Paradiso at the Grand Theatre: A Review

by J.M. Murdoch

I like to think I wasn’t the only one who waited impatiently for the “epic reveal” of the business which would fill the vacant space adjacent to the Historic Grand Theatre. Officially opened in April, the restaurant “Paradiso” surprised Salem with its intimate and regal Gatsby-esque interior design, an extensive wine list and full bar, and infallible food items on every inch of the impressive menu. We didn’t even know we needed this until it arrived.

Walking in, I was instantly drawn to the glinting shelves boasting the display of liquors…and then up…to the vaulted ceilings. It’s hard to believe this is the same establishment where a wine shop once stood. Firstly, full marks on prompt and efficient service—as soon as I entered I was greeted by a charming hostess, and immediately seated in the already-busy restaurant. The professionalism never faltered during my entire stay. The seating is organized in sixes—six booths, six two-person tables, and six comfortable barstools. It doesn’t sound like much on paper, but they’ve done well to maximize the space, making it feel like a miniature 1920s palace. Even the lighting is just right—low enough to set a calming mood, but bright enough to add a cheerful glint to their brilliant use of glass and mirrors in the architectural design. The atmosphere is relaxed and flexible; you can dress up or down and Paradiso will shift to suit your mood.


The menus are gorgeous. I know this might not matter if the food isn’t equally gorgeous and delicious. But can we talk about these menus? Creamy thick paper with attractive font, and secured by small gold bolts onto a thick piece of genuine black leather. As a reviewer, I think, “If this attention to detail extends into the kitchen, I’m about to have my mind blown.”

As you can tell by now, this is a positive, 5-star quality review of Paradiso. I like good food. I’m no official food critic, or “foodie.” But I love food. I love experiencing it, not just eating it. After spending some time going to restaurants where culinary skills were equivalent to a form of fine art, I realized that not all restaurants were created equal. Paradiso is no exception.

I am sincere when I say everything (yes, everything) on the menu is on point. It helps to go with a group of people, ordering multiple items to share them family-style to get a good read on the restaurant’s offerings. I partook of their Balsamic Glazed, Herb Roasted Chicken with Gorgonzola Polenta, which is a surprising spin on a simple dish. The chicken, slightly blackened, is melt-in-your-mouth tender, positively dissolving with each bite. The polenta pairs very well, not too rich or dry as polenta can be sometimes. Ask your waiter for the evening’s dessert selection—I had the cheesecake, oh yes, please—but feel free to just pick any of them. You can’t go wrong.


As for drinks…well, their bartender, Daryn, knows his mixology. The Mai Italiano is an Italian twist on the classic Mai Tai cocktail. This one is definitely a stronger one, so caution to the lightweights; it knocked my delighted socks off. I also happened to try the Rose Martino, which is a light and easy floral cocktail with citrus hints. I could easily see myself enjoying it during one of our inevitable scorcher-days. Their wine menu is quite large, and I would like to see their beer menu expand to complement its enormous partner. Being in craft brew country, I was a bit disappointed to see that they currently only offer three beers.

Their General Manager, Calen, expressed his excitement for how well the restaurant is doing after being open for just a month. While their days and hours of operation are limited at the moment, Calen assured me that their goal is to expand, especially to serve theatre-goers who will be enjoying shows by Enlightened Theatrics or Salem Progressive Film Series in the Grand Theatre next door. (Fun fact: There is a pass-through connecting Paradiso and the Theatre to ease full bellies from dinner to their evening entertainment without having to step outside.)

And everyone is just courteous and friendly. At the end of the day, Paradiso is easily one of my new favorite spots in the Salem food scene, but what makes a meal is not just the food but the people you’re with. Whether you’re riding solo or with a hungry entourage, the people at Paradiso makes you feel like an old friend, and that your happiness is their priority. And that’s because it is. Five stars, you guys. Thank you for ushering in another exquisite dining experience to Salem.

Eat, Drink, Thrive: Taproot Reinvents Salem’s Food Culture

by J.M. Murdoch

You can’t miss him. Well over six feet in height, black-brown dreadlocks tied back with a kerchief and hanging to his waist, and that contagious, bright smile which makes you feel like his oldest and most trusted friend.

Christopher Holland spies me coming in the door to his new establishment, Taproot Lounge and Café, for our scheduled interview.

“Buddy!” he yells, makes his way to me in two long strides and wraps me up in the best hug ever. (I learned that he calls everyone “Buddy,” but I guarantee it doesn’t make you feel any less special.)

From his unbiased greeting, to his eclectic and fresh menu items, to his grand makeover of what was once Pete’s Place on State Street, Holland has single-handedly started a food culture revolution in downtown Salem.

And he only needed a matter of months to do it.

“Revolutionary” may seem like a lofty description of Taproot Lounge & Café, but after doing some research of my own, I discovered that there are no local equivalents to what Holland’s 8-month-old digs have to offer: only fresh, raw ingredients make up their mouth-watering food that is blissfully affordable. For first-timers, or even repeat customers, I recommend their signature Bowls (any of them), Davatacos, Brussels, their hot wings, the Willamette, Leguma Beach, the Carnival, and their pumpkin avocado milkshake. (Oh, and did I mention they have a full drink menu for liquor and local brews/wines, as well as a raw juice and smoothie bar, local coffee and tea? Yeah. Top that.)

