Casual atmosphere, gourmet menu
By KARL KLOOSTER
Of the NEWS-REGISTER
Building a restaurant concept around goat is out of the ordinary, to say the least. How many restaurants even serve goat, much less feature it?
But David and Cassie VanDomelen, owners of The Blue Goat in Amity, are far from ordinary folks. And the considerable abilities they bring to the table make their restaurant a welcome addition to the Yamhill Valley's culinary scene.
The VanDomelens describe Amity's newest dining establishment, modestly, as "a rustic, wood-fired cookery." But the historic little farming town has never before seen the likes of it.
"Gourmet" aptly describes its menu. Its atmosphere is relaxed and friendly. Handsome interior design elements add a touch of class to the decor. In other words, The Blue Goat is simultaneously upscale and casual.
What it all adds up to is the abilities and desires of the VanDomelens brought to fruition. The couple put their creative talents to the test when they decided to embark on a venture neither had experienced before.
Dave is a woodworker and contractor accustomed to being in business for himself — just not the restaurant business.
Cassie, an occupational therapist, has worked in the health care field for 12 years — most recently for Yamhill County's Abacus program. That makes her a restaurant novice as well.
They live on a small, sustainably operated spread in the Eola Hills. They are tending a herd of 20 goats there — enough to provision their restaurant.
A couple of cows and steers, along with a prolific garden, provide them and their two children from Dave's earlier marriage with all their own meats, cheeses and produce.
AN UNUSUAL CENTERPIECE
Four years ago, they built a small earthen oven at their place. Cassie said the inspiration came from artist/builder Kiko Denzer, whose oven installations are as much sculptures as cooking devices.
The VanDomelens' homemade version began to bring forth pizzas, roasts, breads and a whole host of other baked goods. In the process, they both became quite adept as oven operators.
For those unfamiliar with earthen ovens, they are built in three layers, each of a specific and varying composition, designed to absorb and hold heat for hours.
They are also called "cob" ovens, after the adobe mud and straw mixtures that form the insulating layers.
Initially heated to 500 degrees, a properly constructed earthen oven will drop to between 375 and 425 degrees within about an hour, then hold at about 350 degrees for another three hours. So items requiring high temperatures need to be cooked first.
It takes time and practice to become proficient with an earthen oven, but the results emerging from this wood-fired cooking technique can be exceptional.
Out of that rewarding experience came the idea of opening a restaurant in Amity. They patterned it after Fireworks, a popular Corvallis restaurant featuring a wood-fired cob oven designed and installed by Denzer.
First on the agenda was finding a location.
The VanDomelens focused on a vacant building on Trade Street. The centrally located space suited their needs well and they were able to negotiate a deal with the owner.
Having now secured a spot, they began seriously laying plans. For them, however, this was more than merely a business.
As Cassie said, "It would help us get involved in our community, meet people and lend shape and purpose to our agricultural longings. Dave could build the restaurant and furnishings, creating a showcase for his wood craftsmanship.
"We could center the whole thing around a cob oven designed by Denzer. I could bake bread and grow produce. We could raise animals for meat. Our kids could have jobs. Local folks could have jobs."
With all this in mind, they ramped up their planning efforts through the spring and summer of 2010, initially settling on September as their target date for opening.
As they got farther into the project, however, it became clear Cassie wouldn't be able to do all the cooking herself. Enter Kyle Chriestenson, a skilled young chef who was working at The Kitchen, a wood-fired oven bistro in Boulder, Colorado.
Looking to return to Oregon, Chriestenson eagerly came on board.
Cassie said, "His vision for food, environment and business perfectly complement our ideas. Hiring Kyle was the best decision we have made to date."
Closing on the building came in July, but applying the finishing touches took longer than they had originally estimated.
The Blue Goat eventually opened its doors at 506 S. Trade St. on Nov. 30, 2010.
It was immediately greeted with a positive reaction and solid patronage. With good reason. If you've never dined on goat before, that alone is worth the trip.
My description of the flavor profile would be succulently moist and tender with a similarity to dark chicken.
Straight from the VanDomelen's farm and handled entirely in-house, the goat entree currently on the menu is a gastronomic gem. Called simply "braised goat pasta," it's nothing short of spectacular.
We can all recall those special dishes — ones where you don't want to stop eating. That's what The Goat's braised goat pasta is like.
Christenson combines tender roasted goat with house-cut pasta, roasted onions and cabbage, then tops the dish with gouda cheese. The key ingredient in its irresistibly delicious flavor is a reduction from the bones that takes three days.
Pizza is a signature dish from any wood-fired oven, so "scantily-clad pizza," served long and skinny on a wooden board, has proven one of The Blue Goat's most often-ordered items
The toppings vary, depending on Chriestenson's mood, but shredded pork, pickled green tomato sauce, fennel roasted onion and mozzarella are one delectable combination. And you can also order a vegetarian version.
Other entrees include roasted Jersey beef, mussels with pork confit and grilled steelhead. Prices range from $10 to $14. Starters include calamari, crispy pork belly, beef liver pate and roasted organic vegetables at $4 to $8.
Every item is distinctive, beautifully executed and downright yummy, particularly when paired with something from a small, but well-chosen wine selection or an Oregon microbrew.
All kidding aside, this place would give even the most belligerent goat a good name. Unlike the indiscriminate eating habits attributed to its kind, this goat has an impeccable palate.
Oh, and if you were wondering about the 'blue" part, once you're there just look around at the original artwork adorning the brick walls. Prominent among the paintings is one depicting — you guessed it — a blue goat.
The Blue Goat is at 506 S. Trade St. in downtown Amity. It is open 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday, serving Sunday brunch from 10 to 2. For reservations, call 503-835-5170. amitybluegoat.com