Literary City Guide | Corvallis, OR


My God, the West, Levin thought. He imagined the pioneers in covered wagons entering this valley for the first time, and found it a moving thought.
— Bernard Malamud, A New Life

Tour Guide: Kristin Griffin

Kristin grew up in Boston, holds an MFA in fiction from Purdue University and teaches fiction and food writing at Oregon State University. She has written for Serious Eats and Paste Magazine, among others, and worked in editorial at America’s Test Kitchen and Da Capo Lifelong Press. You can keep up with her at: kristingriffin.wordpress.com. (All photos by Kristin Griffin)

Q&A

Relationship to Corvallis: I moved to Corvallis with my husband five years ago now and we both love it here. A certain quality of life is a day-to-day right, not a dreamed-about possibility.

Writer you'd like to invite to dinner: MFK Fisher, no question. She’s my favorite.

Chef you'd like to prepare the meal: Julia Child, especially if she does a demonstration first on de-boning a chicken. 

Writing soundtrack: I wrote through the last draft of my novel to Polica, but that’s unusual for me. I prefer quiet.

Pen or Pencil: Pen

Coffee or Tea: I’ve become a real tea person. I look forward to a cup of Super Irish Breakfast in the morning or maybe a matcha latte, something I got hooked on in Japan.

Paperback or Hardback: Nothing beats a dog-eared paperback. I have a Kindle Fire but it’s only good for reading magazines I’m too embarrassed to have lying around the house.


Good Reads


BOOKSTORES

Book Bin. This is my downtown go-to. They have new titles as well as used and the best cookbook selection around. The “attack cat” Tess is usually asleep in the window.

Grass Roots Books & Music. Here, you can find a well-curated selection of currents and classics. I love their thoughtful displays, especially the eclectic staff favorites. 

Browsers’ Bookstore. Stay away if you don’t like old book smell. If you do, you’ll want to linger here. There are real gems in these stacks, and if you’re into old postcards like I am, there are a lot of those too. 

LIBRARIES

Oregon State University, Valley Library. It is so worth a stroll through OSU’s crown jewel of a library. Don’t miss the rotunda and views of the Coastal Range from the higher floors. The stunning Special Collections & Archives Research Center on the 5th floor always has an exhibition up worth seeing. 

Corvallis-Benton County Public Library. It’s always busy in this cheerful library. The Belluschi reading room, named for the architect who designed the building as well as Portland’s Art Museum, is where to settle in with a book. 

Little Free Libraries. Dotted around northwest Corvallis are these slightly-larger-than-mailbox sized mini libraries run on the honor system. They have pitched roofs and little glass doors and they work. Pick your book, sign it out, bring it back. Volunteer “stewards” maintain them out of love. It’s a worldwide project. 

READINGS & CONFERENCES

Oregon State University. Both the Visiting Writers Series and Literary Northwest Series bring top-notch writers to Corvallis for readings, often in the gorgeous Valley Library rotunda.

Oregon State University MFA Reading Series. OSU has an excellent MFA program with concentrations in fiction, poetry and nonfiction. These popular readings at New Morning Bakery downtown showcase their talented students.

The Center for the Humanities. In a gorgeous, Tudor-style building downtown, humanities scholars-in-residence share their work in free, open-to-the-public lectures. Subjects vary from Chinese porcelain to Jack Kerouac and rotating art exhibitions in the lobby add to the fun.  

Grass Roots Books & Music Author Events. This local shop hosts varied readings throughout the year. Check out their upcoming events here.

OTHER FINDS

McDonald Forest. Bernard Malamud modeled “Cascadia,” the setting for his novel A New Life, after Corvallis. Walk in the footsteps of his protagonist, Seymour Levin, at this research forest maintained by OSU. The trails at Peavy Arboretum are where I learned what “forest” means in the northwest.

Tyee Wine Cellars. Writers are drinkers, yes? I know Elizabeth Gilbert’s brilliant TED talk tries to dissuade us from assuming it, but for those of you who enjoy a drink in general and wine in particular, visit Tyee for a taste of the most gorgeous pinots. This is the future site of your picnic-to-remember. 

