Around this time, on and off for the past several years, Eugene Weekly has asked readers and community members to say what they dream of for Eugene. (Truthfully, we actually ask about Springfield and Lane County, too, but let’s face it, “I dream of Eugene” kind of rhymes.)
This year, we decided to focus on the little things that we already love about this town. Here are our staff picks as well as some thoughts from community members. Dream on. — Camilla Mortensen
Best Chinese restaurant in a gas station (and the coffee box is good too)
I suspect only Creswellians or hungry people pulling off the freeway have had the chance to experience China Wok near I-5 in Creswell. Full disclosure: I used to live just outside Creswell and last time I was in to pick up dinner they remembered my own order better than I did, gently pointing out that I didn’t want ma po tofu, which also contains pork, but kung pao tofu, which is vegetarian.
The first time a friend took me there for dinner, I was a little surprised that we were heading into a restaurant that had very clearly been a gas station in its recent past. But the tofu dishes made me very happy. A quick scan of online food reviews show I’m not the only one who goes, “Umm, was this a gas station?” Followed by, “Hey, wait, this is good!” Personal favorite Yelp and Google review comments include, “Although located in an old gas station, China Wok will not let you down” and “Surprisingly good food. Sketch place. Great for take out!!! It’s an old gas station.”
Chinese food aficionados might label China Wok as “Chinese-American food” and, indeed, if you read the Huff Po’s food blog on “Who Was General Tso and Why Are We Eating His Chicken?” you will learn that General Tso’s chicken is a dish that was created in the 1950s by the Hunanese chef Peng Chang-kuei and altered to suit American taste buds. The vegetarian version of General Tso’s from Creswell suits my tofu-oriented Danish-American taste buds just right, especially on a night where I’m tired and the only thing that sounds good is curling up on the sofa and eating hot food I didn’t cook myself. And if I do need to wake up, Hot Shots Coffee, located in the kiosk between what used to be the gas station pumps in the China Wok parking lot, is good, inexpensive and always has treats and compliments for my rambunctious canines.
China Wok is at 375 E. Oregon Avenue, Creswell; 541-895-9788. — Camilla Mortensen
Writing about food is like dancing about architecture, and words fall especially short when discussing Chef Tiffany Norton, head chef at Party Downtown (64 W. 8th Alley, Eugene; 541-345-8228). A culinary master of flavors that are at once exotic and familiar, down-homey and out-of-this-world, Norton has elevated her craft to a level of sophistication that is truly rare. “Texture balance and flavor balance,” she says when asked about her primary focus when creating new dishes. “Just trying to find the balance between sugar, acid, salt, the whole shebang. Depth. I like creating new things or trying new things,” she adds. Norton, who co-owns Party Downtown with her husband Mark Kosmicki (also a chef), describes her style of cuisine as Northwestern through a Southern perspective, though influences from around the world gather in her dishes, which routinely feature food sourced from the bountiful farms of Willamette Valley. And yet, no amount of fancy language does justice to the exquisite joy of a meal at Party Downtown — having eaten and written about food from Seattle to Eugene, I can say without bombast that not only is Norton the best chef in Eugene, she’s one of the best in the broader Northwest, and perhaps even the entire West Coast. She’s a treasure. — Rick Levin
Best Dairy-Free Cupcake
Cupcakes are the perfect dessert. They’re the ideal size and you don’t have to share them with anyone because, let’s face it, cutting one in half is a padded pain in the ass. So for everyone who loves wonderful, individual sized mini-cakes, but who also lacks the ability to digest milk, we recommend you try the variety of egg- and/or dairy-free cupcakes at Sweet Life (755 Monroe Street, Eugene; 541-683-5676). There’s a reason Sweet Life wins in our Best of Eugene voters’ poll year after year. Personally, I love the strawberry lemonade dairy-free cupcake with buttercream frosting, and the icing is sparkly — yay glitter! Seriously though, cupcakes make people happy, so these are perfect for your lactose intolerant/vegan friends. — Corinne Boyer
Best Holiday Help: Whiteaker Thanksgiving Dinner
As a recent arrival to Eugene, I continue to be in awe by what Eugene, Springfield and the Willamette Valley have to offer. Eugene has all the culture, entertainment and culinary diversity of a big city while maintaining the ease, warmth and charm of a small town. No matter where I want to shop, dine, or relax, I am a mere three to four miles from my destination.
I came to Eugene to lead one of the many diamonds in the area, Lane Community College. Lane has the academic resolve to prepare students for transfer or a dynamic career and to offer wrap-around supports for the area’s neediest students. To my delight, I found that LCC was embedded in a community of caring, philanthropic neighbors who truly care about Lane students and their city.
