It’s been a while since we’ve caught up with Justin Wills, chef/co-owner of the award-winning Restaurant Beck in Depoe Bay.
The two-time James Beard Award semifinalist for Best Chef Northwest has brought his progressive cooking techniques and passion for foraging and sourcing local ingredients to a second restaurant, Sorella, in the Nye Beach district of Newport.
Wills and his wife, Stormee, opened Sorella in 2015, after the birth of their daughter (Sorella means “sister” in Italian). They named Restaurant Beck after their son, Becker, who was six months old when they opened it in 2009.
The idea of opening a second restaurant on the Central Coast, 10 miles away from the first, was “to have something at a much lower price point than Beck, geared toward families, yet a place where they can get handmade quality food,” Wills says.
Whereas Beck is a fine dining spot ideal for couples and romantic getaways, Sorella is meant for families, with handmade Italian fare — everything from breads, mozzarella and nine different pastas to hand-packed pints of ice cream and gelato to go.
There’s a kids’ menu and a small kids’ play area, inspired by Hopworks in Portland, yet there’s still a grownup vibe, with cocktails using their own handmade bitters, limoncello and infusions.
A growing number of chefs on the Oregon Coast share the same handmade, locally sourced ethos as Wills, who was born in Iowa but has lived and worked everywhere from New York City to Texas to California to Denver.
He landed on Central Coast from Denver in 2006, after living in Portland for a couple of years, and has never looked back. “I said ‘I want to get back to Oregon, but live on the Coast.’ The communities are growing. Everything is progressing and modernizing a little bit. The few towns on Central Coast have same feel — very relaxed, quaint. It’s really good for families.”
Here are a few of Wills’ tips for exploring his part of Oregon.
Start your day:
When it comes to breakfast, Wills is a big fan of a simple eggs benedict, “nothing too crazy,” and a bloody mary. His go-to spot for homey, organic fare is Arr Place in Newport.
With two kids and two jobs (he also coaches’ his kids’ soccer team, while Stormee coaches basketball), Wills says they don’t get to eat out a lot. But “if we do get a night away, we always go to Clearwater Restaurant (in Newport). I love pasta. I’m allergic to shellfish, but I appreciate a good steak — a simple protein and a good sauce.”
“The Whale Cove Inn (directly above Restaurant Beck) is really unique; the view is unmatched anywhere else on the Coast.” It’s common to see baby whales playing in the cove while their mothers look for food.
Meet the maker:
Wills’ livelihood relies on his local producers. “We use Gathering Together Farm out of Philomath (an hour inland). They’re here twice a week, bringing celery root, parsley root, lots of kale — anything and everything. At Beck, we don’t need 20 pounds of anything. On the property we can get western bittercress and other things that grow on the coast, like huckleberries and salal berries. If you know where to go, it’s out there.”