Taproot embodies Holland’s vision of a healthy community—a community that practices healthy eating, healthy habits, healthy engagement. “I never wanted a restaurant,” Holland admits to me. “I wanted a coffeeshop…a café that was lighthearted, but had healthy menu items and an unmistakably genuine soul.”

No muss, no fuss. Holland has done away with the concept of uniforms, replacing stuffy expectations with the freedom of refreshingly comfortable ambiance and character. He has simplified his menu to avoid the complications of being “fancy,” and their smaller kitchen has taught them how to be creative with ingredients and space.

Holland is also passionate about playful yet brilliant juxtaposition, often represented by oxymoronic symbolism in the Café. Barns are dirty, right? Well let’s have a barn for a bathroom, but have it be ridiculously clean and simple. And nobody wants the end pieces of the loaf of bread, right? Well that’s because you haven’t tried “The End of Elvis” sandwich on the menu, which certainly abolishes that stereotype with its unexpected deliciousness. The juxtaposition is consistent, and since it’s creative and intentional, it works.

Taproot also “works” because Holland spent over a decade of his life backpacking around the world, studying people and food wherever he went. He is a student of his own passions, constantly learning and absorbing ideas from his experiences. Holland ultimately decided to create a place that he would like to go to: “I built [Taproot] based on what I wanted when I went out.”  “What kind of environment do I want to be in? What kind of people do I want to be around? What kind of food do I want to eat? What are the things I would like to do? So I put that all in here. This is all me.”

And Taproot remains authentic because of Holland’s model of staying true to himself. That might sound selfish to some people, but the truth is that he’s not trying to do what other people are doing. Thus, by doing his own “thing” he is able to avoid trends and pay attention to the little details that make Taproot so unique.

And his patience is paying off: Taproot is now expanding its hours. Starting Sunday, May 1st, Taproot will be open every day at 7:00 a.m. for breakfast, starting small and simple with breakfast wraps, scrambles, breakfast bagels, parfaits, an expanded tea offering, as well as pre-work grab-and-go options. (And, of course, Bloody Marys.)

“We all just want to eat like how we eat at home,” Holland laughs. “The food you get at a restaurant is never like the food you make at home—you cook what you like, and how you like it, at home. Why don’t we bridge that gap?”

By rooting his business in experience, branching out beyond the norm to provide wholesome nutrition instead of wasteful volume, and by staying true to himself, Holland creates and sustains a rare authenticity in every aspect of the innovative establishment. One man’s vision is changing Salem’s culture, making it easier and easier to support local and live well. (How marvelous is that?) In my opinion, there is no room for disappointment at Taproot; too much thought and hard work has gone into the Café for it to feel forced or half-hearted. Just go—Eat, Drink, Thrive. And don’t forget to give Toph a hug, courtesy of “Buddy.” He’s earned it.

Win At the Corner of Fire & Brimstone: Pizza Makes a Comeback

by J.M. Murdoch

There are some food items that will be eternally popular in America—burgers, hot dogs, steak, tacos…and pizza.

I feel like pizza was doomed to the “Has-Been” label when it became synonymous with words like “Domino’s” and “delivery” and “DiGiorno.”  But pizza seems to be making a comeback after over 60 years of being processed and modified and stuffed into corrugated boxes to feed the insatiable fast food industry. Restaurants are starting to offer high quality pies, made with fresh ingredients and cooked to perfection in wood-fired ovens—and pizza lovers everywhere are starting to take notice.

The tasty trend is vamping up some hearty competition in the Salem area, with the newest contender taking up residence in the old Lefty’s/Roxxy venue on State Street: Shotski’s opened in December of last year, expanding upon their Pyro Pizza food cart success (formerly called Le’Go My Bagel). Thus far, they are receiving mixed reviews across the board, to which I added my own average review. My experience was not terrible, but it also was not something to write home about. While there is a cushion period for businesses to get up and going and smooth out their operations in the first few months, I truly hope they step up their game to properly contend with the already-established, gourmet competition.

Case in point—I had the absolute pleasure of dining at The Blue Goat in Amity last weekend, and I can say without hesitation that their menu is top-dog amongst all the wood-fired kitchens in the area. Their ingredients are positively fresh, their service is friendly and efficient, and their atmosphere is welcoming and cozy.

“The power goes out? No problem—we go right on cooking for you,” my waiter assured me as the lights flickered during the rainstorm that afternoon.

What really sets them apart is that they continue to source and support local. Its menu rotates based on seasonal produce and they make it a point to collaborate with other local artisans, artists, and farmers. Not to mention that this high quality experience comes at a remarkably fair price point. And that level of attention to detail makes all the difference in this niche market.

On-the-go pizza venues like MOD Pizza out south and Salem’s two mobile pizza trucks (Cacioppo’s and Pyro Pizza), work well for that higher-quality fast-food style service, but the race to make gourmet pie is fierce. I, personally, find this encouraging. Salem needs its restaurants to recognize that peoples’ palates are beginning to expect more than the stereotypical, mundane meal.

The pie scene is changing, and restaurants are returning to that classic, wood-fired pizza experience. It makes it less rushed, less fake, and it just tastes all the more meaningful. Yes—meals should be meaningful. Food is nourishment, and nourishment is important, which is why it should be exceptional and never sub-par. Snobby? Perhaps. But Salem’s food scene is in desperate need of quality over quantity.

