Humble Spirit, the new downtown McMinnville restaurant that opened in mid-July, is, at its heart, a farm-to-table restaurant. All the buzzwords are there: seasonal, small-batch, local, sustainable. These aren’t new ideas in Oregon wine country, where the changing menus at the area’s best restaurants — Mac Market, Pizza Capo, Red Hills Kitchen, the Painted Lady — all exemplify how local and seasonal sourcing impacts culinary creativity.
The thing that makes Humble Spirit special in town is that the company operating it also owns an actual farm. “We’re born of a farm,” says chef Brett Uniss. “The farm is a foundation for the restaurant.”
Humble Spirit is the restaurant arm of an emerging Yamhill County-based hospitality company called the Ground. The Ground began to take shape when owner Brenda Smola-Foti founded Tabula Rasa Farms in 2015, with the goal of raising truly sustainable beef cattle, pastured pigs, and other livestock on a rehabbed horse farm in Carlton. Permaculture systems and regenerative agricultural models were essential aspects of her vision, as was figuring out ways to invite people to experience the farm: visiting for a tour, staying in the swanky onsite Airbnb, and shopping for eggs, meat, and other products at the farmstand. Now, besides Tabula Rasa Farm and Humble Spirit, the Ground — which Smola-Foti founded with husband and now-retired Vigor Industrial ship-building magnate Frank Foti — also includes Source Farms, a partnership with pioneering Kookoolan Farms that supplies local farmers markets. The company is also developing a bed and breakfast for debut in 2023.
What does that pedigree look like in a restaurant? Humble Spirit is a polished space down to the details. Brick and peach-painted walls and blonde wood paneling frames the single dining room, an Oregon white oak photo mural of the farm dominates the small adjoining entryway bar, and the space benefits from city restaurant hallmarks such as sound dampening tech, flawless new cabinetry, and ambient lighting that seems designed to make everyone look their best.
“We want to highlight what this area is about,” Uniss says. “My ambition, not to be too Portlandia about it, is to have our burger beef to be from a single animal where it’s identifiable, real food. You know, tag number 118, it was a red Devon. Brenda and farmer Brett raised this cow, it was harvested in Carlton, and now it’s here. It never left the county. As geeky as that seems, it feels important.”
McMinnville, already Oregon wine country’s dining gem, is in the midst of a tiny farm-to-table restaurant renaissance. Days before Humble Spirit opened, Castagna alumnus Matthew Lightner was opening Okta just up the street, a tasting menu restaurant that also operates its own farm. While the Michelin star-aspirations are clear at Okta, Humble Spirit seems to be seeking a wider — and perhaps more local — clientele, thanks to its a la carte menu. It’s more polished than many other area offerings, but with a menu engineered to be approachable, with price tags to match.
Uniss’s opening menu feels seasonal and smart, but also deeply accessible. Even when it treads towards richness, it feels less abjectly hedonistic than his previous restaurant, Jackrabbit, did. Snacks ranging from $5 to $21 include items like whole hazelnuts fried with little bits of pork belly, an artful selection of fresh and pickled vegetables plated on a swoosh of carrot hummus, and a Pacific Northwest cheese plate. Small plates in the $12 to $19 range feature salads, local seafood options like albacore tuna confit with fennel and focaccia croutons, and beef and pork meatballs buried in silky mushrooms and madeira sauce.
Though Tabula Rasa is an animal agricultural operation, it’s no steakhouse — beef is available based on the harvest schedule on the farm. The large plate menu, $19 to $28, incorporates several vegetarian dishes, including a peppery spaghetti alla chitarra with yellow tomatoes and lemon basil, as well as seafood-centric dishes like delicate whole trout covered in a tumble of fresh herbs and marinated fennel.
When Tabula Rasa Farm’s pastured beef does appear, it’s in a starring role: a daily farm cut, or a double cheeseburger with griddled onions and smoked cheddar. Uniss is also using lard from the farm’s pigs to make a not-vegan but otherwise pretty convincing dupe for an Oreo, one of the restaurant’s two desserts.
“We’re shooting for a real neighborhood bistro, brasserie kind of vibe,” Uniss says. “Not that it would be French-inspired, but that it’ll be a neighborhood restaurant.”
Closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, Humble Spirit is otherwise open for service from 4 until 9 p.m. at 411 NE Third Street. Reservations are available through Tock.