diner

Cornbread Café: Vegan Comfort Food with a Retro Twist

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— Anne Bucher, EDN

When I heard about the grand opening of the Cornbread Cafe, a restaurant that focuses on vegan comfort and soul food, I was intrigued. As an open-minded omnivore who was born and raised in meat-loving Texas, my curiosity of vegan food inspired me to visit the Cornbread Cafe for my first experience with a meatless meal.

As I entered the retro style diner, I immediately noticed the vivid, fun colors of the walls which thoroughly complemented the teal colored booths lined along the windows.The black and white checkered tile floor and stainless steel appliances tied together an old-fashioned diner feel that, I had a feeling, would reflect their cooking style. Slightly overwhelmed by their rather expansive menu, the build-your-own option quickly put me at ease.

I ordered the Chicken Fried Tempeh with country gravy, which was fried to perfection, mashed potatoes, Uncle Todd’s Greens, which was a tasty blend of spinach, Earth Balance Natural Spread, Agave nectar, soy sauce and lemon juice, and a surprisingly delicious slice of gluten-free jalapeno cornbread. Everything was scrumptious and full of flavor, and my first experience of a no meat and dairy meal prompted me to sit down with the owners, Sheree Walters and Kristy Hammond, to find out more about their notable operation.

Walters had worked in the restaurant industry for many years, and she dreamed of creating her own restaurant that would focus on delicious and creative vegan food. In 2009, she posted an ad on Craigslist seeking a vegan entrepreneur, and Hammond was the only one to respond. Drawn to soul food because of its history with community involvement and bringing people together, Hammond yearned to open a restaurant that would cater to everybody, regardless of their dietary concerns. When Walters and Hammond met, they discussed their ideas and both had similar visions of what they wanted, so the idea of  an inviting vegan restaurant, The Cornbread Cafe, was born.

Moral support can make all the difference.

Not wanting to take the financial risk of opening a brick and mortar restaurant, Walters and Hammond instead decided on opening a small food cart. The Cornbread Cafe Food Cart quickly gained popularity with its unique and delicious vegan food, and their loyal customers consistently urged them to open a full service restaurant. By the summer of 2011, Walters and Hammond decided it was time to expand their business, and together with the tireless efforts of friends and fans, the Deb’s Diner location at 7th and Polk was transformed into a nostalgic 1950’s style diner, The Cornbread Cafe. After being open only a few months in their new location, the Cornbread Cafe was voted as one of the top restaurants in Eugene.

Clearly impressed by their take on meatless deliciousness, I soon returned to try the popular Eugenewich, which is modeled after a fast-food bacon cheeseburger. This sandwich is stacked high with a southern fried tofu patty, melted Daiya cheddar, deep fried carrot slices, hand-breaded onion ring, shredded lettuce, tomato, and complemented with a delicious smoky sauce. Again, this meat eating gal was loving the Cornbread Cafe’s comfort food. So, on my third visit, I ordered the Phish Sticks and Crinkle Fries. Although the Phish Sticks were not made with real fish, the flavors brought back memories of one of my childhood favorites, and the crinkly fries were a nice touch that completed the down home diner feel.

With a clear goal in mind, Cornbread Café’s mission is to provide a consistent, comforting, and quality dining experience. Somehow they manage to provide excellent customer service while remaining a fun, affordable, sustainable, community oriented restaurant that serves awesome vegan comfort food. Walters and Hammond make everyone feel at home, even the omnivores like me, and as I continue to become acquainted with the vegan foods that intrigue me, I plan to spend a little more time at the Cornbread Cafe.

Cornbread Cafe
1290 West Seventh (and Polk)
Eugene, 97402
www.cornbreadcafe.com

Finding the Burger Joint – Fin’s Drive-In

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— Scott Zeppa, EDN

Greetings, Eugene! I’m the Fast Food Junkie, and I’m not sorry! So last week I began my quest to find the great American burger joint, and got off to a great start at Giant Burger.  I have a high degree of confidence that I will be having many savory experiences with tasty ground beef while on this quest. The only thing that might make it better is if The Daily had the budget to expense my lunches. This week I’m headed back to Springfield to experience Fin’s Drive-In.