Anyone can open a pizza joint…but not everyone can survive and grow and succeed in the long run. The location for Shotski’s is proof of that, having changed its name and focus five times since 2003. Pizza seems simple enough, but it’s exciting to see local entrepreneurs take on the challenge to redefine something so simple, so traditional, so basic, and create a completely new spin on it to boost the promise of dining out in the Salem area. I anticipate some exciting changes to the culinary scene this year; to bring back the glory days for such a timeless meal would be quite an accomplishment.

Good food, good taste, good for Salem

“I believe in what this company stands for,” says Jayson Selander, partner in Salem’s LivBar business. “It’s not easy to take the path less traveled. The easy path is cheap and fast food, which isn’t food at all; it’s fake, toxic, and designed to leave you empty and coming back for more.”

From a humble, healthy, tasty snack served at an open house nearly four years ago, LivBar has grown into a sizable local business with a commercial kitchen, a new website and online store, a new broker – and it is in the process of obtaining distribution with United Natural Foods, the leading independent natural foods distributor in the country.

Customers at LifeSource and other local locations will also notice exciting new flavors, all of them 100% real food, organic and non-gmo, developed by owner and local nutritionist Jan Mellon Johansen to aid in her clients success.

“We were a movement before we are a nutrition bar company,” says Selander. The journey began when Jan and husband Gabe Johansen opened Liv Nutritious Fitness (now Liv Wellness) with the motto, “Eat Real Food & Exercise” in early 2012. The enterprise offered lifestyle training and fitness nutrition education, and at its open house on February 29, happened to serve an early version of the LivBar. It was an immediate hit with attendees for its excellent taste and texture and the knowledge that it was absolutely great for the consumer.

Next, “Gov Cup [The Governor’s Cup Coffee Roasters] wanted to sell the bar and a small house kitchen was built,” says Selander. A few accounts were opened, including LifeSource, several Roth’s locations, Market of Choice in Corvallis, Harvest Fresh in McMinnville and others.

Selander joined the effort as a partner in 2013 and the company hasn’t looked back. He designs the packaging, creates the web page, delivers the product – everything a young entrepreneur with a dedicated vision expects to do. Now Grass Roots Marketing represents the company in the Pacific Northwest, including Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Idaho, Nevada, and California. A store locater has been installed at and the company’s product systems became so sophisticated that it has become a copacker for Paleo Eats, formerly of Bend, and began producing Grok bar from Portland.

“We help new products enter the market by offering a smaller order minimums as well as guidance from our experience thus far,” Selander says.

It’s “nearly impossible” to have a clear understanding of how to eat nutritionally, Selander says, “without knowing what to stay away from.” For that reason, the bars are designed with attention to impeccable quality including only excellent ingredients.

“Delicious, nutritious, balanced and sustaining,” is how Selander describes the bars. “Bringing real, organic, non-gmo, healthy food to the market is our only objective.”

CHEERS TO WILLAMETTE VALLEY WINE: An Intimate Look at Our Local Vineyards and Vintners

If I have learned anything from working behind the wine bar, it is that the Willamette Valley’s wine industry is still quite the mystery to locals, and that’s okay—there is still so much to learn about the wine experience, especially within our own Willamette Valley AVAs (American Viticultural Areas). And as we prepare to settle into the holiday season, surrounding ourselves with good food and good company, we seek to find the perfect wine to pair with our special gatherings….

Which begs the series of questions: “Should I buy local wine? Or buy the usual standby at the grocery store? Is it good? What IS good?” This very conundrum opens up a Pandora’s box of frequently-wondered questions…often left unanswered. And thus, nothing really changes in the industry and the world continues to orbit around the sun. However, I had the pleasure of interviewing some of our local wineries and wine experts to spread some unknown nuggets of knowledge by answering some common questions during this wine-centric time of year.

Let’s start with the popular question,

“Why should I buy local wine?”

First things first: it is absolutely crucial to support local businesses. Period. If we put our hard-earned money back into our local community, our economy will strengthen and grow. Secondly, the people who work in our local vineyards are the salt of the earth; they work extremely hard to produce small quantities of exquisite wine.

It is often a family affair, involving numerous generations depending on when the winery was founded. Other wineries were started by individuals who had nothing but a handful of cash and a dream. Mary Olson, owner of Airlie Winery in Monmouth, says, “after a 22-year career with the telephone company, I sold my lifetime supply of panty hose and bought Airlie Winery.” For every winery, supplies and labor are locally sourced whenever possible. These people spend every year pouring themselves into their passions, offering their dreams to us in a bottle with a smile and an offer to come, eat, drink, talk. For that reason alone, we should stand behind Willamette Valley wineries.

“But what’s so special about Oregon wine?”

