In the Willamette Valley, we’re lucky to be surrounded by fertile soils — a place where practically anything grows (thanks, ice-age continental flooding; in your face, state of Montana). Taking this into account, it only fits that cuisine in the area takes advantage of our plentiful harvests. Visiting any of these restaurants comes with a side of carbon-reduction and a splash of communal solidarity.
Nearly Normals: 109 NW 15th St
You’ll see myself here on any given Nasty Tuesday, powering through a Nasty Burrito for $6, with black beans and a splash of vegetarian flare. In fact, everything offered at Nearly Normals is vegetarian, since its start back in 1979. Gonzo cuisine, a term coined by Nearlys, means that they use fresh, local foods and organic options when possible. Peep their famous Sunburgers, both at the restaurant and via other retailers and restaurants, such as the First Alternative Co-Op.
Les Caves: 308 SW 3rd St
This place has a knack for decadence, with a dressed-up, European farmhouse feel to pair precisely with their farm-fresh meals. Depending on the season, cuisine rotates to accommodate whatever was freshly harvested. Head Chef Dana Lundin sources from local and regional farms and cultivars, including New Morning Bakery and Alsea Acres Creamery. Here’s a tip: let their Caramelized Butternut Squash soup warm your bones this October. A bit more upscale, prices start in the mid-teens for entrée dinner items.
Gathering Together Farms: 25159 Grange Hall Rd, Philomath
This specialized eatery creates meals farm-to-fork style, with produce from Gathering Together. Good eats don’t have to stop after the meal either; patrons can secure bundles of chard, potatoes, and other items in the Farmstand shop. The menu changes a little bit every week, but one can find their usual offerings on their website. They offer a range of prices, from small plates under $10 to fancier fare in the $20 range.
Bellhop: 150 SW Madison Ave
Bellhop falls into line by changing their menu based on what’s locally and seasonally available, sourcing from farms like Rainshine and Gathering Together. They’ve also got a kid’s menu, so the kiddos don’t have to miss out on good, local eats. Self-branded as “seasonal comfort food,” Bellhop offers to-go fried chicken buckets with sweet cream biscuits for $25, Monday-Thursday.
Laughing Planet: 127 N 2nd St
More of a chain, and based in Portland, Laughing Planet takes local sourcing very seriously, and caters to those looking for something fast and healthy that may or may not follow more strict diet regulations. They’ve got vegetarian options, paleo options, gluten-friendly foods, and yes, even something for you tomato haters. Flavors and recipes are inspired using fresh, whole fruits and vegetables and you’ll find most options available for under $10. See what’s seasonal, or stick to a classic like the PB&J smoothie. Vegan cheese substitutions are free and I hear that they have Salem-grown marionberries this Fall.
Eats & Treats: 1644 Main St, Philomath
A relaxed atmosphere greets customers as soon as they pull off of Philomath Blvd, as they are bombarded with tangy, sweet meat aromas. This gluten-free eatery (inspired by an entire family’s gluten intolerance) is also linked to Big River Grains, where they contract with Willamette Valley grain producers to produce local grain that is as gluten-free as it is tasty. This BBQ joint is extra special, so prepare to pay a little extra for gluten-free goodness. And they have cake!
Purple Moon: 320 SE Chapman Pl
Organic coffee and beverages, oh my! And by “oh my,” I mean they’ve got a drive-thru! Purple Moon blends all fruit smoothies with fruits and berries scavenged from the area, if allowed. They freshly squeeze and combine juices to order, and will make anything vegan at no extra charge. If you feel like you need an extra-potent Earthly boost, I would challenge you to try one of their wheatgrass shots on your way to seize the day. Coffee prices range from fair to average, and you can save an extra quarter by bringing your own cup.
First Alternative Natural Foods Co-op: Various Locations
Hands down the best place to venture to in search of locally-grown, quality whole foods and grocery items, as well as made to order or ready to go meals from their hot bar, salad bar, soup bar, and sandwich shop. Everything is clearly marked so customers know when their dollar goes in support of local food and agriculture.
By Cheyanne Simon