From the moment you walk into the well-lit, high-ceilinged Lion and Owl, you sense its fresh, clean elegance in a delightful environment. The skylights, the big windows, the succulents-covered living wall, and the long wooden communal tables are all reflected in the central mirror of a polished vintage silver Airstream trailer that throws back to the restaurant’s roots. “We’re trying to provide a high level of service that is comfortable,” says co-owner Kirsten Hansen. “Fine dining in a casual environment.”
Hansen and her wife, Crystal Platt — recently nominated for a 2023 James Beard Award as one of the best chefs in the Pacific Northwest — initially opened their restaurant in the Airstream during the “outdoor months” of May through October in 2017 and again for the 2018 season, in the parking lot of Eugene Backyard Farmer. The name Lion and Owl is a nod to the personalities of the founding pair, and their trailer offered brunch for “the fierce and the wise.” The menu always features local, seasonal items that reflect not only a dedication to wholesome ingredients but also a way to creatively respond to what’s available.
Platt spent 10 years prior to opening Lion and Owl in the kitchen at Marché (the last four as head chef). She and Hansen met at Marché over food and wine. Hansen moved to Eugene to take over as wine director of Marché after long stints as a sommelier in San Francisco at the Slanted Door in the Ferry Building and at Greens Restaurant at the marina.
In the off-season, both the Lion (Hansen) and the Owl (Platt) traveled and worked in New Zealand, accumulating experience they drew on to open their brick-and-mortar location in early 2019. They quickly began looking beyond morning meals to a dinner menu as well. One of the last hurrahs of the initial iteration was a five-course wine-paired prix fixe menu celebrating Champagne.
“We looked at that opportunity as a blank slate to create and curate the space we wanted,” said Hansen. After a year of growth, and a blossoming reputation as a hotspot for brunch, Lion and Owl was set to ramp up to full-time dinner service when the pandemic shut the doors from 2020 through the summer of 2021. “By the time we felt comfortable returning to service, we had been closed longer than we’d been open,” says Hansen.
Fortunately, Lion and Owl recovered and is now open five days a week for brunch and dinner, as well as special holiday meals. Wine-focused events “highlight the list of grape growers and producers that align with the ethos of farm partners who focus on the non-intervention, organic methods of farming,” says Hansen. The pair’s menus have never been typical for brunch or dinner. Consider boudin blanc (white French sausage) stuffed into morels with green garlic and miners lettuce, or lamb belly roulade filled with fava greens, harissa, and labneh, with a side of spring vegetable hash. The ingredients are so hyper-local that Hansen says they “don’t change the menu until produce starts coming out of the ground.”
Although the setting is approachable and comfortable, Lion and Owl always offers something interesting and unusual, like potatoes cooked in the style of a ham hock, a signature spring dish on the brunch menu. Whether you’re looking forward to familiar creativity, or anticipating new dishes and new meals and fresh wine flights and cocktails as the seasons change, you can find it there. And you can join Eugene’s dining scene in celebrating the recognition of this wisely ferocious restaurant.
Lion and Owl, 60 E 11th Ave., 541/606-0626, lionandowl.com