Approximately two hours south of Portland and three hours north of the California border lies Eugene, OR. Known as “Track Town, USA” for its University of Oregon track-and-field history, the birthplace of Nike, and its many trails both in and out of city limits, Eugene is also the spiritual home of countercultural icon Ken Kesey, author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Sometimes a Great Notion. And then there is the vegan food. With a population of fewer than 200,000, Eugene’s abundance of vegan eateries and options make the city a joy to visit, and even better is the chance to work it all off on the trails or the walkable city streets.
Where to Dine
Morning Glory Café is the oldest vegetarian restaurant in Eugene and is open daily for breakfast and lunch. Breakfast includes vegan scrambles and omelets made with crispy shredded potato shells; for lunch you might try a black-bean burger, Cajun tempeh, or sesame stir fry. Save room for pastries, all of which are vegan and include scones, muffins, cakes, cupcakes, chocolate banana bread, cookies, and vegan ice-cream sandwiches. You also won’t want to miss Cornbread Café, an all-vegan diner open morning to night Monday through Saturday, and for breakfast on Sundays. Enjoy vegan comfort food such as biscuits and gravy, Southern-fried tofu, “mac uncheese,” grits, and garlic Texas toast. However, the Eugenewich is a classic: a Southern-fried tofu patty with Daiya cheddar, carrot bacon, haystack onions, lettuce, tomato, and smoky sauce on a grilled bun served with fries. Also delicious are the “phish phillets,” either as a sandwich with fries or as a platter with your choice of sides such as coleslaw or mashed potatoes with gravy. For Sunday breakfast, try the “Sammy I Ammy” sandwich and the “Eggfu Benedict,” as both are delectable vegan renditions of these popular breakfasts. Fresh desserts include pie, cake, cupcakes, and moon pies.
What to Do
If you’ve just finished a meal at Morning Glory, stop in across the street at the Smith Family Bookstore, one of Eugene’s oldest independent book retailers, with two stories of new and used books, as well as greeting cards and other literary gems. The University of Oregon is also worth a visit for a stroll through its verdant, red-brick campus. U of O’s Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art has a small but impressive collection that includes an abundance of Asian and European art, as well as special exhibits and masterworks on loan. From the University of Oregon, you can also access Alton Baker Park, which is 420 acres along the north bank of the Willamette River with urban gardens, a dog park, and trails that lead into the woods and along the river. If you’re feeling social, you’ll find festivals and sporting events throughout the year, and for a bit of solitude, the eastern side is the protected Wilamut Natural Area.
As a college town, it’s no surprise that Eugene has an abundance of bars and clubs, and to add a bit of culture to your nightlife, check out a concert at the Hult Center for the Performing Arts or see a play at the Oregon Contemporary Theatre. Downtown is where you’ll find Sizzle Pie, a pizzeria at Willamette and Broadway with wonderful (and eclectically named) offerings of vegan pizzas and salads (try the “Spiral Tap”). And, across the street, in Ken Kesey Square, is the vegetarian and vegan B Heavenly food truck.
If you’re in Eugene during a weekend, don’t miss the lively Saturday Market, which is open from 10am to 5pm every Saturday through November 11 at 8th Avenue and Oak Street. The market features local artisans and musicians, an abundance of fresh produce, and food stalls with cuisine from around the world.
For a glimpse of Eugene’s alternative culture, wander through the Whitaker district, known as the Whit, where you can sample the latest from Ninkasi Brewery (one of many amazing Eugene-based breweries) and catch a band at Sam Bond’s Garage, a Whitaker institution.
Treats Around Town
Bambi & Roxy’s Nice Cream, a vegan ice cream truck, is named after two bovines who live at Free Spirits Farm, a Eugene animal sanctuary and educational center. The truck is often on the go and was most recently seen at 8th Avenue and Oak Street (check the website for current locations). Vegan soft serve includes cups and cones of chocolate, vanilla, and chocolate-vanilla twist; also available is hand-scooped ice cream in flavors such as chocolate marshmallow and caramel snickerdoodle twist.
Voodoo Doughnut, which has food carts in Portland, Austin, and Denver, has a permanent location in downtown Eugene. Expect a line out the door, but the vegan doughnut offerings (such as Vegan Oreo and PB & J) will be worth the wait. If you’re looking for food to go or picnic items, Eugene has a new Whole Foods Market, and the popular local Kiva Grocery—a Eugene institution for more than 40 years—has an abundance of vegan foods and takeout options.
Photo courtesy of Cornbread Cafe