Oregon has a very unique environment—perfect for cool climate wines, making it a complementary contender alongside world-class wines from around the globe. “Cool climate wines, like Pinot Noir…can only be successfully grown in a few small pockets of the world,” states Bethany Ford, the National Sales Manager at Illahe Vineyards in Dallas, Oregon. It’s no wonder we’re often called the “pinot capital of the world,” or that people flock to Oregon to learn winemaking. Our varying weather patterns keeps Oregon wine “exciting,” says Christine Collier, Winery Director at Willamette Valley Vineyards in Turner.  “I’ve always thought that the best wines are grown on the climatic edge. Stress in vines, just like people, produces character.” If not the climate, it’s the people that truly ‘make’ the wine. Randy Harnisch, a local wine expert and previous owner of West Side Wine Store, says that Willamette Valley wineries are generally smaller than other well-known wineries, but that this “translates to more handwork, [and] special treatment; differences are subtle, but worth spending more time to ponder.” When there is this much attention to detail and love of community, it starts to show not only in the people, but also in the product.

“But I don’t know that much about wine. How do I even approach it?”

Overall, the wine industry is still this exaggerated concept of sommeliers in Italian suits and crystal glasses and wine terms that don’t make sense and lots of spitting, which often makes it intimidating, even “off limits” to newcomers. But Willamette Valley wineries are trying hard to change that stereotype. “Winemaking and grape-growing is a romanticized profession,” Ford explains. “We feel lucky to do what we do, and we love it, but in reality, we are truly farmers that are turning our crop into a product.” Don’t let it intimidate you; every wine lover has to start somewhere. Harnisch recommends that newcomers “buy what you like and can afford. Second, branch out and try local wines – splurge and spend a little more than usual. See if you can taste the difference a few dollars makes – sometimes it doesn’t, but sometimes it does. You’ll know it.” And honestly, at the end of the day—it’s all about finding a wine you love. Let your palate lead you; ignore the snobs.

“Okay, I can get on board. Are there any local wineries that people really like? Where should I start?”

For a start, Ankeny Vineyard, Brooks Winery, Cória Estates, Cubanisimo Vineyards, and Redhawk Winery are just the tip of the iceberg—these wineries are among dozens of others which offer special events, live music, fresh food, regular tastings, and much more year round. But ‘tis the season for good drink and good company, my friends! If you’re looking for a great first impression, Thanksgiving weekend is the time to seek out our local wineries and find your perfect pairing. This particular weekend is one of the three big wine weekends in the Willamette Valley (Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends being the other two), so they’re pulling out all the stops. I highly recommend taking advantage of this season of community, and support local by supporting your neighbors. Wine naturally brings people together…you simply have to open up.



WINE Listing

ANKENY VINEYARD – Come and join us at Ankeny Vineyard for Thanksgiving! We will be having live music Friday and Saturday night starting at 5:30 pm. Our full food menu including wood-fired pizzas, house made bread, pastries and much more will be available all day Friday through Sunday. 12 pm-8 pm $10 Ankeny Vineyard. Friday November 27th through Sunday November 29th.

BJÖRNSON VINEYARD – Another amazing vintage is in the barrel!  We are excited to see you and share our wine and harvest stories. This Friday and Saturday, discuss the vintage with our newest winemakers and taste an elegant selection of wines from our winemaking trio:  Bjornson Vineyard, Helioterra Wines and Mahonia  Vineyard.  Also sample an additional Bjornson Vineyard Designate “horizontal” flight offered  only two times a year. Artisan cheese, wine-friendly food, and people friendly winemakers.  Three great winemakers, one beautiful location. $10 fee includes wines from Bjornson Vineyard, Helioterra Wines, and Mahonia Vineyard. 11 am-5 pm $10 Bjornson Winery. Friday November 27th through Saturday November 28th.

BROOKS WINES – We are opening our doors this holiday weekend to welcome you and your family to taste Brooks Wines. Brooks will be featuring a choice of 3 wine flights at $15 each, refundable with a two-bottle purchase. Join us for a sweeping 5 mountain view and lounge on our cozy leather couch. Feeling wine fatigue? Brooks has beer and cider on draft. A little hungry? Try one of our cheese and charcuterie boards available for purchase. Need a Christmas gift or some wine with your holiday meal? We have holiday wine packs ready to go. We look forward to seeing you this weekend. Happy Holidays from our family to yours! 11 am-5 pm Brooks Winery & Tasting Room. Friday November 27th through Sunday November 29th.

COELHO WINERY – It’s our Tasting Room’s 10th Anniversary! Celebrate with the holiday release of our 2012 Paciência Reserva Pinot noir (very limited). Choose between two tasting flights: enjoy Pinot gris, Pinot noirs, Portuguese Red Blend, and Port-style wines. Also, Guest Chef Nicci Stokes of Wild Vines will be cooking up her Wine Country menu in her food cart this weekend. Special guests this Thanksgiving include Author Cila Warncke, who will be signing her new travel book: “Vine Lives, Oregon Wine Pioneers.” Pick up your autographed copy Friday at 2:00 pm. On Saturday, we will have a decadent chocolate Anniversary Cake to pair with our Serenidade Port-style dessert wine at 2:00 pm. Live Music will be Jerris, The Band, an American pop/rock band, who will perform Saturday from 1:30 to 5 pm. Come dance, taste and celebrate a decade of tasting memories with us! Bring your family and friends and partake in our family’s Portuguese hospitality at Coelho Winery! 11 am-5 pm Coelho Winery. Friday November 27th through Sunday November 29th.