Fin’s Drive-In, located at 4090 Main St., is just up the road from Giant Burger. The exterior screams Americana right from the approach, as one is met by the back end of a Cadillac on the exterior wall. The bold, finned sign on the roof speaks to the spirit of this place, exactly the kind I set out in search of. I was excited and hopeful as I went in the door.

That red, white and blue spirit is also manifested in the interior: a great semi-circular counter plus ample booths regaled with classic American flair. But this place has earned it, starting out as an A&W counter in the ’50s, with the pictures and certificates on the wall to prove it.  Unfortunately, no one in the establishment at the time knew any of the details regarding the historical wall hangings. But this place is clearly a genuine classic. It is a true drive-in, with car hop service all year round. There’s even an old-school jukebox in the corner, but unfortunately no platters inside as the working guts are now digital. The lighting was warm, but not overly bright, and the place was well kept and clean.

Upon my entry, I was immediately greeted by my excellent (and lone) server, Shelly, and I seated myself at an open counter stool. There were four other parties totaling 11 patrons when I arrived. The mix was essentially a senior crowd and a family of six. However, while I was there, a party of three of Springfield’s pierced, tatted and dreadlocked hipsters came in and enjoyed a nice lunch as well. I arrived a little later in the lunch rush, about 1:45 pm, and I strongly recommend this strategy when one wants a sit down lunch while also desiring to expedite time. Almost coincidentally with my presence on the stool, Shelly provided me with a glass of water and acknowledgement. Always friendly and courteous, she was prompt in returning to ask if I was ready to order, and informing me of the special.

Perfectly enough, Tuesday’s special is the Fin’s Classic Burger Combo for $7.00. The combo is a 1/4 lb. burger, fries and a 16 oz. drink. Standard toppings are lettuce, tomato, pickles, onions and special sauce. Mustard and ketchup are brought to the table in old-school squeeze bottles, which I prefer. The special sauce is Thousand Island dressing or something close to it. There are the typical four cheese options: american, cheddar, pepperjack and swiss. I added cheddar for 35 cents, dropped the tomato and filled it all out with a Dr. Pepper. Solid!

Fin’s offers seven specialty burgers and a wide variety of other fare. They have a selection of seven soups, seven sandwiches, a soup of the day and homemade chili. They also offer other classic American fare like hot dogs, grilled cheese and chicken strips. They provide a full breakfast menu until 11:30 am, a full dinner menu from 4 – 9 pm, both with kids meal selections. There’s even a soda fountain serving old fashioned floats and milkshakes in 20 flavors, not to mention sundaes, soft serve ice cream, home made cookies, brownies and pies. Those with a sweet tooth will be tempted. Me? I was there for the burger, baby!

I had my beverage within seconds of my order, and food in seven minutes. Excellent! It was a classic basket. The burger was fantastic, 1/4 lb. patty, big bun style. It was thoroughly cooked but still juicy, and had a great flavor. The toppings were balanced well in quantity and worked well together. I was worried about the special sauce because this application can often be overdone. Some places think their sauce is a little too special, if you know what I mean (and I think you do). But Fin’s got it right, beautifully balanced. The bun was soft, yet held up until the last, lovely bite. The fries were crinkle cut style, and had good potato flavor. They were light and crispy, yet still starchy enough on the inside. No grease to speak of, either.  You like the O-rings instead of fries? No problem, but it is a little extra.

Great ambiance, service and food, all coming in at under $7.50 (before tip). That’s a great value in my book, and I look forward to enjoying Fin’s Drive-In again. I’m really fascinated to learn more about the history of the place, as well as throw down another Fin’s Classic. By the way, if you’re reading this Shelly, I wasn’t trying to give you a history quiz I promise lol!

And don’t you worry, Eugene!  I’m coming to check out one of your joints next, and see if it lives up to the hype. Until then, in the immortal words of a dear friend of mine, “Eat is good!”