May 5, 2012

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Family Style Dinners with Style – Heidi Tunnell Catering Company

photo credit: Heidi Tunnell Catering Company

With all the rave reviews I’ve been hearing about Heidi Tunnell Catering Company’s Thursday Night Family Style Dinners, I was thrilled to get an invitation from a Eugene Daily News colleague to meet for dinner there last Thursday.

About a fifteen minute drive south of Eugene, Oregon, there’s a small town and farming community named Creswell. Each Fourth of July, my family packs up lawn chairs, coolers, drinks and snacks and we head to Creswell for their annual Fourth of July Parade, which is truly the most patriotic parade of all parades. Other than this yearly event, I’ve only been to Creswell one other time, which was to one of Heidi Tunnell’s famed and critically acclaimed Barn Dinners, held inside a big red barn located on her family’s farm.

In addition to her magnificent barn dinners, Creswell native and Iron Chef Eugene 2011, Heidi Tunnel owns and operates Heidi Tunnell Catering Company – a bakery, restaurant and farmer’s market housed in an old church in downtown Creswell.

Heidi Tunnell Catering Company is open two days a week and on special occasions. On Tuesdays, the bakery is open from 10 am to 6 pm, lunch is served from 11 am to 2 pm, and a farmer’s market takes place from 4 – 6 pm.  On Thursdays, starting at 6 pm, family style dinners are served up with style.

I arrived just before 6 pm, and was greeted by a friendly staff member and a line-up of excellent Pacific Northwest wines that were available to purchase by the glass: two wines from J.Scott Cellars, a red blend from Trust Cellars and a white blend from Cottonwood. I decided to purchase a glass of the Trust Cellars ’09 Tatt Red Blend, and I was happy I did. This blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache was full bodied and quite palatable. Best of all, however, is that this notable wine was served in my favorite Riedel stemware – I don’t consider myself wine snob, but I am an admitted wine glass snob, and I always take note when a restaurant uses a good glass.

Inside the dining room, which is housed in one big room (the old church), long tables were covered with white linens and set for the nights dinner. A small chalkboard on the table indicated the name of the reservation for that table. We sat down at our table and, as a mom, I immediately noticed crayons housed in Mason jars and a long sheet of Kraft paper that laid on top of the linens which, ingeniously, creates a large drawing board for kids: a true blessing for parents who want to enjoy dinner while eating out with the little ones. Each place setting had a menu with a description of the evenings meal including wine pairing suggestions and add on options like an appetizer, a dessert and drinks.

We started with the appetizer, Spring Risotto Arnacini with Lemon and Herb Aioli, which was absolutely delicious. Fried to perfection with a crunchy outside and creamy flavorful inside, the aioli added a tangy zest that was impeccable with the risotto flavors. Baskets of warm, fresh baked bread were brought to the table about the same time as a large bowl of salad with assorted greens, grilled onions, local chickpeas, feta and toasted fennel vinaigrette. The flavors of the fennel vinaigrette were simply amazing with the chickpeas and greens, and I’ve never thought of adding grilled onions to a salad, but they were down-right savory.

The main course was Lamb Stew, Boiled Potatoes and Sauteed Spring Farm Vegetables. Each was delivered in it’s own large bowl; therefore, we could individually fill our plates with the desired amount of each of the foods. It suddenly dawned on my why the Thursday night dinners are called Family Style Dinners – everything is served just like it would be if dinner was being served at home.

I spooned some of the stew and vegetables on top of the potatoes, and although I don’t eat lamb very often, this dish was packed full of flavors that melded together excellently. It was so good, I didn’t leave room for the Chocolate Chip Bread Pudding dessert. But, I was able to get a bite from someone at our table, and it was pure bliss.

Before leaving, I took a long look at the wine list. I’ve been to a lot of restaurants between Eugene and Portland, and I’ve seen some excellent wine lists – lists that pale in comparison to Heidi Tunnell’s. Not only is Tunnell a phenomenal chef, but she’s got an incredible palate for excellent wine. She tasted and picked out every wine on her list, and I was remarkably impressed with her selections.

Heidi Tunnell Catering Company is truly the gem of Creswell. While I’ll still be heading fifteen minutes south for the Fourth of July parade, I’ll also be spending time at the Thursday Night Dinners, Tuesday lunches and special occasion meals at Heidi Tunnell’s. In fact, I just made reservations for Mother’s Day Breakfast, and I’m looking forward to biting into the French Toast with Lemon Curd, Hazelnuts and Whipped Cream with a glass of wine from the stellar wine list.

Heidi Tunnell Catering Company, 182 South 2nd St., Creswell, OR 97426. 541-895-5885.

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