CÓRIA ESTATES – Cória Estates is having a musical wine and food event the Saturday and Sunday following Thanksgiving! We will have a barrel out for tastings of our 2014 Pinot Noir, some delicious eats and wonderful music to boogie down to. Come for wine, come for food, come for music, or for all three! We are so excited to celebrate this years harvest with you, so come out and meet the Coria family and taste some great vino! Three Entry Options: $20 – Includes a glass to keep & wine tasting | $25 – Includes a glass to keep, wine tasting, & food | $30 – Includes a glass to keep, wine tasting, food & barrel tasting. Music Lineup: Sat 28 – Leanne McClellan Band | Sun 29 – The Orvil Ive Duo. THANKSGIVING WEEKEND SPECIAL: Purchase (3) of the same wines and get $12 off. Participating wines: 2013 Pinot Gris, 2014 Pinot Gris, 2013 Estate Pinot Noir. 8 am-5 pm. Saturday November 28th through Sunday November 29th.

CRISTOM VINEYARDS – Cristom Vineyards will be hosting our Holiday Celebration event on Saturday November 28th. The $15 entrance includes a 5 wine flight and a complimentary picture taken in our holiday photobooth area – a great chance to take a fun photo for your personal holiday cards! We’ll be offering special pricing on everyone’s favorite stocking stuffers: library half bottles! Additionally, we’ll be hosting local Cub Scout Pack 122 as they sell holiday wreaths and table centerpieces. Your $15 tasting fee is refundable with a two-bottle wine purchase. 11 am-5 pm $15 Cristom Vineyards. Saturday November 28th only.

CUBANISIMO VINEYARDS – Join us Thanksgiving Weekend for Wine Tasting, New Releases, Live Music, Cuban Style Tapas, and Football! The $10 General Admission Fee includes wine tasting; FREE General Admission for Wine Club Members. $8 Cuban Tapas Plates. Special $20 Afternoon Package ($10 for Wine Club Members) includes entry fee, wine tasting, a Cubanisimo wine glass, tapas plate, and raffle entry for our daily door prize. Our patio area will be tented, so we will be celebrating rain or shine! Take advantage of our Wine Sale and stock up for the Holidays. Cubanisimo wines are sure to please at Family Dinners, and make great gifts. We will have all the best football games playing on the big screen (sans sound) in the tasting room all weekend long, so you won’t have to worry about missing any big games. And what would a Cubanisimo celebration be without live music? Enjoy the sounds of The Orvil Ivie Duo on Friday and Saturday, and Terry Bay on Sunday. Music starts each day at 1:00pm and concludes at 5:00pm. *No Outside Food Or Drink Permitted.* 11 am-5 pm Cubanisimo Vineyards. Friday November 27th through Sunday November 29th.

REDGATE VINEYARD – Taste wine, listen to music, and munch on appetizers at the Redgate Fieldhouse this Thanksgiving Weekend from 12 to 5. Acoustic Story plays from 1 to 4 all three days. Featuring guitarist, slide, and doboro player Clay King, this music will fill your soul with blues. 12 am-5 pm $10 Redgate Fieldhouse. Friday November 27th through Sunday November 29th.

REDHAWK WINERY – It’s time for our annual Thanksgiving Festival!  Please join us for wine & barrel tasting, delicious food, our incredible view & music. We will be having our popular Tri-Tip sandwiches, Betty’s widely talked about butternut squash soup, homemade sausages, house-made smoked salmon pate’, cheeses, & more! Meet the winemaker, sample our current selection of wines and barrel taste a future release. All this included with your $10 Tasting Fee with special wine discounts during the festival! 11 pm-5 pm $10 Redhawk Vineyard and Winery. Friday November 27th through Sunday November 29th.

WILLAMETTE VALLEY VINEYARDS – Please join us to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday on November 27-29. We’ve planned an exclusive library tasting in our cellar as well as a futures tasting of our unreleased 2013 single vineyard designate Pinot Noirs. We invite you to our Thanksgiving Weekend Open House & Futures Tasting to enjoy a futures tasting of unreleased 2013 single vineyard designate Pinot Noirs in the cellar. Led by Ryan Clifford, fresh off working harvest with the winemaking team, and Winery Ambassador Jennifer Bell, you will have the opportunity to hear stories about the 2013 and current harvest while tasting the Hannah, Elton, Tualatin Estate Vineyard and Signature Cuvée Pinot Noirs. These wines will be available for pre-order this weekend only. As a member of the trade, we would like to invite you to attend either event and receive complimentary admission for you and a guest. Please email to make your reservation. 11 am-6 pm Willamette Valley Vineyards. Friday November 27th through Sunday November 29th.

Ankeny Vineyard

2565 Riverside Rd. S., Salem


Bjornson Winery

3635 Bethel Heights Rd. NW, Salem


Brooks Winery & Tasting Room

21101 SE Cherry Blossom Lane, Amity


Coelho Winery

111 5th Street, Amity


Cória Estates

8252 Redstone Ave SE, Salem


Cristom Vineyards

6905 Spring Valley Rd NW, Salem


Cubanisimo Vineyards

1754 Best Rd. NW, Salem


Redgate Fieldhouse

8175 Buena Vista Rd, Independence


Redhawk Vineyard and Winery

2995 Michigan City Lane NW, Salem


Willamette Valley Vineyards

8800 Enchanted Way SE, Turner


Taproot Goes Deep

This fall’s opening of Taproot Lounge and Café in downtown Salem is the culmination of years of planning by 36 year old owner and operator Christopher Holland, the hard work of many volunteers and the collaboration of a community.