This New Jersey transplant fell in love with my new state when I visited the Oregon Coast the first time and saw the whales playing and the sea lions sunning themselves, and again when I heard a world class symphony at the Hult Center. It was love at first sight when I watched the sun set over the vineyards at King Estate Winery.
But I knew I was home when I saw for myself the hundreds of volunteers, including faculty, students and staff at LCC, giving their precious time off to humbly cook and serve those in need at the Whiteaker Thanksgiving Dinner. I could not be more proud to call Eugene home and to be the president of Lane Community College. Wishing everyone reading this a blessed holiday season. — Margaret A. Hamilton, president, Lane Community College
Best Local Film Competition
Taking part in Eugene Film Society’s annual 72-Hour Horror Film competition is one of the most exhilarating experiences you can have — heady and frenzied and completely thrilling, like being shot out of a cannon for three days straight. The rules are simple: Handed nothing but a single prop and a line of dialogue, participants — first-time filmmakers and veterans alike, doesn’t matter — are given exactly 72 hours to script, cast, rehearse, shoot and edit a three-minute horror film, which is screened and judged, both by a jury of media professionals and the public at large. In an era of mindless mainstream crap and endless Hollywood reboots, it’s a blast to see what regional movie buffs come up with when pushed to the limits of endurance as guerilla filmmakers. The winner of the Audience Award, of course, receives a cash prize of $666. More info at eugenefilmsociety.com. — Rick Levin
Best All-Ages DIY Space That Closed Down This Year
Both the popularity and the quality of Eugene’s local music scene comes and goes over time, but regardless of the number of local artists we have, or how good they are, nothing matters without a place to play. Back in June of this year we lost a staple in Eugene’s all-ages DIY community — The Boreal.
As someone who grew up as a part of the music scene here in town, as both a participant and an attendee, and who only recently became old enough to go to bars for live music, I’ve witnessed how much spaces like The Boreal mean to people. Inevitably, this loss of all-ages venues is cyclical — a burning candle just waiting to be snuffed out, or to slowly funnel all the way down the wick. Take the closing of Springfield’s all-ages DIY space, The Gathering Place, around 2012, for example, or the teetering off of show-booking at Petersen Barn around the same time, or house venues that meander in and out of the scene to serve as shelters for shows until they’re shut down by one too many noise complaints.
Among the all-ages, community-formed music spaces I’ve been a part of in Eugene, The Boreal was the first that seemed solid and seemed hopeful. It served as a space for local bands and national and international touring acts to come together. It was a mainstay for various hardcore and alt acts, but it also welcomed all kinds of genres, as well as serving as an art space, a place for movie nights and a small record and zine shop. If history repeats itself, one can only hope that another all-ages venue will rise out of the ashes soon — something even better than The Boreal. But, for now, let’s pour one out for another fallen friend. — Meerah Powell
Best Comments at City Council Meetings: Raging Grannies
My “best” of this year is the Raging Grannies. This group of indomitable, tuneful, passionate, cheerful and funny women appears almost monthly before the Eugene City Council. They use their three minutes in the public forum to inspire us to action dressed in homemade costumes to sing familiar tunes with customized lyrics to meet the issue of the day. They have urged us to ban coal trains, reduce our impact on climate change and divest from US Bank. They represent the best to me of working hard for a better world while enjoying friendship, song and silliness. — Lucy Vinis, Eugene mayor
Best New Novelist
Returning to Eugene from a writer’s retreat in 2012, Jeff Geiger’s car died in the backwater of Washington’s Key Peninsula, the kind of middle-of-nowhere bummer that leaves most of us kicking the bumper in frustration. Little did Geiger realize, however, that breaking down would provide the breakthrough for his debut novel, Wildman, the story of a 17-year-old high school valedictorian whose ’93 Buick goes kaput, stranding him for a transformative week at a motel and roadhouse in rural Washington. Recently released by Disney Hyperion, Wildman is a classic coming-of-age story, but it reads with all the breakneck speed of a thriller, even if the suspense is of a distinctly existential and romantic flavor. As an earlier EW review put it, “the novel is propulsive in a way that is un-put-downable, and its naturalism and immediacy hide depths of feeling that surge just below the surface.” If Ken Kesey put Eugene on the literary map, Geiger’s debut might just burnish that reputation for a new century. — Rick Levin
Best Childcare: Seven Stars ChildCare
The search for quality childcare can reduce a parent to tears. Availability. Pricing. And the introductory visit is murder on the nerves: How old are these wall hangings? Is this person wholly sane? Too sane? What’s that strange smell? Seven Stars, by contrast, causes visitors to feel as if they’ve stepped through a wormhole into a benevolent parallel reality where all children receive the care they deserve. The providers, Deb and Christopher Michaels, work with monastic devotion, rotating books and toys, sparking imaginative play, making it new. They keep their Halloween lights on until December, and their Christmas lights glowing through spring because it makes people happy. In pick-up and drop-off conversations, they have inspired parents to start food drives, write letters, participate in diversity trainings, attend protests and join civic committees. Children romp, dance, and say Daddy, how was your day? over playroom tunes ranging from Norah Jones to Elle King. In their capable hands, my kids have somehow overcome their paternal genetics to become reasonable, loving people. Seven Stars and the Michaels are among Eugene’s most remarkable treasures — the best of the best. — Jeff Geiger, author
Best Place for People Under the Drinking Age to Have Fun
With bowling alley and pool hall Southtowne Lanes burned down and the closure of the all-ages music venue The Boreal (as mentioned in another staff pick), what’s left for those under the age of 21 to do in Eugene? The answer: Not much. As someone who grew up in South Eugene, I’m biased towards activities in my childhood part of town. Sure, there are other bowling alleys — but there was something so specifically joyful about getting some fries and a shake at Southtowne — and as for The Boreal, there’s just no comparable all-ages, DIY, community-run venue in town at the moment.
