295 W 17th Ave
Eugene, OR 97401
5th & Pearl
Note: This review covers the original Cornucopia location on 17th Ave. The food at the new location on 5th is the same, but the seating is better and there’s more space, albeit less funkiness.
Cornucopia Restaurant in Eugene. Well, there’s some very good news and there’s some sorta picky bad news. Which do you want to hear first?
OK, first the good news. This is a cool little place with well-worn funky decor and a very homey feel to it. Situated in an old house, Cornucopia feels like a comfortable little pub where everybody should know your name but doesn’t. The walls are adorned with photos of happier-than-you strangers, ever-so-PC local brewer beer signs, and other miscellaneous cutesy accumulated dreck. Simply sitting in Cornucopia for 30 minutes raises your own personal cool-factor by 50% or more (depending on how uncool you were at the start of your session). Stay for an hour, and Eugene Weekly will immediately invite you to write a weekly column expressing your deep thoughts.
The really good news is that the food is excellent. Especially the burgers. Oh, the burgers! A beautiful hunk o’ lean ground beef sans mystery gristle (see Terry’s Diner) grilled to slightly charcoally perfection over an open flame. Juicy and flavorful with just the right “bite” texture. They come with fresh chunkified lettuce, onions, etc., plus they have a beautiful french bread textury bun (as opposed to a Wonderbread mush-bun. See Costco hotdogs). Cornucopia burgers are the clear #1 leader in Eugene, Oregon (be sure to read dire warning below about Cornucopia’s second location…scary things await).
Other lunch and dinner food is also excellent. Try just about anything, and you will rarely be disappointed.
Beer and wine selection is crazy wide. If you have trouble making decisions, the choices here could drive you into a catatonic freeze. That’s a compliment, by the way.
And now for the bad news:
Breakfast food is very weak at Cornucopia. In fact, the quality and presentation are so far behind the lunch/dinner items, it seems that the management does not really take breakfast very seriously. The hash browns (or home fries or whatever they call them) are basically chunks of potato fried in a deep fryer like stubby little french fries. Tasteless and not even very warm. The waffle taste is way off…like some sort of sweet dessert cake made in the shape of a waffle. The presentation is skimpy at best…more white plate visible than actual food. Truthfully, I can not really remember much else about the food details since I only tried breakfast there twice. But I do remember there were a total of only 0-2 other customers during each visit, so I guess the word is out: skip Cornucopia for breakfast.
More bad news:
The tables are a cramped and sometimes the place can feel a bit claustrophobic during packed lunch and dinner hours. Plenty of chance to check out your hippie neighbor’s Freebird tattoos, but not so good for eating or private conversation.
The greeting/system at the front door can be a bit lacking, i.e. you have no idea what to do or where to go. So you stand there grinning like an on-deck idiot and then, for lack of anything better to do, lock your eyes on the food on someone’s table near the front door, thus overcooking the food with your laser glare. They should have known better than to sit by the front door, right?
Once you are finally seated (by the front door; oh, the irony), the service is friendly and casual to the point of being unorganized and unprofessional. Big chunks of time can elapse between sightings of a waiter that is assigned to your table (Strangely, the other waiters are always visible). Orders are sometimes totally forgotten or mixed up.
[One mystery diner team on the Eugenified payroll reports that they waited 45 minutes for two burgers which never appeared. When they politely complained, the staff admitted that the order had gotten lost. “Never fear, we’ll get right on it”. Three minutes later, two burgers arrived, but they appeared to have been cooked in the molten core of the earth. The mystery diners, followers of the lemons/lemonade creed, took these pure carbon chunks home, buried them in their backyard, and are now waiting patiently for diamonds to emerge.]
The kitchen: Remember back in college when you rented a cool/grungy house and shared it with seven other cool/grungy housemates? Well, Cornucopia’s kitchen resembles your cool/grungy college house kitchen, i.e. it’s an unprofessional mess. Take my advice and avoid eating any uncooked food that comes out of that kitchen. Well-done burgers or deep-fried fish & chips should probably be ok. But if you risk ordering a salad, hope that one of the on-deck patrons by the front door zaps it with their bacteria-killing laser glare.
Coupons: Cornucopia runs “buy one, get one half price” coupons in the newspaper somewhat infrequently. If one day you learn in advance that there is such a coupon in today’s newspaper, don’t open the paper until you are standing at the front door of Cornucopia. Reason: their coupons expire within three minutes of reading them.
Update April 7, 2012: The coupons now have an expiry date of one month from the publish date. Eugenified speaks and Cornucopia listens.
Special Note on Cornucopia’s new location: Danger, Will Robinson! Despite our waiter’s claims to the contrary, the burger patty recipe at the new Cornucopia location is NOT the same as the original version. The new version is packed with filler of some sort (soy, sawdust, other). The texture is a mushy mess. Maybe even worse, it holds a ton of water. First impression is “juicy”, but minutes later you realize it is just “wet” and your bun is now “soaked” and you are really “angry”.
I hereby swear to never again set foot in the new Cornucopia. I will make a visit soon to the original location to confirm the original recipe is still being used there. If not, there will be hell to pay. [Cue ominous music]
Update June 2, 2009: Visited the original location today so I am pleased to announce that the burgers are unchanged, i.e. good, i.e. way better than the new mush-burger at the new location. As usual, service there is annoyingly slow and unorganized: “Your server will be right with you” should be translated as “Don’t bother me. I’m not your damn waiter.”
Update July 27, 2010: They fixed the burgers at the 5th Street location. They are back to the original delicious formula. Collective sigh of relief.
Summary: Despite my verbose complaints above, the original Cornucopia still gets four stars for the excellent food taste. The new Cornucopia gets four stars also now that they have fixed the burger patty issue.
Update: Visited the 17th st location of Corn a couple of weeks ago around 2pm for a late lunch. The place was more than half empty. Our party of two selected a 4-person table so we would have a little more room, plus we never like the 2-person tables in that place because they are too tightly packed side to side or located along the sun-scorched front window area or located in the corner with seven big-headed flies bumping into the window/wall next to the table. The waitress then appeared and proceeded to insist that we get up and move to one of the 2-person tables in spite of our telling her we don’t like those tables. Big fake smile, all passive-aggressive-y, and annoying to the utmost. Result: we got up and walked out, never to return again (echo)! Penalty: minus one star for 17th Street.