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  • Indulge Staff

Dining nirvana

McMinnville was a lousy town for dining. That’s what I thought when I moved to the area about 20 years ago. With only a couple totally ordinary sit-down restaurants which unenthusiastically offered soporific cafeteria food, there wasn’t much choice for an adventurous palate.

Heck, there wasn’t a lot of choice for those with timid tastes, either. Sure, a couple bright spots caught my attention — a quirky downtown café with a creative menu and a small-yet-nationally-known Italian joint — but, by and large, the town’s most interesting food originated from the tiny kitchens of local bars and taverns. When family visited from out of state, we didn’t celebrate with big dinners at local restaurants; we drove to Portland where our dining choices were both more expansive and of a significantly higher grade.

That’s all changed now.

As wine visionaries trickled into the Yamhill Valley in the 1970s, their intrepid palates probably weren’t satisfied by the meager selection of local restaurants. Then, in the 1990s, now-well-known wineries established roots in the area. Maybe it was the critical mass of these newer transplants combined with their customers, or perhaps it was just the local populace coming of culinary age, but the lack of good restaurants was suddenly glaring — until entrepreneurial-minded foodies began taking action.

Always gracious hosts, winemakers required catering options which simply weren’t available as they staged events at their vineyards and wineries, facilities deserving of something more than supermarket deli platters. The importance of decent cuisine became crucial, considering these occasions were often celebrations of excellent wine. In any case, the stakes were raised, demanding previously nonexistent local culinary choices. In 1993, McMinnville’s first craft brewery opened, complete with dinner house and bar. Its facility and menu have expanded and matured in the ensuing two decades; today, it’s one of the valley’s most popular eating spots and a great place to host friends and family. Other food and beverage endeavors followed, and the Yamhill Valley began to be known for more than pretty scenery and country wine tours.

Enough new and longtime hamburger joints now call the area home — both the gourmet and classic secret-sauce types — leading Indulge Magazine to hold a burger bracket competition the last two years running. In addition to being a lot of fun, the contest to find the valley’s best burger is highly competitive and hard-fought, evidenced by the quality of entries.

The national movement to source nearby food has been a boon for local quality, too, as restaurateurs started paying closer attention to exactly what they were serving. Overall, the entire shop local movement has prompted consumers to ponder their buying choices — when they don’t actually buy local, at least they’re thinking about it first. This consideration has focused a lot of local attention on the quality of meats and produce grown right here, ingredients critical to good hospitality. As luck would have it, this area has been producing some of the nation’s best meats and vegetables for a lot longer than it’s been crafting world-class wines.

The latest entrants to the Yamhill Valley culinary scene might be hotels. When the historic Hotel Oregon re-opened to much fanfare in 1999, it set the stage for a renaissance in local lodging. Since the term “hospitality” encompasses far more than a borrowed bed, sights are being set on expanding the valley’s lodging capabilities, too, to match the area’s now-famous food scene.

Whatever the reasons you visit the Yamhill Valley, you’ll find a service infrastructure ready to host you. If you’re visiting the valley with four-star standards, you won’t be disappointed. But if you’re touring the area on a youth hostel budget, you’ll find equal delight. From sprawling sit-down restaurants with family-friendly menus to hole-in-the-wall artisan eateries for more intimate dining, you’ll discover world-class food and beverage service right here in today’s Yamhill Valley.

So McMinnville was a lousy town for dining — that was true 20 years ago.

These days, it’s teeming with culinary offerings you’d be hard-pressed to find in most Oregon towns three times its size. With little effort and minimal driving, you’ll encounter dozens of outstanding eateries along with watering holes to slake every thirst. Like my out-of-state relatives, I’m pretty sure you’ll be impressed with the local culinary scene. After all, it’s a big part of why I continue to call this area home. I know that, no matter what happens elsewhere, I’ll go to bed content and well-fed right here at home in the Yamhill Valley.

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