What’s the one thing in the Eugene-Springfield area that holds up for people of all ages, you ask? Skateworld. Skateworld will always be an institution of fun in the area — it’s where I had my twelfth birthday, but also where I went a couple months ago with friends. Whether you’re a master at speed skating backwards or you can barely step onto the rink, Skateworld is fun for everyone. Also, it’s a great excuse to gorge on hot dogs, nachos and an ICEE frozen treat. Admission, plus the price of renting skates, is always under $10 (not counting special events like all-night skates). So, really, there’s no reason not to go. Re-live your childhood, or just add a little fun to adulthood. — Meerah Powell
Best local classical music recording
You may have missed the show itself last spring when Eugene Ballet staged its $300,000 production of The Snow Queen, an original full-length ballet based on the Hans Christian Andersen tale that inspired Disney’s Frozen. Whether you made it to the Hult Center that weekend or not, you can still enjoy the original music, which was composed by Portland’s Kenji Bunch and performed by Eugene’s OrchestraNext under the baton of Brian McWhorter. Bunch’s complete Snow Queen score — contemporary but still lush, romantic and very listenable — is available on a two-CD set, including photos from last year’s recording session with McWhorter and OrchestraNext at the University of Oregon School of Music and Dance. Get it at Amazon, iTunes and elsewhere; $14.99. — Bob Keefer
Best Pipe Organ
If you, as so many of us did, grew up thinking “organ” and “Hammond B-3” were synonymous, think again. Nothing sounds like a real pipe organ, particularly one played in the cavernous acoustic space of an actual church. In an age that craves authenticity like an addictive drug, the ornate pipe organ that Eugene’s John Brombaugh built in 1976 for Central Lutheran Church (1857 Potter Street) is as real as it gets. Designed and crafted using centuries-old techniques, Brombaugh’s Opus 19 is entirely mechanical and can be played without electricity if you enlist a choirboy or girl to tread the bellows. Its sound, you might say, is heavenly, especially when Central’s organist and choir director ElRay Stewart-Cook is at the keyboard. You don’t need to be religious to attend, though you just might find God in the music. — Bob Keefer
Best chocolate on your lips
I’m a big fan of lip balm. If you are old enough to remember the rumors that you could get addicted to Carmex because it contains ground glass (it doesn’t), then I’d be one of the people they’d be pointing to, saying, “See her? Clearly addicted.” My lip balm tastes have become refined since my Carmex days and my current not-so-guilty pleasure is As You Like It Organics Peppermint Pattie Body Butter. It actually tastes like chocolate and peppermint and when you lick your lips in delight, they stay soft and buttery. If you are familiar with As You Like It, then you know it’s a product line from Eugene-based As You Like It: The Pleasure Shop (1655 W. 11th Avenue #1; 541-606-0553). So, despite the lip-balm shaped tube, it’s actually, as the name makes clear, a body butter; As You Like It suggests you use it to “enhance intimacy” and as “a playful, non-verbal, communication tool. Show your sweetie where you want to be kissed, or licked, or nibbled, and let them show you!”
As You Like It proprietor Kim Marks says, she “wanted to create a certified organic intimacy line that increased pleasure, communication and playfulness.”
I’m not so sure about getting playful with my lip balm, but hey, you do what you want to do with your chocolate flavored personal items!
