cherry notes and refreshing acidity, or in the reserve Pinot Noir’s heavier, smoky toast and plum and long finish. For something lighter, try the Pinot Noir Rosé, also made from estate fruit, with strong strawberry and melon flavors. Another delight is the elegant, buttery-smooth reserve Chardonnay.
Home to exposed brick walls and whimsical décor, The Blue Goat proves that you don’t need to be in the big city to enjoy top-notch dining experiences. In the rural hamlet of Amity, Blue Goat’s Chef de Cuisine Thomas Ghinazzi works with a handful of local farms to create hyper-fresh menus that rotate weekly. Options include both small and main dishes, such as fried gnocchi with Bolognese and wood-fired trout with morel mushrooms. In the heart of the restaurant is a massive cob oven, where many ingredients are cooked. Also find house-made craft cocktails, bitters and shrubs as well as monthly chef’s table supper events. There’s even a kids menu to nourish young palates.
On the grounds of an 147-acre working farm, Ewing Young Distillery crafts four spirits, all perfect for sipping: a smooth potato vodka; a well-rounded bourbon with notes of caramel and pepper; a clean rye with hints of rosemary; and a complex single malt with cinnamon and oak. Enjoy a four-spirit flight, served in genuine Scottish whiskey glasses or your libation of choice in one of the distillery’s specialty cocktails, such as the signature Newburg Mule. The gravesite of Ewing Young – a prominent figure in 19th century Oregon – is marked by a heritage oak tree about 125 yards from the distillery. Plan to make a day of it and call ahead for a farm tour. Along with horses, pigs and goats, families will find coloring supplies on hand. Don’t forget your boots!
Last but not least, occupying a two-story Victorian house just off the main street in Independence, Oregon, cute-as-a-button Pink House Café and its friendly staff dish out pure comfort five days a week. Notable choices include the curried chicken salad, Korean-style short ribs, corn chowder and the house-made apple strudel. Portions are hearty, so be sure to bring your appetite. Want a birds-eye view of the town? Wind your way up the wooden spiral staircase and snag a table upstairs.