Spring Creek Project. This center dedicated to enhancing meaningful connections to the natural world across disciplines offers writing workshops, readings and guided nature-walks, among many other activities. Explore their mission and event calendar here

Good Eats


COFFEE SHOPS

Tried and True Coffee Co. Expect lovingly prepared lattes and perfect espresso in a thoughtful, bright setting. I’m a regular at the teensy downtown shop but their second location in Southtown is bigger and has garage doors that they open up to let the breeze through in nice weather.

The Beanery. There are a few locations of this regional favorite in town. I like the one on 2nd street. Floor to ceiling windows frame up passers-by and there are always stacks of local papers to catch up on.

Purple Moon Organic Espresso, Smoothies and Juice. Independent drive-through coffee huts are everywhere in the Pacific Northwest and Purple Moon in Southtown is one of the very best. Here, you can place the most Oregon of orders: a dirty chai with a wheatgrass shot for dessert.

A PROPER MEAL

Bellhop. This restaurant is all I’ve ever wanted: handmade everything, from fresh pasta to fried chicken, in the sweetest, most relaxed setting. Don’t miss the meatballs. 

Taco Vino. New to town, I hope this spot sticks around. I like the carnitas and skirt steak tacos although there are plenty of vegetarian options too. Their house margarita is just right and they’ve got a white pear-gin-thyme sangria.

Les Caves. The beer selection and pretzel with cheese sauce at this Belgian-inspired tavern can turn a day around; they really are that good. When I first moved here, their beer binder (the list of their bottle selections in addition to what’s on draft) gave me the giggles. They do sandwiches particularly well and twice-fry their fries.

Cloud and Kelly’s. From Belgian to Irish, C&K’s is where to go for shepherds pie, brown bread and Guinness. If you’re in the mood for something lighter, their salads are also excellent (ask for the sherry vinaigrette). The owner’s mother makes all the desserts.

Gathering Together. Technically in Philomath, the next town over, Gathering Together is worth the 10-minute drive from Corvallis. One of the first farm-to-table restaurants in the valley, their food is seasonal and special. This is where I go to celebrate something. They’re closed in winter and have particular hours in-season so check ahead. 

The Woodsman. I cannot guarantee you that the Thai food at this old logger bar in Philomath will be the best you’ve ever tasted (although it is quite good), but I can say pretty confidently that you’ll never forget the setting. There is a human-sized chainsaw hanging from the ceiling. I’ll let you discover the rest.

TREATS

Le Patissier. Owners Didier and Trinidad Tholognat have brought so much warmth and care to this little gem on Circle Boulevard just north of town. It is my most treasured Corvallis find. The pastry are divine, from swan shaped cream puffs to chocolate croissants. 

Francesco’s Gelato. This is the real gelato deal right down to the flat-topped mini spoon. I love the flavors that use herbs and spices—lavender, cinnamon—but they’ve got it all. Their espresso machine resembles a small, shiny sports car. I’ve heard their affogato (espresso poured over vanilla gelato) is transcendent. 

Benny’s Donuts. There was a donut hole in this town (yuk yuk) and I’m so glad Benny’s filled it. Their flavors are always interesting—lemon lavender, marionberry rosemary, maple sea salt—and they deliver! 

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Kristin's 5 Favorites

1. Favorite view: Fitton Green has a short, much loved trail that loops around a hillside. On a clear day, you can see all the way down the valley from the top. The rare Fender’s blue butterfly lives here and there’s no better-placed bench in town than the one you’ll find on the trail.

2. Favorite place to write: Depends on the season. In winter, I’m at my desk in a bathrobe, but in summer I like to write in the hammock we string up in our backyard.

3. Favorite museum: The Arts Center in a converted church is great, but one of my favorite things about Corvallis is its public art—poems on billboards, wood carvings in back alleys, otter sculptures by the river.

4. Favorite coffee shop: Tried and True Coffee Co. is a lovely, local spot run by the nicest couple. I order cardamom lattes there as a treat sometimes and love their cold brew in the summer. Their downtown location is right by the farmer’s market so I often stop in before browsing the stalls.

5. Favorite thing about Corvallis: Location. A short drive in any direction can take you to: ocean, vineyard, waterfall, rock face, snowfield, desert and riverbank. Plus there’s always fresh beer to come home to.