The Better Living Room Meal Kit by Ninkasi

2020 Best of Eugene Staff Picks 

Best Art World Hangout 

Perugino 767 Willamette, No. 102. 541-687-9102.

OK, maybe it’s not the Café du Dôme in Paris in the 1920s, or even New York’s Algonquin Round Table, but Perugino has long been the informal hub of Eugene’s fine arts world. On any given morning — at least in the pre-pandemic world — you could sit and sip your medium latte at one of the small tables inside and reliably bump into dancers from the ballet, perhaps a visiting opera singer if Eugene Opera was working on a show, or any number of arts world board members and power players holding meetings in the back while unknown young writers coaxed novels out of their laptops in the front.

Evenings before Eugene Symphony concerts you could enjoy a Greek salad with a glass of wine, surrounded by other concert-goers as well as by the occasional violin-toting musician studying her score.

The cafe is no longer open for dinner, there being very few evening performances in town, but you can still sit inside at widely separated tables. Even under the yoke of social distancing, you can sip your cappuccino at a table outside on the sidewalk and bump into plenty of artsy people, as the whole arts world still saunters past on Willamette. 

Cultural networking not your thing? The wine list and selection of salads and other treats are still enough to make it worth a visit. — Bob Keefer

Best Acoustical Space You Can’t Visit 

College Hill Reservoir Between Lincoln and Lawrence, 23rd and 25th.

Once in a blue moon, or even less frequently than that, Eugene Water and Electric Board empties out the 15-million-gallon covered reservoir it owns at Lincoln and 23rd Avenue for a good old fashioned scrubbing down. While the 80-year-old cavernous space is empty and dry for a few days, it has the look of an ancient temple inside and the resonant acoustics of a medieval cathedral. No music group, to my knowledge, has ever performed there, though I once heard some rock ‘n’ roll being played on a workman’s boombox when I managed to finagle an underground visit. The sound was entrancing. The aging reservoir is destined to soon be replaced with two 7.5-million gallon tanks, according to EWEB; I hope that the last time the water is drained out, and before any construction begins, EWEB hosts a joint production by Eugene Opera, Eugene Symphony and Eugene Ballet of Orpheus in the Underworld. — Bob Keefer

Most Chaotic Grocery Store

Safeway 145 E 18th Ave. 541-485-5051. 

My first apartment was in a building on 17th and Pearl, kitty-corner to Safeway. I didn’t have much money and spending more than $25 dollars at a time made me cringe. So, I would walk back and forth from my apartment to Safeway, sometimes multiple times a day, spending a few dollars at a time. Something about this place drew me in. Go to Safeway on a Thursday at noon and you will see dozens of 14-year-olds on lunch break from South Eugene High School, a frat boy buying two racks of Keystone Light, at least three people fighting and a few eavesdroppers listening to your prescription order at the pharmacy.  

At night, it’s even weirder. To quote a Safeway employee who chatted with me on Twitter: “When the sun goes down, the store comes alive with Eugene nightcrawlers and bus stop dwellers — it’s pretty incredible.”

So, if you are dreading going to the grocery store, consider doing your shopping at this Safeway. You may end up dreading it even more, but at least it’ll be interesting. — Taylor Griggs


Ken Mastrogiovanni

Best Rising Star Jazz Drummer

Ken Mastrogiovanni 

Ken Mastrogiovanni is the favorite son of Eugene’s jazz community. Even during the pandemic, he’s been playing live streamed and virtual gigs with many of Eugene’s most-established jazz musicians, like Roger Woods, Joe Manis and Paul Krueger and with Zimbabwean vocalist Ratie D. Most recently, he produced the hip hop EP “yuckymaestro” with Eugene-based rapper Ian Lindsey, who goes by yuckgod HD. 

 Before the pandemic, he was regularly gigging with a host of jazz groups in Oregon, and around the country as the drummer for the popular swing and ska band, the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies. At just 24 years old, Mastrogiovanni seems to have a foot in every corner of Eugene’s music scene. That’s because Maestrogiovanni is a versatile drummer who can play with power and restrained elegance. And, he was born in Eugene and has been intimately connected to its musicians from a young age.

