I was rolling down Highway 126 one evening, hungry and headed for Eugene, when I saw the neon OPEN sign at Marion Forks Restaurant. Now this was a compelling thing, as I had passed by this place many times and it was always, always closed. I love to check out roadside mom-and-pop spots – those small bastions of refuge and respite in between nowhere and hell-and-gone.
So I pulled a quick U-E (don’t try this at home) and drove into the vacant parking lot. Yes, I was the only patron in a solitary place on a dark and lonely highway. Though it sounds like the setting for an episode of the Twilight Zone, I couldn’t have been happier.
Marion Creek feeds the Santiam River and it happens to run right by the back deck of Marion Forks Restaurant. A rocky shore lines the near side of the creek and a dense forest of pine and cedar touches the other. The restaurant houses a full service lounge – just what everyone needs on a highway – with a super-cool red leather bar, and a vast dining room adorned with game trophies. So I ate in the company of Bobcat, Elk, Antelope and Cougar, though I think I was happier about it than they were.
Marion Forks Restaurant was reopened December 16, 2009, by managers Paul Wayne Rettinger and June Townsend, after an 18-month closure. I chatted with Chef Scott Rairdon, who was recruited from San Diego for the task of delivering a menu of hearty breakfasts, quick lunches, upscale dinner specials and locally sourced ingredients. I got an interesting cuisine tidbit from Chef Scott: food tastes better outside. So be sure to sit on the deck if you go during a warm, sunny day. Why? The oxygen enhances the aromas of the food, which in turn gives your meal more flavor.
I ordered Drunken Fish & Chips for dinner – with a Diet Coke – and substituted salad in place of French fries. I fully expected iceberg lettuce with some shredded carrots and 1000 Island dressing, but was happily surprised with field greens, tomatoes, carrots, dried cranberries and – remember these? – pickled beets. Yum city.
Other enticing menu items include: burgers, sandwiches, soups and salads; no big surprise. The kids’ menu includes mac-and-cheese wedges, grilled cheese sandwiches, chicken strips and corn dogs. For dinner, take a giant leap into Now We’re Talkin’ with large portions of rib-eye steak, seafood combos, pasta, and cheeseburger soup. If you don’t see what you really, really want for dinner, ask Scott and he’ll make something just for you. Just don’t ask him to take the burgers out of the basket. Says Scott, “they’re better that way.”
Marion Forks Restaurant is 20 minutes from Detroit, Oregon, which is the closest place for lodging. Other distances:
From Gates: 33 miles
From Sisters: 41 miles
From Stanton: 54 miles
From Bend: 63 miles
From Salem: 68 miles
Portland: 113 miles
From Klamath Falls: 200 miles
Other Vital Stats:
Marion Forks Restaurant is located on Highway 22 at Mile Post 66