Friday, March 13, 2009

Salem Sojourn

There are those obligatory trips you take. Family takes up most of the category, with weddings, anniversaries and, of course, funerals.

Though not as momentous as those, this trip was back to Salem where Dave had a long work weekend. So I booked a room at the Phoenix Grand Hotel where we'd stayed before, located downtown with decent rates and nice rooms. And since Dave had the car, I thought I'd book a rental for the drive down, but when I found out it would run $160-180 bucks for the hour trip from Portland, I quickly got creative.

Fortunately, since I had my fill of Greyhound in college, a company called HUT Airport Shuttle offers regular service from PDX to Corvallis several times a day, and was only $35 for the trip to Salem. The buses are clean but not huge, with courteous drivers. Perfect!

Plus it got me down there just in time for an early dinner with his co-workers E&M, who met us at a new place not too far from the capitol. Called Word of Mouth Neighborhood Bistro, it's owned by Steve and Becky Mucha, who opened it in mid-December. Everything is made from scratch, and bread is sourced from Cascade Baking Co. (a great place for coffee and pastries downtown, btw) with produce coming from farms in the area as much as possible.

Located in a sweet little bungalow just off busy State Street, it has the bustling charm of a hip mom-and-pop operation, which is exactly what it is. The menu is chock-full of comfort, from burgers (above left) and steaks to ribs and reubens, made just the way you remember them without any fancy frippery to get in the way.

I was on my own the next morning and wandered out in the drizzle for a late breakfast to La Capitale, a newly opened brasserie that had been recommended by Luan and Tim from Foster & Dobbs as a good spot for a bite. Obviously still working on perfecting its French accent, the cappucino was a milky mess, but the Pain Perdue (top photo), brioche French toast with maple syrup and a poached pear compote, needed only a little more soaking in sweet custard to be a version worthy of some Gallic finger-licking.

The drizzly afternoon was made a little sunnier by a trip to The Ram, a hangout for Salem lobbyists and Willamette University students for decades, a tav that makes a decent brew with bar snacks and burgers.

Which left me wondering: With the legislature now going to annual sessions and a beautiful physical setting on the banks of the Willamette, will Salem finally step up and become a desirable destination, as well as a more interesting place for the folks who live there?

Details: Word of Mouth Neighborhood Bistro, 140 17th St. NE, Salem; phone 503-930-4285. Cascade Baking Co., 229 State St., Salem; phone 503-589-0491. La Capitale Brasserie, 508 State St., Salem; phone 503-585-1975. The Ram, 515 12th St., Salem; phone 503-363-1905.


Giovanna said...

That would be great...every few years we take a trip down, figuring we'll find a good place to grab a sandwich, or even a cup of coffee. So far we haven't found it.

Last trip, we ended up at Nordstroms thinking we'd go to their cafe. There we were told only the downtown store had a cafe--they meant the downtown Portland store...

La Capitale looks like the place I've been hoping to find there--maybe it's time to visit again?

Kathleen Bauer said...

For coffee, you might also try the Beanery. Sincere if not superb, it's a local place and much preferable to Starb's (which has not one but two places right across the street, a situation I've yet to fathom).

Report back on La Capitale! Inquiring minds want to know...