Next month, grass-fed beef expert and Slow Food missionary Lynne Curry will open Eastern Oregon’s first farm-to-table restaurant.
Curry is best known for her 2012 handbook, Pure Beef, a guide to happy, grass-fed meat, and spent her formative years cooking at the Willows Inn on Lummi Island, and the Herbfarm in Seattle. Now Curry is reaching deep into Eastern Oregon’s network of farmers and ranchers to resurrect the recently shuttered Lostine Tavern, a local landmark 15 minutes from Enterprise, Oregon.
We sat down with the local foods pioneer to talk about the renovated, 51-seat restaurant and bar, slated to open on May 15.
For those of us who never make it passed Hood River, what’s the big deal with Lostine Tavern?
The Lostine Tavern is right on highway 82, which leads from La Grande up into the Wallowa Mountains and the wilderness; anyone who’s passed through the Valley has a story about stopping at the LT for a burger and beer. It was built in 1902 as a pharmacy and doctors office, and then it was an old-school soda fountain. In the 1940’s it became a tavern and an Eastern Oregon landmark. I’ve heard stories of ranchers who rode their horses there back in the day, and barely made it home after one too many drinks. We’ve actually received a grant from Oregon’s Historic Preservation Office to help restore the original 1902 façade,
Do you really think Eastern Oregon is ready for a farm-to-table restaurant?
It’s going to be farm-to-table, but it’s not going to be fancy. We depend on locals for everything, and we want to cultivate it as the place where people can gather from all ends of the valley. Before it closed, it was the place where people congregated for pie socials, community groups, and sports rallies. It’s also a destination: the Wallowas are one of Oregon’s Seven Wonders after all! We envision the LT as a place where visiting Portland chefs can do a dinner or teach a cooking class. It’s a great opportunity for people to do a little culinary tourism. That said, the vibe will be of the place; you are allowed to walk in with cow patties stuck to your boots.
As the unofficial expert on grass-fed beef, is it safe to say we’ll see it on your new menu?
It’s sort of in my blood, yeah. We’ll definitely have a great burger on a homemade bun with fries—an essential for people coming out of the wilderness. But a lot of the menu is going to center on our deli, where we are making our own grass-fed corn beef and pastrami and pickles and homemade soda. We’ll be making our own sourdough too…think sourdough chicken and waffles. The other big focus is local produce: great salads, nettles, chokecherries, and sorrel. Again, it’s not going to be plated food, but if morels find their way into a skillet-baked pot pie, that would be great. Basically, I want it to feel like a deluxe mining camp.
Eastern Oregon is known for its cattle ranches and wheat fields…what sort of role will local farms play on your menu?
Lostine is actually a food desert: we don’t have a supply chain here. We can’t just call someone up or go to a farmers market. There are tons of great farms out here, but good luck getting even a single bail of hay locally. That’s the big irony of the rural West. It’s way more legwork than if a Portland chef wanted to open a farm-to-table restaurant. We are trying to jumpstart something here, a way for people in Eastern Oregon to get local beef, chicken, eggs, greens, and grains. That’s the bigger vision. I’m lining up my people. We’ll be getting meat from Carman Ranch, 6 Ranch, chicken from Mary Hawkins, and produce from Beth Giban’s Backyard Gardens in Joseph and more. We also have plans for our own garden, a pig and a few chickens.
125 Oregon 82, Lostine, OR
Opening May 15 for lunch and dinner