When partners Jon Guhl and Ryan Murff (of Albany’s Little Star Pizza and Boss Burger, respectively) were searching for a restaurant concept that would be equal parts homey and interesting, they turned to Murff’s home state of Oregon for a little inspiration. Several vintage Tiffany light fixtures and a few dozen antique chairs later, they came up with Café Eugene, a neighborhood eatery that is laid-back enough to draw a regular crowd of locals and interesting enough to bring in visitors.
Inspired by the fresh seafood, seasonal produce, and hippie granola vibe of the Pacific Northwest, Café Eugene officially opened for dinner on Wednesday, January 13, with plans to add a seven-day brunch by the end of the month. Though their media preview offered only a small assortment of small bites on bread — including a juicy grilled slider, some mediocre tofu pate with avocado and herb, and exquisite poached shrimp served on a buttery pretzel bun — the menu is meant to be gluten-free, and vegan- and vegetarian-friendly.
The kitchen is run by Executive Chef Amanda Joost Gehring (of Lalime’s and Café Rouge), and turns out pan-seared steelhead, smoked salmon pate, and an assortment of Oregon toasts served on Acme Italian batard and Mariposa gluten-free baguette. There is a “build-your-own element” to the trendy take on toasts, which carries over into the bar menu, where you’ll find an array of Bloody Mary’s (the House Bloody is made with chili vodka, horseradish, lemon, and thyme).
Other cocktail options include the gin-based I-5 High Five made with Oregon marionberry liqueur, California pear brandy, lemon and rosemary and the stiff-sipping Knickerbocker, a blend of bourbon, amaro meletti, amontillado sherry, and philbert with an orange twist. On the whole the cocktails are ambitious, fairly boozy and just shy of being well-balanced. Topping the list is the vodka-based Flower Child, a light and refreshing palate-cleanser made with hibiscus honey, lillet rouge, lemon and sparkling wine.
Brunch highlights will include Baked Steel Oats with honey baked pear and cardamom coconut milk and a jar of smoked fish pate with dill pickled vegetables, a soft-boiled farm egg and house-made black pepper fennel crackers. Best of all, it will be available Monday-Sunday from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m., which means you can make brunch a regular occurrence rather than a weekend past time.
Cafe Eugene: 1175 Solano Ave., Albany, 510-647-9999.