After graduating from business school, 5 years bartending at the Ram, and a real estate license, the Salem native began to wonder if it would be possible to take the positive values of both a coffee shop and a bar and combine them into a viable business model that he felt Salem really needed.

In 2012 Holland began work on a business plan and his most important core values emerged. First, he wanted to create a gathering place that provided a safe environment, where customers felt a sense of belonging.  Also, he wanted to challenge the status quo of unhealthy business practices used – by reexamining where our food comes from and how it is prepared.

“Good food is a human right,” Holland says.  “I want Taproot to stand for a fight against the larger picture as far as the way that our food goes and the way that our systems are.  Our bees are dying, our animals are dying, and our earth is hurting. I want to make a positive difference somehow.”

The Taproot concept evolved into a daytime cafe with fresh juice, breakfast sandwiches, coffee and teas along with rice bowls, tapas and a full bar at night.

At the local “Salem Sharks” event in 2013, Holland was offered a chance to turn his business into a national franchise.  “It just didn’t feel right,” he says, “It was about the money and not about the concept and the dream.  So I said, ‘No’ and surprised a lot of people.”  But that experience, he says, “opened my eyes to the interest that the community had in this idea.  The meet and greet after was overwhelming.  It was a whirlwind of support.”

When Holland announced a Kickstarter campaign for Taproot Lounge and Cafe in October 2013, it caught the community’s attention like a flash of lightning on the horizon.  The community rallied in support to raise the requisite 25k and the Kickstarter was a success.

In May, he made a second lease offer for 356 State Street, formerly Pete’s Place, which was accepted.  Many volunteered their time and energy in the massive undertaking of remodeling the interior of the historic 1868 building.  The City of Salem also contributed matching funds from the Urban Renewal Toolbox for permanent improvements.

The transformation of the space couldn’t be more dramatic. “This is me expressing myself like an artist painting a picture,” Holland says, and the amount of care and creativity that has gone into the enterprise is overwhelmingly apparent.

Not only has Christopher Holland succeeded in creating an inviting atmosphere where people want to visit and stay, he has succeeded in remaining grounded himself, deeply rooted to what is most important.

Autumn Adventures in Independence

When wanderlust calls, you answer. So answer I did…and with pleasure.

It has been a while since I took a country drive, and even longer since I had visited the city of Independence. This little town, just 15 minutes west of Salem, has always held some allure for me, and I wanted to see what treasures lay waiting for me to discover after some time away.

I chose the scenic route to start my adventure, naturally, because no adventure begins on a monotonous, unwinding highway. And, goodness, I’m so glad I did. As we shift into November, fall color is abundant, but only for a short window of time. Now is the perfect time to take advantage of Oregon’s second spring and its burst of gold and crimson, which is why I took River Road South to reach Independence, at a leisurely 40 miles per hour (don’t judge me; it was totally worth it to soak in the sights).

The first couple of hours were well-spent walking the park and perusing the numerous, locally-owned and operated businesses on Main Street in the heart of downtown Independence. I happened upon the River Gallery, first, which boasts “Folk Art to Fine Art” in their establishment. I met Paul Gentry there, a local artist and photographer who was holding down the fort, discussing art and poetry with him before I made my way onto the next shops: Oven Bird Bakery (where I purchased a delicious cinnamon bun for later), Artisan Treasures Gallery (where I chatted with the owner, a sweet woman by the name of Geraldine), peering in to Naughty Noodle (only open from 5-8 pm, Tuesday through Saturday), Second Chance Books (where I drooled over their extensive collection of used books), and finally stopping in to the Pink House Café for a late lunch.

I ordered their special, a prime rib sandwich with swiss, served with broccoli cheddar soup. To keep my review brief, a good overall first experience. I even had the place to myself; perks of showing up at 3:00 in the afternoon…the Pink House Café is to Independence as Word of Mouth is to Salem.

Then off to Rogue Farms’ Hopyard, because what road trip isn’t complete with a pint of beer? The hops have been harvested for the year so the fields are bare, but the absence of vines has opened up the view of the surrounding hills from the yard. I gave Rogue’s seasonal Pumpkin Ale a try and, to my surprise, I really enjoyed it. (I’m one of the few, non-pumpkin-flavored-everything fans.) The ale is light with subtle hops, and just a hint of pumpkin. Not gold medal worthy, but perfect for the occasion—balanced and refreshing, crisp and cool and flavorful. Autumn in a glass. Yum.

I knew I wanted to try a different route to head back home, one which I hadn’t taken since I was a child: the Buena Vista Ferry still runs year-round, save for Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. For a mere $3.00, the kind boatman ferried me and my car across the Willamette while I snapped a few photos of the late afternoon sun on the river. Four minutes later, I was on my way with a wave, taking Buena Vista Road which eventually connects with Liberty Road South—a very straightforward return to Salem, while still providing that country road charm.

