Eating locally (and organically, whenever possible) is important to me, and I try to get a majority of my food and culinary products from local, or at least semi-local producers. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy a French cheese on occasion or even try and resist the urge to buy an exotic spice (or two) when I come across them...but I do try. If I can make my own quince paste with local quinces to enjoy with that manchego viejo imported from Spain, substitute local hazelnuts for pecans or almonds in a recipe, or buy local chestnut honey from a chestnut farm in Hood River while I’m visiting, then I’m all for it.
While it’s a hot topic right now among various food magazines and other media, and the movement to eat within a hundred (or so) miles from your home has been championed by various food bloggers through the Eat Local Challenge (I’m always catching up on cookiecrumb’s adventures in local eating – this woman is a true champion and even made her own sea salt!), there is still a great need to support the local farmers, growers and producers in your area. Not only does the need to import food from far away places increase pollution (how do you think those apples from Chile actually get to your supermarket? via planes, trains and automobiles, my friend!), but it also takes money away from the farmers and producers in your area that are trying to make a living, and it keeps places like Walmart, who don’t support their employees and go extra lengths to make small businesses go extinct, in business (don’t even get me started).
The bonus? If it’s from a local producer, you can even meet the farmer who picked that head of lettuce from their field earlier this morning, dew still dripping off the leaves; the community Mycology professor who foraged that mushroom from the forest for you because he’s been going to the same secret spots for 40 years; or the winemaker who stayed up all night to crush the grapes that went into that perfect Pinot Noir (dirt or grape stains on their hands? Even better! Think about how you look when you come in from your own garden!) Better still, you can ask them about your food – Is it organic? What kind of farming practices do you use? Are your animals allowed to roam free? For how long? After meeting them, they may even invite you out to see where your food was grown, to meet the cow whose milk graced the flakes of your favorite cereal or the chickens that produced the saffron-colored yolk of the eggs you had this morning.
But enough about that – back to Hood River. This little town is a champion for local foods. Even in Eugene, a fairly progressive and food-minded place, you still have to search for restaurants that feature mostly local foods – Marche comes to mind. But in Hood River, there was no paucity of places to indulge in the local offerings. Even the hotel, the historic Hood River Hotel, where the wedding reception took place had an entirely local wine list! The food came almost exclusively from either Washington or Oregon and even the fish and seafood that was served was sustainable. Directly across the street was Celilo, which had been my first choice for a restaurant to try there, but was unfortunately only open for dinner (the wedding, and wedding reception, took precedence of course).
We ended up eating at the wonderful Sixth Street Bistro and Loft, another of my top choices. The pub served beer and wine from Washington and Oregon, and listed on the front of the menu all of the local producers that supplied any of the ingredients they used for their delicious food. They even had organic soap in the bathrooms!! Not only was the large majority of their food locally sourced, but the meal was also excellent. I had a rich, creamy artichoke bisque and a salad of local greens, local pears, Oregon blue cheese and hazelnuts, all kissed gently by a tangy hazelnut vinaigrette. LB had a chipotle burger (free-range, from Painted Hills Ranch) with house-made crispy french fries. After a glass of Erin Glen "Tantrum" Red table wine for me and an IPA from Double Mountain Brewery for LB (located just down the block from the bistro, mind you), both of us left happy and full.
Over the two days we were there, we made our way along the Fruit Loop, making a specific stop at the Apple Valley Country Store, where jellies, jams and spreads made from local fruit abound. They're really known for their apple dumplings, supposedly, which we specifically hoped to enjoy, and were one of three groups of tourists that sadly got turned away because they don't make them daily after October. Alas, we were still able to visit three additional wineries (Quenett, the actual tasting room for Hood River Vineyards, and Cathedral Ridge) and spent an hour or so browsing the very cute shops and boutiques in downtown Hood River. All of the wineries had at least a few wines that we enjoyed (and ended up taking home with us), although Cathedral Ridge has the most beautiful view of all three – looking out across the vineyards, you can see the peak of Mt. Adams in the distance.
The wedding was gorgeous - the couple beaming and gushy in love with each other, the wines were fabulous, and the scenery was breathtaking...leading to a very enjoyable weekend away from Eugene. But with a National Historical Site for our hotel (and a boiler to match, but that’s another story), an incredibly cute town full of friendly locals, and a plethora of delicious local food choices available, Hood River was an unexpected and pure joy for this foodie. If you have the opportunity, definitely stop by this lovely little town for a visit.