 He got his start as a percussionist in the Spencer Butte Middle School band. He then moved through the jazz program at South Eugene High School and went on to complete an undergraduate degree in pop music and a graduate degree in jazz studies at the University of Oregon. 

 From the beginning, Mastrogiovanni says older jazz musicians and educators took him under their wing. 

“There were always people encouraging me and pushing me in the right direction,” he says. 

 Mastrogiovanni says he doesn’t know what the future holds yet, but he’s still preparing himself musically for anything. “Right now, I’m taking the time to practice and refine my own skills, so when we come out of the pandemic, I’ll be more ready and in shape for whatever I have to tackle.” — Jade Yamazaki Stewart

Best Place to Get a Chicago Hot Dog in Springfield

McCormack’s Chicago Style Hot Dog and Fries 420 Main St., Springfield, 541-283-2496. 

I never thought much of hot dogs growing up. Eating hot dog dishes in the form of sandwiches, chopped into mac and cheese or straight out of the refrigerator will do that to you. Years later, I discovered the beauty of hot dogs, and to me no hot dog can surpass the perfection of a Chicago Hot Dog — humans peaked when they first assembled the combination of relish, onion, tomatoes, mustard, peppers and pickles. Luckily, I can head to McCormack’s Chicago Style Hot Dog and Fries to get my fix (because I’m definitely not flying to Chicago right now). Located on Springfield’s Main Street, McCormack’s cart makes the best hot dogs in the area — and at a great price. While people obsess over the $1.50 Costco hot dogs (which are good, don’t get me wrong), for less than $5, you can score what’s easily the greatest hot dog recipe ever, as well as piping hot french fries. McCormack’s has other items, like veggie dogs, as well as a family platter for days you don’t want to cook (or want to train for the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest).  — Henry Houston

Best Local Meal Kit Service By a Brewery

The Better Living Room by Ninkasi 155 Blair Blvd. 541-735-9500.

Like Groucho Marx, I don’t want to be a member of any club that would have me as a member. Except when it comes to Ninkasi’s Dinner Club. I’ve always enjoyed cooking. I’m not good at it and I don’t get too crazy with recipes, but it’s fun to chop veggies and meat and throw it in a skillet, redirecting my stress from work to not screwing up in the kitchen. Ninkasi’s Better Living Room, a new restaurant that had the misfortune of opening its doors right before COVID-19, offers a way to get out of your cooking comfort zone. 

Its meal kit service is called the Dinner Club — and although I subscribe to Groucho Marx’s comment on not being a part of a club that will have me as a member, I enjoy being a part of this one. A few months ago, Ninkasi offered me a meal kit of lemon pepper spatchcock chicken with grilled mushroom panzanella and green beans paired with two crowlers of a citrusy Strata IPA (all of this goes for $50). The meal was easy to cook thanks to instructions from the chef. Within an hour, I had four meals and didn’t even have to deal with any grocery store COVID-19 madness. Plus, Ninkasi delivers for free if you don’t want to leave your house. 

After cooking the meal, I thought to myself: “Watch yourself, Chef Gordon Ramsey, because there’s a new cook in town.” Ninkasi is just one of many local businesses that has a meal kit service, but try the Dinner Club out once — you’ll want to become a card carrying member after your first bite.  Henry Houston

Best Place to Buy Records When You Don’t Know What You Want

Moon Rock Records 277 W. 8th Ave. 458-201-8901. Find on Facebook. 

Sometimes I head to the record store with a clear objective, to pick up a new release or to add something crucial to my collection. There are a few great places in Eugene to do just that. Other times, though, I’m not sure what I want, but I feel confident that I’m going to find something anyway, or at least have a good time trying.

It’s by this measure that Moon Rock Records earned my 2020 staff pick for best record store in Eugene when you don’t know what you want. Located at 277 West 8th Avenue, right next to the WOW Hall, Moon Rock is small — only about 260 square feet — but well-curated. Need an old pre-war blues compilation? Or to discover some ’60s psychedelic rock band from Nigeria? This is the place to go.