The town of Independence may just appear as a forgotten plot of land off the beaten path, but I found a delightful cluster of genuine and caring individuals managing their shops and restaurants, trying to make a living and make a difference just like the rest of us. Independence isn’t what it used to be, that’s for sure; it might surprise you. Take the opportunity to enjoy these last few gorgeous and colorful fall days by day-tripping somewhere off the grid. Sometimes the destination makes the journey worthwhile, but sometimes the journey just makes the destination. At least, that’s what I’ve found. Happy wanderlusting.

Mentionable Stops:

• Riverview Park (

• Naughty Noodle (

• Oven Bird Bakery (

• Pink House Café (Find them on Facebook)

• Second Chance Books (Find them on Facebook)

• River Art Gallery (

• Rogue Farms & Hopyard (

• Buena Vista Ferry (

The Fruits of Labor Day Weekend

Labor Day weekend. The infamous three-day marathon which marks the close of summer and the start of another school year. Whether your marathon is full of last-minute student preparations, or jam-packed with those final attempts at a successful vacation, it’s safe to say that Labor Day weekend begs for that last push to make the most of the summer before fall and the holiday rush consume most of our lives.

The Willamette Valley is well-known for its wine country festivities, and Labor Day weekend poses as the perfect opportunity for wineries to show off the fruits of their labor. There are four wineries in particular that will offer plenty of entertainment and wines to make your cup (and your endorphins) overfloweth.

The winery offering the best bang for your buck is, without a doubt, Redhawk Winery, which is located just off Wallace Road in West Salem. Their $10 fee is all-inclusive; each guest receives entry into the event, the tasting of eight wines, barrel tastings, discounts, and a buffet of home-cooked barbeque whipped up by the owners of the estate, in addition to local cheeses and a salad option.

John and Betty Pataccoli just celebrated their 10th anniversary as owners of Redhawk, and have enjoyed continuing the previous owner’s tradition of hosting numerous events at the vineyard. Previous Labor Days have had quite the crowd pull; Redhawk has garnered a reputation amongst local wineries for being the ‘go-to’ destination for this popular weekend.

“It’s not as big as Memorial Day weekend or Thanksgiving,” Betty said, “but we still get somewhere between 400-600 people.”

The Pataccolis are just one of the many passionate vineyard owners in the area, but they also pour their efforts into hospitality for their guests. The husband-wife team can be found mingling during their festivities, and John enjoys using his own recipes for the tri-tip barbeque sandwiches, homemade sausages, and smoked salmon pate that will be served this coming weekend.

“It’s definitely the best deal in town,” Betty stated. “Most people go through their tasting, have a little food, listen to the music, and then move on. But there are some people who spend the entire day here! Everyone is family. It won’t matter [if you’re solo or coming with a group]; you sit with people at a table and before you know it, you’ll be best friends.”

Other wineries to consider visiting on Labor Day weekend include Cubanisimo, Cória Estates, and Cherry Hill. Both Cubanisimo and Cória will have wine tastings and food with live music, and Cherry Hill will offer small plates in addition to their usual weekend tastings. Check their websites for more information to help plan your holiday weekend and end this summer on the perfect note.

Redhawk Winery: $10, all-inclusive fee. Homemade barbeque and buffet. Wine and barrel tastings. Discounts. Meet the owners and winemaker. Visit for more information 11-5pm.

Cubanisimo Vineyards: $10 entry fee. $8 tapas plates. Wine available for purchase. Live music all weekend from 1-6pm. Salsa lessons. Raffle. Visit for more information.

Cória Estates: No entry fee. Live music all weekend from 3-6pm. Discounts. Small plates. Visit for more information.

Cherry Hill Winery: No entry fee. Small plates. Visit for more information 11-4pm.

Rafns’ Supper Club

Dinner parties have always seemed to me the height of civilization– a celebration of all the arts of field and table.  So I was thrilled to snag the last two available reservations for Rafns’ first Supper Club dinner of the season, which took place on August 12 — a four-course meal featuring  fresh summer vegetables from Salem’s own Osprey Farms.  At a dinner party, one hopes for good company, scintillating conversation, and delicious food and wine.  The evening did not disappoint.

We were welcomed at the door by our hostess, Rochelle Rafn, who runs the business end of things as well as overseeing the dining room: a soothing space of plain white walls, white flowers and candles, industrial metal chairs and mercury glass.  For Supper Club dinners,  guests are seated family-style at long wooden tables, and every table displays a card outlining the kitchen’s tenets of good cookery: organic in practice, free-range, local, humane.  Rafns’ uses olive oil and butter, the card told me, and makes their own broth.  They eschew MSG, GMOs, trans-fats and Teflon.  I found it comforting to have the standards spelled out in black and white; the table card has the added benefit of eliminating those tedious questions about sourcing and selection dear to foodies, but annoying to most everyone else.

My dining companion and I ordered a bottle of Iris Vineyards Oregon pinot noir, and introduced ourselves to our tablemates.  If you are unaccustomed to sharing a table with total strangers, you might feel a bit awkward at first, but one of the delights of any dinner party is meeting new people and discovering what things you have in common.  There were many.  The evening’s farmers, Jesse Weller and Chloe Hanson, were seated at our table, along with the chief coffee-roaster from Archive Coffee and Bar , a Salem elementary school teacher, a couple who supply farm and garden necessities to local growers, and a  gentleman who had built the stage extension for the Enlightened Theatrics production of Hair, which I had just seen.  Conversation and wine flowed.

