On the Epicurious Path

While most of the food-and-wine buzz outside our region leans heavily toward the wine side, a long list of creative local restaurateurs want you to know that people do eat here too. And when they do, they eat well.

Like a lot of the smaller Oregon regions outside major metropolitan areas, the best places to eat are often found off the beaten path, or in the least of expected areas. And the discovery is half the fun.

Sure, you can drive through the heart of Roseburg, our county’s largest city, and find dozens of fine eateries. But drift out into the smaller communities and some of the scenic backroads and you’ll happen upon a wide array of dining spots well worth the trip.

There are places like historic Tolly’s in charming Oakland, where you’ll be transported back in time while enjoying a delicious lunch, dinner or shake at the kind of old-fashioned soda fountain you just don’t see very often any more.

Or wander across the street to the Oakland Tavern for one of the area’s best sandwiches and a cold one.

If you’re on a winery tour, stop at Lighthouse Center Bakery and Café in Umpqua, about six miles west of Sutherlin. There you can either purchase delicious baked goods for your road trip or sit and enjoy a leisurely vegetarian lunch.

If you have a little extra time, and are up for an excursion up the beautiful North Umpqua River Scenic Byway, make plans for a special dinner at the legendary Steamboat Inn, about 40 minutes east of Roseburg. It is a feast for all the senses that you won’t soon forget, but it requires a reservation and they can be hard to get.

South of Roseburg in Canyonville, Ken’s Sidewalk Café is a great quick stop for casual food, including specialty burgers (buffalo and elk included), sandwiches, salads and healthy portions of Douglas County’s renowned Umpqua Ice Cream (“healthy portions” and “ice cream” might be mutually exclusive where you come from, but not in Umpqua Ice Cream’s hometown).

Great Mexican fare can be found throughout the county, including Sol de Sutherlin, Carlos Restaurante in Winston, El Paraiso in Canyonville and several spots in Roseburg, including Burrito Vaquero, just off I-5, Los Dos Amigos Fiesta and Mariachi Loco downtown.

Douglas County locals consider Hello Thai, on Main Street in Winston, and Bangkok West in Roseburg to be can’t-miss destinations for lovers of Thai food.

If you’re staying in Roseburg during your visit, the dining options are plentiful. A short stroll through the historic downtown area will expose you to a diverse collection of establishments to satisfy whatever mood you’re in.

You’ll find pub fare served in an eclectic converted train station at McMenamin’s, as well as the comfortable, equally historic setting of O’Toole’s Pub. There’s upscale/casual Northwest cuisine at Brix Grill/Chill and True, Latin fusion at Salud Restaurant and Brewery and authentic Greek at Alexander’s.

Dino’s offers fine Italian in a casual café atmosphere and if you’re in the mood for sushi, Suschi Ami is the place to go.

Elsewhere in the city, you can enjoy a journey back through time with a quick trip to Pete’s drive-in, where you’ll get a great burger and fries served up old-school style – straight to your car.

Or, if you’re the type who likes a burger with a chair and table, try the famous Frog Burger at Roseburg’s renowned Jersey Lilly or Rodeo Steakhouse where you can also get, as you might have guessed, one of the area’s best steaks.

There’s tasty American cuisine at Black and Bleu Bistro, great drive-thru barbeque at Smokin’ Friday (yes, that is a Hot Pork Sundae you see on the menu, and it’s awesome), fabulous pizza at Logger’s and delicious pub fare at Splitz Bar and Grill.

A quick trip to Yelp will give you a great taste of the flavor of the region’s food options, but your best bet may be to stop somewhere and talk to a local. The best food knowledge is always local food knowledge.

Brix

Misty Russell was 15 when one of the longtime servers at a local restaurant handed her a menu and the morsel of advice that inspired the youngster to pursue a career in the food service industry.

“She said, ‘Sink or swim’,” Misty remembers with a laugh. “If I asked a question, the staff actually refused to answer it.”

They don’t train people like that anymore, but maybe they should. Misty used all she never learned from her former co-workers to build one of Roseburg’s most popular destinations, the Brix restaurant, bar and event space in the city’s historic downtown.

Not that the trip from then to now was a walk in the park. Misty says she waited tables “just about everywhere” in Roseburg, including Brix for its former owner. Along the way, she developed plenty of ideas for how she would run her own restaurant. When Brix became available 10 years ago, she and her husband Mark took the plunge.

His plunge was off the high platform. Mark was a Roseburg cop at the time, but Brix quickly got so busy that he traded his badge for a chef’s jacket. Stop into Brix today, and you’ll almost certainly see him in the open kitchen on the restaurant side of the facility, called Brix Grill.

Misty, on the other hand, is liable to be anywhere, or everywhere, depending on your perspective. One minute she’s welcoming you and inviting you to sit anywhere, the next she’s bringing you drinks that you may not remember having had time to order (and if you are a regular, you probably didn’t…she keeps track of your preference).

Now she disappears into the conference space (Brix Gathers) to check on the Rotary meeting and within seconds she’s in the lounge (Brix Chill), making sure a server is preparing drinks for the couple that just seated themselves and may or may not have ordered them.

She has energy to spare and, given her typical 90-hour work week, needs it.

But it shows in the food she serves, the staff that helps you and the ambience and the lines that form most days at lunch (but last only seconds until Misty, somehow, miraculously finds another empty table).

Ask her how she and Mark created all this (besides following the sink-or-swim plan) and she’ll tell you her customers essentially did the heavy lifting. “They’ve really determined what this place would be,” she says. “I’ve always known my primary customer base pretty well and I’ve just tried to serve them food I think they’d enjoy but might not make very often at home.”

That doesn’t mean you can’t get a BLT at Brix. It just means that, if you’re in more of a chipotle and blackberry-encrusted ahi mood, that will be coming right up too.

That diversity of both menu and mood is a feature shared by many of the local restaurants. If you want a great burger, steak or seafood, chances are you can find it all on the same menu at several local restaurants.

Credit the customer again. Misty says she’s noticed customers have refined their tastes over the years, and local restaurateurs have responded to the challenge.

“Mediocre does not work in this industry anymore,” she says. “Customers’ expectations have changed a lot, and it is really heartening to see local restaurants raise the bar in response. A lot of first-time customers have said to me, ‘I didn’t think I could find food like this in Roseburg.’ I tell them they can eat at any of the restaurants downtown and find great food. I’m really proud of what’s happening down here.”

Local Color