The store also buys, sells, and trades LPs, 45s, tapes and vintage stereo gear — but no CDs.

How does store co-owner Callie Dean respond when people walk through the door, jonesin’ for new music but unsure of what they’re after? “I would ask them what mood they were going for, or an example of something they know they’re into already and go from there,” she says. 

From breakfast music to music for curling into a ball and crying yourself to sleep, Moon Rock “can help you find something,” Dean continues. That’s because, to quote Maude from the 1971 cult classic movie Harold and Maude, “music is the cosmic dance,” she says. — Will Kennedy


Angie Bloomfield

Best Comedian

Angie Bloomfield  

To recognize the significant strides the stand-up comedy scene has made in recent years, we were going to include a best stand-up comedian category in this year’s Best of Eugene survey — we really were — but alas, 2020 happened and it didn’t make it in. After seeing her perform and informally polling the local stand-up scene (and what a supportive community it is) we chose Angie Bloomfield as our staff pick for best stand-up comedian in Eugene. 

Inspired by Sarah Silverman, Laurie Kilmarten and Maria Bamford, Bloomfield’s been doing comedy for about two years. She started at an open mic in Eugene and hasn’t stopped since. Most notably, Bloomfield opened for Jonah Ray of Mystery Science Theatre 3000 at a January 2019 Eugene appearance.

When I ask Bloomfield how it feels that her name came up frequently as the best comic in town among her peers, she answers dryly: “It feels a bit like the movie Carrie when everyone nominated her to be prom queen, so I feel suspicious, mostly.” 

And when asked to pick his favorite Bloomfield joke, local comic and comedy promoter Seth Milstein offers: “I went to the doctor, and he told me I have athlete’s foot. Did you know that you don’t have to be an athlete to get it? Yeah, you could just be a drunk lady who doesn’t change her socks enough.” — Will Kennedy

Best Cappuccino From a Bakery on Broadway

Noisette Pastry Kitchen

I love a good cappuccino. There’s something about the way a quality espresso mixes with the foamy milk that helps it taste stronger and better. And maybe it’s the five years I spent as a barista, but I’d like to think I know a good cappuccino when I taste one. The place I keep coming back to? Noisette Pastry Kitchen. Their delicious pastries and savory tarts are the main attraction, but I’m here to brag about their coffee. Every time I get a cappuccino (or a latte for that matter) it brings back warm memories of all the best espresso I’ve ever had. 

They use Equino coffee for their espresso. Their baristas know what they are doing. The mix of espresso and steamed milk hits differently here. It pairs perfectly with a chocolate croissant or classic scone, but by itself, their cappuccinos are enough to give you a high quality and perfectly enjoyable caffeine buzz. 

Their prices are average, you can get a pastry and a small capp for around $7. Because of COVID, they keep both doors open for good flow, do not allow indoor seating and everyone is wearing a mask. And during non-pandemic times, their atmosphere gives off a warm industrial vibe. If you are going to spend coffee and pastry money anywhere, Noisette is the full package. — Taylor Perse

Best Place to Rollerblade While Not Making A TikTok

Amazon Park

I bought a pair of rollerblades pre-pandemic and pre-TikTok trend in hopes of using them on warm spring and summer evenings. I bought my pair secondhand for $30, and was excited to start a new hobby. I just forgot that Eugene can actually be a pretty hilly place to live. Luckily, I was advised to take them for a spin at Amazon Park, and to be honest, I have hardly rollerbladed anywhere else. Yes, I know the park also attracts runners because of the barkdust trails slated to reopen soon, but for rollerblading I’m looking for top-notch concrete.

The park’s flat and mostly smooth paths are perfect for gliding in the evenings, taking in the scent of warm grass and other blooming plants, depending on the season. And the paths are wide enough that you can easily keep social distance. One of my favorite parts about rollerblading here is the view of Spencer Butte. Weaving around the paths on wheels, it’s mesmerizing to watch the setting sun change the sky and the color of the trees on the butte. Just don’t get distracted by the view for too long, because that may lead to tripping and falling (I may or may not be speaking from experience). — Taylor Perse

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