The dinner began with summer vegetable soup –an in-house broth rich with beets and red onion, simultaneously evoking both French Onion soup and borscht.  The next course – a simple salad— was a morning-fresh mix of lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers, dressed with creamy basil vinaigrette; I found myself surreptitiously licking it up with my fingers after the plate was empty. The main course was an intensely flavorful free-range chicken breast, that had been brined, then gently poached and sautéed for color, mounded with onions and peppers and served over orzo pasta.  My dinner partner has gone gluten-free, and the folks at Rafns’ were happy to accommodate her with a risotto instead of the pasta, given advance notice.  They also switched out her dessert, but I was so absorbed in my sweet, spicy, carrot cake rich with cream cheese frosting, that I missed what she was served and had to check later– gluten-free and vegan coconut almond cake with a side of coconut cream.  In my subsequent interview with the couple, Chef Nate Rafn talked about the difficulties involved in accommodating the growing number of different modern dietary restrictions mandatory in running a successful restaurant. Rochelle is highly allergic to a number of common food items, so providing choices for their customers is something that they take seriously.

Nate and Rochelle have been providing Salem with delectable locally-sourced meals for some time now, beginning with dinners hosted at their own home and now at the restaurant on Court Street.  Both Salem natives, the rafns believe in simple food, well-cooked; the camaraderie of the table, and the evolving food community in Salem, based in the abundance of local, fresh, mindfully-raised meat and vegetables.

Rafns’ will be hosting a series of these Supper Parties, the next being held on August 22, featuring  Scenic Valley Farm wines.  Subsequent dates are yet to be chosen, but they plan to host at least one special dinner a month.  Prospective meals will highlight Cattail Creek lamb, EZ Orchards apples and cider, and Hendrick’s Farm produce, to name a few.  Dates will be announced on their website, where you can also sign up for their newsletter, for advanced notice.  I certainly intend to. Rafns’ is open Tues-Sat for lunch and dinner.

Night Out on the downtown

What was once a downtown filled with empty storefronts and an absent nightlife (and ‘daylife’) has now grown into a promising collective of local venues and eclectic restaurants. There has been a dire need, especially, for nighttime activity in Salem, as most people wish to let loose after the workday or workweek is over, perhaps even plan a date, or to simply hang out with friends.

The following three budgets (for two) offer just a small sampling of what one could experience in the refreshing space that is now Downtown Salem for a night of dinner, dessert, and entertainment:


Dinner (water only): Andaluz Happy Hour (3-6pm daily), Taqueria El Tapatio, Amadeus Happy Hour (Tuesday all day, 4-5:30pm, 8-close), Marco’s Place, Boon’s Treasury, BiBimBap House, Straight from New York Pizza, Tiga Sushi, Coin Jam (good bar food), Kitchen On Court Street, the Salem food truck pod (at Broadway & Market).

Dessert: The Little Cannoli Bakery (closes at 5pm), Frozation Nation, Andaluz (Spanish Sipping Chocolate), Sugar Sugar (closes at 6pm).

Entertainment: Coin Jam (all you need is a pocketful of quarters), walk (to the Riverfront, to the West Salem pedestrian bridge, etc), karaoke, live (free) music can be found nearly every night of the week, summertime movies in the park (free).

Note: Sometimes we eat dinner prior to going out on the town, which permits us a larger budget to spend on drinks, entertainment, etc.  Some of these restaurants are what you make of them; many of these restaurants can be cheap or average or spendy depending on what it is you order (and how much).


Dinner (optional drinks): Venti’s Café & Basement Bar, Amadeus, Thai Orchid, Gamberetti’s, Wild Pear, Marco Polo,  La Margarita, Bentley’s Grill, Orupa, Christo’s Pizzeria, China Gourmet, Mix Bistro & Bar, Archive Coffee & Bar, Table 508, Maven, Tiga Sushi, Coin Jam, Sisters Irish Bistro, Union Barrel, Taproot, Macedonia, BiBimBap House, Kitchen On Court Street, Gayle’s Italian Market (serves food), Rafns’, Salem food truck pod/Barrel & Keg.

Dessert: At the restaurant of your choice, Konditorei, Little Cannoli Bakery, Frozation, Sugar Sugar.

Entertainment: Live band, karaoke, movie at Salem Cinema/Cinebarre, performance at The Elsinore, Coin Jam.

FOR $60+

Dinner (with drinks): Da Vinci’s, Marco Polo, Orupa, Archive Coffee & Bar, Table 508, Maven, Rafns’, dinner cruise on the Willamette Queen.

Dessert: Any aforementioned combinations.

Entertainment: Movie, performance, live band, dance classes.

Take heart, citizens of Salem! Look no further than our delightful cluster of downtown shops and venues for an evening of excellent dining, tasty brews and wines, and local entertainment. We no longer have to drive to Portland or Eugene or the coast to find the elusive element, “Fun.” Keep your eyes and ears open for local events and performances by subscribing to the Salem Weekly Events’ Facebook Page, or by picking up the Salem Weekly paper, and start planning your own night out on this revamped town.


Plan your own night on the town,

check out the Salem Weekly Events Calendar at or Salem Weeklly Event on Facebook for available entertainment options before you venture beyond your doorstep for an epic Night Out.