Marks is a longtime grassroots organizer who has worked with the likes of Greenpeace, Earth First! Civil Liberties Defense Center and more, so caring about the environment is part and parcel of what she does. “What you put on and in your body matters both to the heath of your body but also the planet,” she says. “Everything we put on us ends up in our waterways.” — Camilla Mortensen
Best Running Trail
What can be more convenient than rolling out of bed into your running gear and crossing the street to hop on your favorite trail? If you ask a runner, the answer would probably be: nothing. The best running trail is the Rexius Trail along West Amazon Drive, because it’s close to some of our houses and it’s better maintained than the trail on East Amazon. It’s our favorite primarily because of its convenience, but also because when we pass those Olympic runners along the trail, it secretly motivates us to step up our training or just to run faster for a couple of minutes. If you can’t stand those annoying bark chips, we feel you — we hate how they get stuck in our socks and stab us in the ankles. We’re just grateful that we live in a place where we have our choice of running on softer surfaces. — Corinne Boyer
Lane County sits squarely in the Cascadia bioregion. Bioregionalism is a concept favored by some enviros that delineates geographic regions through their land or soil composition, flora and fauna, watershed and climate. The Cascadia bioregion in particular encompasses the Columbia River watershed up to the Continental Divide and the Cascades from Canada down to northern California.
And thanks to Alexandre Baretich, the Cascadia bioregion has a flag. Baretich says he designed the flag during the academic year of 1994-95 while a grad student in Eastern Europe, homesick for the Willamette Valley where he grew up. Known as the Doug Flag for the lone Douglas fir tree in its midst, the flag has a bar of blue at the top to represent the sky as well as the Pacific Ocean, Salish Sea and inland waters. The white middle bar is the snow and clouds, and the green is forests and fields of the Pacific Northwest.
The flag grew out of Baretich’s need for an icon — the word meme wasn’t getting used yet — to help shift people’s consciousness from a human-centered approach to the environment, which leads to development harming nature, to a life-centered approach in which humans are part of nature. “It’s a landscape painting on fabric,” he says, “an abstract landscape painting with a realistic silhouette.”
The flag, which Baretich put into the creative commons for free use, has taken off. It can be seen flying at Portland Timbers soccer games and, weirdly enough, can be purchased as a sticker from Walmart. Baretich put two key restrictions on its use: It cannot be used for hate or for exploitation. For more on Cascadia and the flag, go to freecascadia.org. — Camilla Mortensen
Best Eugene drive that shows off Oregon in a weekend
Drive out to John Day, camp in the Cascades, drive to the coast.
When rainy season hits Oregon, I lose all possibility of getting my mainly Florida-based family to come for a visit. Why hang out in dreary Oregon when they can lure me to the Sunshine State’s sandy beaches? But I have found one road and hiking trip that does the trick, although it is best to do it when it’s not dumping rain. My usual prescription is to start early and load up on road snacks, grab the dogs and whatever family member or friend I’m trying to persuade to see me more often, and then head out Highway 126.
First stops are Sahalie and Koosah falls and Tamolitch Pool. The first offers spectacular falls with zero effort beyond getting out of the car; the second is a generally easy hike with a spectacular blue pool as its highlight (Blue Pool is also a commonly used name for Tamolitch). For the hotel-oriented, you can grab a room in Bend or Sisters, but I usually camp somewhere just over the Cascades. My friends and relations not used to the great outdoors prefer that I take them to a spot with a potty, such as Indian Ford Campground, just outside Sisters.
Grab breakfast in Sisters, then head out Route 26 for the two-hour drive to the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument where the glorious colors of the Painted Hills Unit never fail to induce awe. Since I’m trying to pack everything into a weekend, after hanging out a couple hours, I drag my visitors back into the car and head back to the Cascades. In the summer when Hwy. 242 is open, we take the scenic route back. At Lava Lake campground you can do a couple-hour loop hike that takes you out to, and a short ways down, the Pacific Crest Trail (a bucket list hike for my parents). You can either camp at Lava Lake or head back onto Hwy. 126 and stop in at Belknap Hot Springs for a hot soak in their pools and either a super-easy camp spot or a hotel room (they have dog-friendly rooms).
Get up in the morning, and start driving. (Did I mention this is a road trip? The truly fit and intrepid could probably bike it.) Take 126 back into Eugene-Springfield, stop for lunch downtown, and then head out through the Coast Range to Oregon’s colder than Florida but oh so glorious sandy, mountainous coast. There you can stay the night at one of the many campgrounds or hotels, or drive back into Eugene for dinner in the Whit.
The vistas that Oregon has to offer are amazing, but somehow the juxtaposition of the dry eastside, the green mountains and the grey and often stormy coast all in one weekend heightens all of the beauty. My parents still only visit about once a year, but this weekend of outdoor beauty got at least one Florida friend to move to the Pacific Northwest. — Camilla Mortensen