Creswell tends to make headlines in Eugene when something goes wrong, but the recent tale of an escaped emu caught the attention of its local residents, while ruffling nary a feather in the city to its north.
Like a lot of smaller, more rural towns, Creswell, population 5,641 in 2020, is more than meets the eye or makes the headlines. Small towns are a microcosm of the same joys and problems as larger cities, from widespread societal problems like racism to smaller ones like lost pets. They can also be a unique microcosm for dining out.
Driving south about 12 or so miles from Eugene and going left off the freeway brings you to the staples of EveryTown, Oregon: Bi-Mart, Dairy Queen and a dollar store. It also brings you the joys of Blue Valley Bistro and its local food and international coffee (see more on Blue Valley this issue).
Go right off the freeway and over the bridge, and West Oregon Avenue takes you into the heart of Creswell, and all the things that make it both unusual and typical. There are Dari Marts, of course (Creswell has two, practically across the street from each other), and another dollar store, the City Hall and a grange.
Now look closer. China Wok, between the freeway and a gas station, is itself a former gas station. It sells “typical” American-style Chinese food from General Tso’s chicken to egg foo young. Because this is Oregon, there are, of course, vegetarian options. In a strange way, restaurants that diners once sneered at for being “inauthentic” are now authentic in their nostalgia. Kicking off a meal with deep-fried egg roll and wrapping up with fortune cookies, complete with hokey fortunes, is Gen X comfort food.
Conveniently, what was once the pump kiosk for the gas station is now a drive up coffee stand, Hot Shots. Kitty corner-ish across the street is the competing drive through, Bean Hopper. Creswell may not be a big town, but it’s also not a town that’s going to leave you without a latte. The Bean Hopper often has a line several cars deep on both sides of its kiosk.
A little further down the street, and also on Creswell’s comfort food list, is Los Cabos Family Mexican Restaurant, where you can order off the plastic-coated menu — the better to catch the drips from the chips and salsa — while you sip your large, greenish and delish margarita. The food is straight out of a 1980s childhood, with tacos, giant burritos, cheesy enchiladas, chile relleños and, of course, lots and lots of beans and rice. And if the Americanized Mexican food is too much for you, then you can always order a cheeseburger (raise your hand if you were that kid who whined for a burger when your parents took you to the Mexican or Chinese restaurant for dinner).
And if you are really in the mood for American-style dining, there’s always TJ’s Family Restaurant & Lounge, behind China Wok and Hot Shots. Or you might lean more Americana, in which case head to Creswell Bakery with its old fashioned tables and mismatched chairs. But don’t underestimate it — founder Heidi Tunnell graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in New York, and uses seasonal ingredients in the brioche, and the salad is “created daily on a whim with local, seasonal vegetable.” The bacon, too, is house-made.
If it surprises you that the town you might have written off as small and rural, maybe even backwards, is known across the country for its bakery, then perhaps it might also surprise you to check out Banh Mi and Brews — Vietnamese fusion food and a beer hall, complete with a Saturday cornhole tournament.
Looking for an elegant sit-down diner? The farm-to-table Pazzo, also off West Oregon Avenue, is your place. And if the Dari Mart lunch sandwiches aren’t your thing (in which case, you are actually missing out because there’s something about that egg salad sandwich on white bread) then your interest might be piqued by Dak Thai Cuisine. You can read more about Pazzo and about Creswell’s Thai lunch place in this issue, too.
Like so many places that seem like they are just a blip on the freeway, it’s worth taking the time — possibly a lasso for the emu — and an empty stomach, for a visit to Creswell.