Summer Jo's isn't the place for a quick meal that jump-starts the day.
Opening for breakfast at 9:30 a.m., the Grants Pass restaurant coaxes customers to stroll through the farm, smell the garden's roses and settle back in deep-cushioned chairs for a meal of "slow food."
The concept has become more popular in recent years as restaurateurs and diners alike have developed a taste for foods produced locally and eaten in season. Summer Jo's, however, has ascribed to this philosophy for the past 11 years — before it became a national trend — and goes much further by growing almost all of its vegetables, fruits and herbs on six-and-a-half acres off Upper River Road Loop.
Owners Nancy Groth and Mike Swaine aim to make Summer Jo's a destination unto itself, a place where visitors can see where their food originates, enjoy a meal from the source and maybe purchase some certified organic items — including eggs and bread — from their on-site farm stand. Acknowledging that restaurant ingredients aren't exclusively organic, Groth and Swaine provide as many as they can.
"I personally like really good, organic food," says Groth. "It was just something I wanted to do for others."
Sunday evenings boast live music and free corkage on wine. Its list a boon to oenophiles, Summer Jo's was identified in this month's Wine Spectator magazine as "one of the world's best restaurants for wine lovers."
Because weekend traffic dominates the clientele and makes reservations nearly necessary, brunch on Thursdays or Fridays affords an exclusive ambiance. And with so many choices for seating between the main dining room, screened porch, picket-fenced lawn — even the wine room and low-ceilinged "farm room" — you're practically guaranteed a measure of intimacy. Large parties can reserve the "garden room" with its potting-shed esthetic.
For an early Friday lunch, I chose a seat in the screened porch, furnished with chintz-covered wicker in keeping with Summer Jo's shabby-chic decor that seems lifted straight from the pages of Country Living magazine. Solo diners also may appreciate a seat at the bar with its intentional view of the kitchen.
I ordered a lavender lemonade, a restaurant mainstay touted on its website. Given the hubbub, I was surprised to hear it might be unavailable.
Happily, the server returned in short order with the lemonade, its fresh lemon-slice garnish attractively speared with a stem of lavender. Carrying a hint of the flowers' muskiness and astringency, the lemonade ($4) was perfectly sweetened and refreshing, so good that I drank the whole glass while waiting for cream for my coffee.
Although the sunny porch was warm, it wasn't warm enough to dissuade me from the day's soup, Thai carrot accented with ground peanuts. Redolent of fresh herbs, the soup ($5) seemed like sunshine in a bowl or a giant egg yolk surrounded by the white plate. The tablespoon or so of peanuts added a nice textural contrast without distracting from the soup's bright, wholesome flavor and velvety texture.
Keen to try farm-fresh eggs from Summer Jo's free-range Araucana hens, I briefly considered the Benedict with Dungeness crab on a whole-wheat English muffin ($13). But after touring the farm, with its sheaves of ripening wheat, I couldn't leave without sampling some house-baked bread. The "foxy lox" sandwich ($10) of house-cured salmon and field greens on rye seemed an ideal choice.
Although presented open-faced, the sandwich layered on the flavor: the tang of rye, richness of cream cheese and salmon, both lightened with herbs, and the brininess of capers offset with clean, crisp greens. A handful of red grapes rounded out the plate.
The server's description of desserts, including creme brulee with more lavender and "to-die-for" chocolate brownies, sounded tempting. Yet I've never been a fan of dessert trays, which fail to show dishes in their best light after sitting out at room temperature all day.
Despite hearing some complaints that Summer Jo's serves small portions, I was perfectly satisfied and couldn't wait to return once fall harvest is in full swing. Entree prices range from $17 for a burger of grass-fed beef to $39 for lamb chops.
The off-seasons of winter and early spring feature movie nights and even cooking classes. Read about upcoming events and stories behind the food at www.summerjos.com.
— Sarah Lemon