Out in Veneta — yes, that on-your-way-to-the-coast little town in the fertile fold of wine and farm country — lies a blissful sanctuary for artisan dining.
Our Daily Bread Restaurant in the old Pentecostal church serves its flock with homebaked breads and desserts, original house specialties like sugar-cured prime rib and marinated salmon seasoned in white wine cream sauce, and dozens of wines from vineyards just a rain cloud or bend away in the country road.
No need for your Sunday-go-to-meetin’ clothes here, where the dining is at once casual and elegant. There’s an old pew or two at the assorted wood tables, but most folks sit on old-style wood chairs, warmed by a pellet stove and/or little electric space heaters placed along the well-worn wood floors.
By day, stained-glass windows, all in the same chapel pattern of blue, orange/red and clear panes, brighten the mood for breakfast and lunch. By night, antique-style pendant lights hanging from the restaurant’s exposed rafters are dimmed, setting the stage for candlelit dinners with linen napkins.
Either that or celebrating a Friday night football game over original-recipe onion rings and homespun hamburgers, as in hand-squeezed patties between fresh-baked buns. “We don’t often describe ourselves as fine dining,” enlightens Tabitha Eck, who, along with her parents, Timothy and Catharine Perkins, owns and operates the 70-seat restaurant with adjoining country store/wine shop and even a banquet room in the old parsonage. “We reach a fairly broad cut of the population, so we call it ‘family fine dining.’”
But it’s certainly more cafe by day than at night, when the Northwest fare gets pretty eclectic — “even for a dinner menu,” Eck says. Almost all the original recipes are steeped in southern Willamette Valley agriculture and slaughter.
“We try to stay fresh and natural,” sums up dad and head chef Tim. “We make our own bread … and none of it has preservatives. We keep MSG out of the house; nothing is artificial. We try to be authentic, close to the ground — fresh, real good. Nothing that’s going to foul somebody’s system.”
A family mission down to the Perkins’ youngest of five children, Our Daily Bread Restaurant fits heart and soul with a down-home, handcrafted, “wholesome country experience” promotion in west Lane, Linn and Benton counties.
“Oregon Country Trails” entices city folk with self-guided tours of wineries, farms, galleries, restaurants, fiber shops, meat markets, produce fields and other artisan enterprises in the Fern Ridge, Long Tom River and Alsea Valley areas (www.oregoncountry trails.com).
At Our Daily Bread, the handcrafting includes chef Tim’s Northwest menu specialties and head-baker Catharine’s artisan breads and desserts.
Tim credits his “greatest strengths” to mentoring from 10 or so certified chefs during his culinary career. “It sounds cliché, but I do have really high standards,” he says. “I don’t serve stuff that isn’t right.”
Consider his prime rib from the Childers Meat Co. in Eugene. “The way we do it isn’t the common way,” Tim reveals. “I take a knife and poke holes across the top to puncture the sinews and let the flavors seep in.” Lathered in Worcestershire sauce, a secret blend of seasonings and smoke-flavored sugar cure, the prime rib is slow cooked for what Tim calls “a country outdoor barbecue flavor.”
His other claims to fame include tenderized, roasted chicken breast stuffed with dried cranberries, hazelnuts, spinach and feta cheese, and one of his personal favorites, the house chicken borscht.
Other dinner specialties range from fish, oysters and crab cakes to pepper steaks, burgers, pastas and — the restaurant’s latest — foccacias topped with signature sauces and Mozzarella cheese.
Menu prices run from less than $10 to more than $20, and every dinner meal comes with Catharine and crew’s homebaked breads.
Rising customer demand has Catharine’s convection oven at full tilt these days.
“We don’t make our own bagels or English muffins, but everything else that can be possibly baked and that we serve, we do ourselves,” she says.
Three mainstay breads — whole wheat, French and cinnamon swirl — cover most orders for sandwiches and French toast as well as supplying the dinner menu and take-out counter. Specialty breads from the in-house bakery may include walnut, Parmesan herb, cinnamon raisin and an occasional multi-grain.
Save room for dessert: carrot cake, cheese cakes, bread pudding and pies like lemon cloud, chocolate cream and marionberry.
“I think the majority of our recipes — probably 90 percent — are developed just for the restaurant,” Catharine says.
Since washing dishes at his dad’s restaurant as a kid, Tim had wanted a place of his own. He found a culinary soulmate in Catharine — in fact the pair met and fell in love while working at the Twin Inns restaurant in Carlsbad, Calif.
College degrees aside, Tim became a career chef while Catharine remained a baker at heart even during her career as a social worker.
Yet the couple still had to whip up enough nerve to buy Our Daily Bread, which already had been renovated into a bakery and smaller scale restaurant over the previous decade by former owner Rick DeAngelo.
“As Tim and I talked, we felt like what we were led to do is own a business — particularly a restaurant,” says Catharine. “That’s my story, so here we are.”
As are the kids.
Eldest daughter Tabitha, 26, bowed out of her University of Oregon studies in pre-med and dance to join the fold as catering and special events manager. Like Mom and Dad before her, she found romance at work, marrying affable waiter Marshall Eck about two years ago. “He married the boss,” she muses.
All the other Perkins siblings — Alexandra Wood, 24, Kasia Wood, 20 (they married brothers), Jesselyn, 19, and Joseph, 17 — also work at the restaurant to some degree. A family that works together stresses out together, but mom Catharine loves the “absolute blessing” of seeing her grown children nearly every day.
In a cozy little old church, nonetheless.
“It’s a wonderful building,” Catharine says. “I don’t know how to explain it, but I always have a good feeling being here.”
Good and wholesome, in fact.
Staff writer Kelly Fenley may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.