Before I get to the sweet treats of Valentine’s Day, let’s consider its savory side. As in gooey mounds of cheese, golden caramelized onions, and smokey bacon, cloaked in creamy custard. That’s right, quiche. Or, in honor of today’s theme, a Sweetheart Tart. Who wouldn’t want chocolate AND a “quiche” on a day set aside for romance.
I usually try to limit my use of the word “awesome”, but when I think of Agate Alley Bistro, the word simply and continuously comes to mind. Agate Alley Bistro is really awesome.
I love it when I’m heading somewhere specific with a plan in mind, then suddenly and unexpectedly I end up somewhere else with a serendipitous surprise of ‘awesome’ food, wine, and service…
Last week, I had plans with a friend to meet up at our usual appetizer and brew hang out, McMenamin’s East 19th Street Café; however, plans changed while I was trying to parallel park my big truck into a tight spot along the curb of East 19th. A small crowd of people enjoying the bit of warmth and sunshine on the front patio of Agate Alley Bistro eyed me as I nervously maneuvered my truck back and forth. Fortunately, one of the warmth worshipers headed my way and waved me into the space with ease, kind enough to spare me the embarrassment of looking like a total goof with a serious lack of expertise when parking a big rig in a small spot. I thanked him for his help, and before I could head across the street, he asked if I had ever been to Agate Alley Bistro. I hadn’t, and he said, “You really need to try some of Agate Alley’s awesome food and drinks.” With that said, I convinced my friend we should try something new, and we headed through the gated entrance to Agate Alley Bistro.
There were more warmth goers sitting on the side patio next to the restaurant entrance, imbibing and having a good time. Once we were inside, I immediately noticed the unique lighting and funky décor. Hanging over the hostess stand was a large 70’s era stained glass lantern style light, and to the left, a huge cluster of green glass grapes lit the hallway to the two bathroom doors that were not gender specific: one door read “either” the other door read “or”. The waiting area had a 60’s carousel style pseudo fireplace that created a homey feeling, while the hanging Moroccan style lanterns and table lanterns created a dim and inviting ambiance.
We decided to make our way into the bar to have a look at the drink and lunch menus. Their appetizer, entrée, wine, beer and cocktail menu all had choices that were as unique as the lighting and décor. Some of the many appetizer choices included Grilled Artichoke, Smothered and Covered Fries, Pumpkin Enchilada’s, and Spanish Mussels. The not-so-typical salad choices included Spinach and Poached Pear, Ahi Nicoise, and an olive oil Roasted Beet Salad with tossed greens, Oregon goat cheese, candied walnuts and champagne white truffle vinaigrette. Their sandwiches looked equally delicious with choices like Le Meatloaf Gourmet, Oregon B.L.T., and The Greatest American Gyro. With such great choices, we made our way to a bistro table in the center of the room and continued to scan the menu. The appealing and diverse pizza choices baited us into a frenzy of indecision, and we knew we’d need to try at least one of them. Some of the enticing choices for a 10 inch thin crust are:
- The Olympus- A Greek mountain of artichoke hearts, Kalamata olives, red onions, sun-dried tomato relish & goat cheese over fresh tomato sauce topped with a blend of six cheeses
- Fig Prosciutto- Brandied figs, prosciutto, gorgonzola & olive oil, baked and topped with a fresh balsamic-dressed arugula.
- Thai Chicken- Marinated chicken, mushrooms, peanuts, green onions and mozzarella cheese with a spicy peanut sauce, garnished with fresh cilantro.
- Wild Mushroom Mushrooms, caramelized onions, garlic, with fresh rosemary and thyme over a garlic cream sauce. Topped with a blend of six cheeses.
In an idyllic world, we would have ordered one slice from each pie, to share. But knowing that we would want to be welcomed back to this funky little bistro we had just discovered, we instead glanced over the excellent selection of wines by the glass. Mainly from the Pacific Northwest with some California, French and Portuguese wines, I ordered a glass of the local Opine Cellars Syrah. Opine Cellars is located in Eugene, and winemaker John Jarboe focuses on making small lot Rhone varietals from grapes grown at Chukar Ridge Vineyard in Washington. The climate in Washington is perfect for growing Syrah, Viognier, and Rhone style red blends. My Syrah was filled with blackberry, cinnamon, prunes and sweet spice flavors all followed by the expected peppery finish of a good Syrah. My friend ordered the Two Birds & A Sheep Willamette Valley Pinot Gris which had strong aromas of ripe pears, and the taste was peachy with a hint of lychee which produced a light, crisp, and well balanced wine.
We were thrilled with our wine choices, so we decided to start off with the too tempting ‘Covered and Smothered Fries’-delectable skinny fries lightly seasoned with pepper and sea salt, covered in a rich demi glaze and then smothered with fresh mozzarella. We also decided to settle on one of the pizzas to share: The Wild Mushroom Pizza. While we dove into the rich, creamy, and delicious fries, I noticed more unique lighting that hung over the bar: green label-less wine bottles, with dimly lit bulbs inside added a touch of creativity to the ambiance. We looked around the room at other interesting décor items; for instance, two white chairs in the shape of large hands, aglow from red lights within, sat in the corner of the room; in fact, the whole bar was loaded with interesting conversation pieces, and we had a lot of fun talking about each of the unconventional and off-beat ornamentations.
Feeling like we needed a little greenery after polishing off the heaping mound of deliciously sinful fries, we ordered the olive oil Roasted Beet Salad and the Spinach & Port-Poached Pear salad with house-cured pancetta, red onions, toasted almonds, blue cheese, and a tangy carrot vinaigrette. Both of these salads exploded with delicious and unique flavor combinations that paired harmoniously with one another, including pairing perfectly with our wine selections.
When the Wild Mushroom Pizza arrived, I knew after my first bite that I had just tasted the most awesome pizza of all time. The garlic cream sauce, in place of a traditional red sauce, was an unforeseen blissful match with the wild mushrooms, caramelized onions and fresh rosemary and thyme. The blend of six cheeses did not overpower the savory and meaty flavors of the mushrooms, and the rosemary and thyme brought all the flavors together to create a pizza that was out-of-this-world delicious; especially, with the Opine Cellars Chukar Ridge Syrah that I was happily sipping with every bite of pizza. It was awesome. To top off the extraordinary meal we had just devoured, we decided to skip dessert and try their house made Agate Alley Sangria, and even their Sangria burst with unique flavors of fruit soaked in port wine, cloves, cinnamon and all-spice. This, too, was awesome.
So, the next time I head down E. 19th Street, I’ll be eyeing any big openings somewhere near the awesome Agate Alley Bistro. I already know I’m going to order the Pumpkin Enchilada’s, Fig Prosciutto Pizza, and a bottle of Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir from their extensive and impressive bottle list. For dessert, the Marionberry Mint Margarita will be what fills my glass.
Thanks to the guy who helped me get my truck into that spot without a hitch, he was right on when he suggested I try Agate Alley Bistro’s awesome food and drinks. The food, drinks, service, and unique décor are all part of what makes Agate Alley awesome and places like Agate Alley are truly what makes Eugene a great place to live and enjoy life. Cheers!
Agate Alley Bistro
1461 East 19th
Weekly events include: Fondue Mondays, Taco Tuesdays, Econopint Wednesdays, Drink Wheel Thursdays, and House Party Saturdays.
Julia – Writing About Eugene’s Wine (& awesome food) Scene