I will admit from the start that this place in downtown Coos Bay, Oregon has been one of my favorite restaurants since I arrived in town and found work.
My budget does not allow me to eat there often; it's a rare treat. The owner of the restaurant has offered me nothing in exchange for writing this review, because he does not know I am writing it. The building is one block from where I live and a used book store (Fiction 101) is conveniently located next door to Blue Heron.
Blue Heron Bistro has a good website (http://www.blueheronbistro.com/) and if you visit that, be sure to watch the TV commercials. The actor in the commercials is Wim G de Vriend, the owner.
From the street you can easily see that the Blue Heron Bistro building has German styling and a neon sign in the window tells says, "German FOOD." When you walk in you see an abundance of two things: Wood and Norman Rockwell posters. The physical structure has a lot of fine wood details varnished nicely. Sturdy wooden benches make for a waiting area. Two sets of wooden bookshelves and a library-style wooden newspaper rack greet you. The bar is solid dark wood. Dining tables and chairs are a pretty light wood. The room divider in the back dining room is an L-shaped solid, tall dark wood set of panels and separates the hallway to the restrooms from view of the guests.
Lamps over the tables are square wire frames with stenciled canvas shades. Windows are dressed with pretty cotton fabric curtains with eyelet fabric edging. During the day you can see flowerboxes filled with red geraniums outside each window. At night a rack of wooden Christmas candles is plugged in at each window sill and little white flame-shaped bulb lights lend a sweet grace. A wooden cart hear the back of the main dining room carries a barrel with flowers. There is an immediate ambiance of wholesomeness in an Old World way.
If Saturday Evening Post covers painted by Norman Rockwell weren't covering every wall, you would think they were in northern Europe. The two concepts are connected and lend to the bistro's atmosphere. Four of these Post covers are huge, the largest made, I suspect. These are the series "Four Freedoms": "Freedom from Fear," "Freedom from Want," "Freedom to Worship," and "Freedom of Speech." Many other Rockwell covers adorn almost all of the available wall space. "Charwomen in Theater" and "Homecoming Marine" are also displayed. size A few smaller ones adorn wall space where big posters would not fit. You can visit the Norman Rockwell website to see many of these (http://www.normanrockwellvt.com/FourFreedoms.htm). Rockwell painted 322 covers for Saturday Evening Post (http://www.tfaoi.com/aa/2aa/2aa179.htm), but Wim selected these for his restaurant because they honor America's role in preserving freedom, especially during World War II.
Wim G. de Vriend was born in Netherlands and was a little child during World War II. The Netherlands remained officially neutral during the war, the people took a different stance.
The Dutch resistance to the Nazi occupation during World War II developed relatively slowly, but its counter-intelligence, domestic sabotage, and communications networks provided key support to Allied forces beginning in 1944 and through the liberation of the country. Discovery by the Germans of involvement in the resistance meant an immediate death sentence.
The country's terrain, lack of wilderness and dense population made it difficult to conceal any illicit activities, and it was bordered by German-controlled territory, offering no escape route, except by sea.
Resistance in the Netherlands took the form of small-scale, decentralized cells engaged in independent activities. Some small groups had absolutely no links to others. These groups produced forged ration cards and counterfeit money, collected intelligence, published underground newspapers, sabotaged phone lines and railways, prepared maps, and distributed food and goods.
One of the riskiest activities was hiding and sheltering refugees and enemies of the Nazi regime, Jewish families like the family of Anne Frank, underground operatives, draft-age Dutch, and others. Collectively these people were known as onderduikers. Later in the war this system of people-hiding was also used to protect downed Allied airmen. Reportedly, resistance doctors in Heerlen concealed an entire hospital floor from German troops. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Netherlands_in_World_War_II)
Blue Heron Bistro's food is all made fresh from scratch and you have to wait a bit for it. That is why Wim has installed bookshelves full of books and magazines and a library-style wooden newspaper rack full of newspapers near the front door. If you came alone, you can bide your time by reading. If you came with friends, you have a pleasant place to converse.
This is northern European food. It has elements of French, Belgian, Dutch and German cooking with a few pleasant choices from elsewhere, such as Hungarian goulash and Beef Stroganoff, and they had to incorporate local seafood into the menu.
The lunch menu includes more salads and foods that can be prepared quickly. These are large salads with an exquisite selection of mesclun accompanied by little piles of tomatoes, Greek style olives, red onion, cucumber, and carrot along the edge of the pile of greens. No iceburge lettuce can be found in this salad. The protein for your salad can be seafood--scampi, bay shrimp, salmon, oysters--or pulled pork. I have had the pulled pork salad and it is succulent with generous amounts of very tender and tasty pork. If you order honey-mustard dressing, it arrives as a vinaigrette, not the creamy style we often find in stores or restaurants.
The bistro's spinach salad includes all the delicious items of their other salads except all of the greens are baby spinach, boiled (or poached) egg, bacon, and a hot dressing are added.
French hot potato salad is served with several of the meals or ala carte. You may have had hot German potato salad and that is good, too. The French version has a little more mustard and less, if any, bacon. It is very good and a nice alternative to french fries, baked, or mashed potatoes.
Most meals arrive with some form of cabbage. Red cabbage is served with most meals. Blue Heron's version of cole slaw is not the standard green cabbage, red cabbage and carrots. This has cucumber and other vegetables and a lovely vinaigrette. Fresh steamed spinach is another common accompaniment. Steamed pea pods are another.
This bistro has accommodated local seafood nicely. Brussels mussels are delicious. You can order one or two pounds of steamed clams. Oysters Rockefeller, oyster stew, oyster salad, smoked oysters, and oysters in the vispannetje--if you like oysters, they can fix them up good.
Nothing much served at Blue Heron Bistro is common. The vegetables are never the usual choices of canned green beans or sweet corn. The salads never have microwaved frozen chicken breasts. The potatoes were never frozen. Their bratwursts contain no nitrites. They do offer pizzas and sandwiches, fish and chips.
Blue Heron coffee is mellow and aromatic. They serve it in a clear glass cup and present it with a little pitcher of half-and-half. The wine selection is very good, including one Oregon's best--pinot gris--and many other fine choices. The beer selection includes some beers that you just do not find many places. They will gladly give you a sample if you're curious. Italian sodas in many luscious flavors are offered with free refills.
Last night I opted for "Dutch Meatballs" which included a smaller version of the lunch salad, a plate of breads and real butter, the entree, and dessert. Three big, savory, meaty meatballs sat firmly on a generous puddle of beef gravy. Red cabbage was the vegetable. Garlic mashed potatoes were the carbohydrate. All was delicious. When I walked in the place was swarmed with customers and only one waitress. I sat at the bar so as to allow groups of guests to use the tables. I had to wait quite a while for service (this is rare), but I was patient and read my new old books from the used book store. I never mind waiting in a place like this. The waitress appreciated my patience with her predicament and filled a goblet with something and handed it to me while I waited. I chatted with the couple beside me. I always find intelligent, interesting, congenial table mates there. I sipped the beverage and found a sparkling, bright, vivid raspberry flavor. This turned out to be Lindemans Framboise Raspberry Lambic Beer (http://www.merchantduvin.com/pages/5_breweries/lindemans_framboise.html).
Dessert comes with some of the dinner specials. I chose marionberry mousse. Rich, creamy, very flavorful with luscious little bits of berries. (http://www.oregon-berries.com/).
I had a lovely evening despite having to wait for service. Sometimes it is just pleasant to have an excuse to relax and read. No rush. No hurry. Good things take time.