Food-Lover’s Trip Through the Willamette Valley

December 10, 2019

Less than an hour outside Portland, vineyard-covered hilltops begin to rise in the distance, as tree-lined neighborhoods make way for expansive farm vistas. Here in the Willamette Valley, the prize is world-class wine — paired, of course, with outstanding food — and it’s all made with local ingredients just a hilltop away. If you want to get a full sense of the valley in all of its bounty, a day trip just won’t do. Here’s how to experience the best the Willamette Valley culinary scene has to offer on a three-day road trip.

Let an adorable pup guide you on a truffle-hunting adventure in the winter season. (Photo by: Kathryn Elsesser)

Day 1: Truffle hunting, cheese and gardens around Salem

Start your trip 45 miles south of Portland in the state’s capital with a “plate o’ love” at Word of Mouth Bistro, a converted house serving classic American breakfasts. You’ll need the hearty meal — a slice of creme brulee vanilla custard French toast, choice of hash and two eggs — to stay energized for a mini Oregon truffle hunt with Lisa Brosnan and her adorable Italian truffle dogs at Prestige Wine Tours. Similar to their European cousins, Oregon truffles offer an intoxicating, earthy aroma and luxury when shaved over almost anything, but for one-tenth of what Italian or French truffles cost. 

Guests should expect to layer up (tours are only available December to April by reservation) and explore Douglas fir forests with a pack of Lagotti Romognoli pups, which are bred to seek out the ripest truffles in the area. After the hunt, guests can (for an additional cost) head to a nearby winery tasting room for a food and wine pairing prepared with their truffles. Next, sample one of the area’s preeminent cheese producers at Willamette Valley Cheese Company, part of the Oregon Cheese Trail (yes, it’s a thing). 

Gourmet provisions in hand, head 25 minutes east to Silverton to explore the Oregon Garden, an 80-acre botanical garden showcasing the diversity of the Willamette Valley and Pacific Northwest. Guests (and their pups!) can stay at the Oregon Garden Resort. Beginning the day after Thanksgiving and running through New Years Day, the garden transforms into a festival of lights with Christmas in the Garden. Enjoy ice skating, snowless tubing, a vendor market and more in a forest of a million lights. Dine afterward at The Garden View Restaurant and cuddle up next to the fireplace at the resort’s Fireside Lounge.

Castor Kitchen & Bar in Corvallis is one of many fine restaurants that focus on local, seasonal farm-fresh ingredients.

Day 2: Rustic brunch, beer tasting and a secluded farm stay near Corvallis

The breadth of options expands as you trek deeper into the Willamette Valley. Kick off the day with rich, shirred (or baked) eggs paired with housemade bread and other baked goodies at Sam’s Station in Corvallis. If you visit on a weekend morning, make the 15-minute drive to nearby Philomath for a leisurely breakfast at beloved Gathering Together Farm (open spring and summer), where visitors can walk in the nearby garden and pick up veggies at the farmstand after brunch. Year-round, The Dizzy Hen in Philomath is a cheery spot for a fresh, rustic spin on breakfast and lunch favorites: think pork ragu and grits with a fried egg.

If you’re visiting April through November, you can head back into town to stroll through the Corvallis-Albany Farmers Market to pick up a jar of local honey from Old Blue Raw Honey, whose Coastal Range-hives produce beautiful, region-specific honey. Then sit down to lunch at Castor Kitchen & Bar, the Southern-inspired Pacific Northwest restaurant in downtown Corvallis serving seasonal dishes like mushroom toast and a squash-studded fall chickpea bowl. 

Spend the rest of the day flitting across the vineyards and farmland, making sure to stop at the award-winning cideries, distilleries and breweries in the area, including 2 Towns Ciderhouse, 4 Spirits Distillery, Block 15 Brewing Company and Vivacity Spirits, where coffee lovers will definitely want to take home a bottle of the Turkish coffee liqueur. And of course, don’t forget to appoint a designated driver to safely ferry your group between spots.

End the night with dinner at Albany’s elegant Sybaris Bistro, an upscale restaurant serving innovative dishes using each season’s finest ingredients, like the cassoulet with duck breast, bacon-wrapped quail legs, pheasant-black garlic sausage and Tarbais beans. You’ll want a quiet place like Leaping Lamb Farm, a secluded farm stay in Alsea, 24 miles southwest of Corvallis, to rest up before the last day of adventuring. You can take part in farm life by harvesting your own eggs and helping to feed the animals, though that’s not required for an overnight stay. 

Silvan Ridge Winery in Eugene is one of hundreds of friendly tasting rooms throughout the valley. (Photo by: Melanie Griffin / Eugene, Cascades & Coast)

Day 3: Gourmet provisions, wine picnicking and dinner in Eugene

Continue 58 miles southeast for brunch at the whimsical Lion & Owl in Eugene, whose global-inspired, fancy-meets-eclectic menu offers something for everyone, whether your mornings lean towards a full Irish breakfast with all the fixings or veggie-forward, seasonal salads. 

Now that you won’t be shopping on an empty stomach, head to Provisions Market Hall, the glitzy specialty market selling everything from charcuterie, cheese and wine to curated cookbooks, pantry goods and grab-n-go snacks. It’s the perfect stop to pick up a beautiful spread to take out to a nearby tasting spot like Silvan Ridge Winery to enjoy with a glass of wine.

There are more than a dozen wineries within minutes of Eugene, including the picturesque Iris Vineyards, the expansive Sweet Cheeks Winery & Vineyard and the downright opulent King Estate Winery. Or for an easy tour, head to the Prairie Mountain Wineries, a collection of five wineries within a 10-mile radius.

Take the scenic route home, cruising along the farm-lined River Road until you get to the Groundwork Organics Farm Stand (open spring and summer) in Junction City. End your three-day whirlwind with dinner at Marche Restaurant, the longstanding French-inspired Pacific Northwest bistro for one last taste of the Willamette Valley.

 


If You Go:

The bountiful Willamette Valley is home to hundreds of wineries, restaurants, lodging options and adventures. Find a restaurant or convenient lodging for your trip, and see the self-guided South Willamette Valley Food Trail for more inspiration. Many businesses in this area operate on seasonal schedules, so make sure to call ahead for hours and availability. Also check with tasting rooms to see if they have any live music, special dinners or other events scheduled. 

Consider making a car-free trip to the Willamette Valley to skip the hassle of driving, or book one of many guided wine tours for easy transportation and excellent insider info. If you do drive, make sure to appoint a designated driver and check weather and road conditions before you go.

About The
Author

Samantha Bakall
Samantha Bakall is a freelance journalist and photographer specializing in diversity-based food issues. She currently calls Portland home. A Chinese-American native of Chicago, Bakall has been obsessively eating, writing and making people wait while she takes pictures of their food since she was a teenager. Her work has appeared in The Oregonian, where she was the food and dining writer for more than four years; The Takeout; The San Francisco Chronicle; and others.

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