From fine dining to casual bistros, from brew pub to British high tea, or ethnic cuisine to BBQ, Albany, Oregon’s vibrant culinary scene is more than what many towns of 52,000 can boast.
Big city chefs and restaurateurs: Keep doing what you’re doing. But while your rents continue to skyrocket and you drive to work in gridlock, know that not everyone in your profession measures success by working in a big city foodie hot spot. And that’s good news for all of us who like to explore small towns and cities, but also enjoy a good meal.
Take a look at an eclectic list of great places to eat in Albany.
Sybaris Bistro owners Matt and Janel Bennett decided to open their own restaurant and put down roots in Albany back in 2001. Chef Matt won several culinary competition medals and is a James Beard Foundation chef. His reputation has grown to national recognition, but Albany remains home.
His menu, as he says, “changes with the crops” each month and is fresh, diverse, and innovative each time. He values the direct relationship he has with his purveyors; meats, vegetables, fruits and herbs. Most fresh ingredients come straight from Oregon and Washington, if not Albany and the Willamette Valley.
He jokes, “If I need something, I ‘got a guy.'”
Recent menu options: An appetizer of cured halibut-potato fritters with green tomato relish and entrées of roasted pheasant breast, ravioli of pheasant leg and soft herbs, natural jus and pan-fried rice crispy crusted razor clams, soy citronette foam, summer vegetable yakisoba, and shrimp shell furikake.
Sybaris is Albany’s premier fine dining option in town, and they also manage a great wine list and bar program. You won’t find more welcoming gracious hosts (and story-tellers) than this dynamo husband and wife team and their equally adept staff. Get on their mailing list to hear about special pre-fixe dinners and other events.
Make a day of it and drive in from Portland, Eugene or wherever else just for a meal. For that matter, fly here…from where ever.
Brother and sister team, Cody Utzman and Kila Swearington grew up in Albany and together run Frankie’s Restaurant. Chef Cody got his initial culinary training in Albany, then left Albany for Brooklyn, New York in 2004. He found success as a two-time winner on the Food Network’s show, “Chopped” and running three restaurants located right in his Brooklyn neighborhood. Kila remained in the area, but also has a long restaurant career. In 2013, Cody returned to Albany and the two opened Frankie’s. The plan is to expand their enterprise in the same way Cody did business in Brooklyn; next up is a bakery/coffee shop.
Chef Cody says, “Our menu has some standards, many of which have been on the menu almost from the beginning. And a Chef’s Menu that changes every six weeks. We source everything we can locally. The asparagus was picked a mile away. The eggs for the Hollandaise sauce are from our chickens. I have mushroom hunters I work with.” The menu has it all; creative and “stand-by” salads, creative appetizers and small plates, burgers, steaks and seafood and a changing chef’s menu of creative appetizers, small plates and entrees. The bar program is expansive and creative.
As we leave after a ridiculously excellent meal, I notice a framed clipping of the article that appeared in the Albany Democrat-Herald about his Chopped win. It’s the only mention made of his achievements, and a local one is a nice touch.
Who’s Frankie? In naming the restaurant, Cody and Kila’s decided to honor their late father, a much-loved member of Albany’s community. Cody says, “My family lives here, we own property here. We want to make Albany s a better place to live.”
Novak’s Hungarian Restaurant
You just can’t talk about Albany culinary scene and not talk about Novak’s Hungarian Restaurant. Matilda and Joseph Novak opened Novak’s in 1984, sharing their native Hungarian cuisine after leaving communist Hungary and firmly establishing themselves in the U.S. in 1957. The Novak children and grandchildren have all, at various times, helped at the restaurant. While Mama and Papa (as they’re affectionately known by both family and the town alike) still make regular appearances, daughter Karen is the current owner and Karen’s twin sister, Matilda, and younger brother Joseph are still also actively involved.
The restaurant has moved twice, and their newer, permanent home is a renovated 100-year-old building in downtown Albany. The welcoming family atmosphere and fresh homemade dishes make Novak’s a local favorite.
Novak’s is only one of 19 Hungarian restaurants in the U.S. Expect hearty and flavorful portions of goulash and other stews, cabbage rolls, tender meats and sausages, spaetzle noodles, and aromas of paprika.
Homemade desserts rotate around an old-fashioned diner carousel and make selection even more difficult because they all look so good.
(Editor’s Note: The “Bo-Mackians” are still very much on the food scene in Albany and the surrounding communities, but they’ve been focusing on their catering business and production of their BBQ sauces and other food products for the retail market, so have since closed Bo-Mack’s BBQ.)
There’s room for more than one “Mama” in Albany. Kendra Knebel isn’t just “Momma” to her own seven children, she’s helped raise some 20 foster children over the years and welcomes just about everyone who comes into Bo-Mack’s BBQ into her brood as well.
Heck, I want to be a member of her family. “Seven children have trained me to think fast,” she says. She talks fast too, with a quick, sassy wit and a big heart. Momma Kendra is a dynamo whose day consists of chores at the family’s 63 acre ranch in nearby Lebanon with husband Daniel, the restaurant and catering business and the family’s growing line of food products.
Bo-Mack’s is located in downtown Albany (next door to the Albany Visitor’s Association.) Tender BBQ beef brisket, pulled pork, pork ribs, and chicken, as well as a menu of sides await and will provide a feast, whether you eat-in at the casual restaurant or take your order to-go. They’re adamant about quality, and it shows. (Don’t miss the corn bread.)
Son Bo-Mack developed the BBQ sauce recipes (and made the messes.) Youngest daughter Malika is General Manager who handles day-to day restaurant and catering operations. Each member of the family has been involved at some time or another.
Pick up bottles of their line of BBQ sauces, corn bread mix, and jams and jellies at the restaurant store or online. (You’ll find them at at some Pacific Northwest Costco stores soon as well; and yes, Momma was directly involved in negotiating that deal.)
Albany, Oregon’s Vibrant Culinary Scene
Albany truly has some great places to eat. The restaurants included here are not at all exhaustive of Albany’s line-up.
Albany’s restaurants are what initially drew me to this town. But the town’s relaxed vibe, the people, and the events held throughout town will also keep me coming back. I have to work off those meals somehow.
- Albany Visitor’s Association has the scoop on all things Albany. Visit their downtown location or their website, albanyvisitors.com
- Take a look at what we had to say about what to see and do in Albany.
- Bo-Mack’s BBQ, bomacksbbq.com/
- Frankie’s, frankies-oregon.com/
- Sybaris Bistro, sybarisbistro.com/
- Novak’s Hungarian Restaurant, novakshungarian.com/
- Santiam Room; see more on Albany’s fine dining culinary school restaurant from our site here.
-All photos by Nancy Zaffaro. Cover photo: Salmon boards hang at Sybaris Bistro.