An exterior that resembles a European castle, complete with a stone wall topped with wrought iron and covered with vines, is only the beginning of the charming atmosphere that awaits patrons of Excelsior Inn in Eugene. Whether enjoying dinner on the shaded stone patio that’s just steps off of East 13th Avenue (but feels worlds away) or inside in the dining room, patrons enjoy old-world elegance in both food and decor.
Just inside Excelsior Inn and Restaurant, the first thing you see is a glass case of carefully prepared desserts, displayed as if they were precious gems. No corners are cut on ambience—tables are decorated with fresh flowers and lighted candles and draped with fine tablecloths. The formal dining room is particularly nice for special occasion dinners, but there’s also a bistro side that is more casual. In the bistro, they recently installed lighting to showcase the beautiful stained glass windows on that side of the restaurant.
“We do kind of look like a spooky castle from the front,” says Brett Batterson, who has managed Excelsior for the past six years. “The first time I came in here, I wasn’t expecting how beautiful it is. The dining room is incredibly elegant, and you can go on the bistro side and be more relaxed, so you get the best of both worlds.”
Attention to detail, in both appearance and the food, has led to Excelsior’s success since owner Maurizio Paparo purchased the building in 1993. Paparo was born in Naples, Italy, and then moved with his family to Florence. He learned the gelato trade and later brought that knowledge to Eugene, where he helped found a gelato program for Lochmead Dairy.
In 1995, Paparo undertook an extensive renovation of the historic building, creating a 14-room, European-style bed and breakfast in the heart of Eugene. Excelsior is an in-demand spot for weddings, anniversaries, birthdays, and graduation dinners. While guests can stay and enjoy the charm of the rooms, some with amenities such as fireplaces and whirlpool tubs, it’s the food that draws most people on a more regular basis.
“Our menu is fancy in some regards, but our attitude is welcoming and not snooty,” Batterson says. “Our tone is set by everyone being willing to go the extra mile and accommodate guests. We try to embody a sense of hospitality as if we were welcoming them into our home.”
With fireplaces in both the dining room and bistro, Excelsior is cozy in the wintertime. Warming and hearty dishes take their place on the menu that time of year, with osso buco (a Milanese braise of veal shanks served with a saffron risotto) being a popular choice. Excelsior is also one of the few places locally where you can enjoy game dishes, such as wild boar or rabbit cacciatore.
As the weather cools, even the cocktails become more spicy and warming. “In summer, we use more vodka and gin, and in the wintertime, our cocktails are more about using brown spirits, such as bourbon, rye, and brandy,” Batterson says. Staff make their own nocino, a classic Italian liqueur made from walnuts, and use that in a twist on a boulevardier (itself a twist on the classic negroni), where bittersweet Campari meets the nuttiness of the nocino in place of sweet vermouth. Also try their festive allspice old-fashioned, made with Eagle Rare bourbon and St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram, a traditional preparation made with smoky Jamaican rum. “We make a really good eggnog with the allspice dram, too!” Batterson says.
Plated breakfasts, available each day with a brunch on Sunday, feature such delicious fare as eggs Benedict and housemade sausage. Twice a month, the restaurant hosts dinners highlighting a region of Italy. In July, for instance, the regional dinner, or Cucina Regionale, celebrated the cuisine of Sicily with a four-course menu and wine pairings, plus a presentation by the winemaker and Paparo.
Excelsior sources many of its ingredients from Paparo’s own nearby farms, especially in the summertime, when vegetables, herbs, and berries abound. But many of their regular ingredients, such as cheeses and meats, are DOP (short for Denominazione di Origine Protetta, literally “Protected Designation of Origin”) and ordered directly from Italy.
“You get the taste of Italy and the locality of many of the vegetables, fruits, and herbs from Eugene,” head chef Eric Garcia says. “We’re already a really friendly restaurant, and the quality of the food is an extra bonus.”
Excelsior Inn, 754 E 13th Ave., Dinner: Sun-Thurs, 5 pm-9 pm; Fri-Sat, 4 pm-10 pm, excelsiorinn.com