Gem Creole Saloon – McMinnville

Someone mentioned Gem when I was dining at Barrel 47 in Carlton – “Unforgettable Cajun food” and “Amazing” were what I remember during the conversation, so I’ve been looking for a good reason to visit since then.  Now, as some of you may already know McMinnville isn’t my favorite place, and it is more or less the last place I want to ever be, however, I figure the sacrifice may one worth it if the cuisine is as good as I’d been led to believe.  It was during a house-hunting expedition to a nearby town that I girded myself to driving to McMinnville and give Gem a try.

Where is Gem?

So glad you asked – Gem is in McMinnville, along the Main Street what the locals would consider “downtown” – which has been amazingly cleaned up and is a very nice place to visit – there are many shops and other restaurants in downtown McMinnville that are just fantastic, definitely recommend you take an opportunity and visit to take it all in.

Gem is located in the suitably named Gem Saloon Building, built in 1912 and is on the national register of historic places.

Gem Saloon Building Plaque - Gem building is where the Gem Creole Saloon is located.
I’m certain the Gem building has existed much longer than the Gem Creole Saloon, but cheers for the owners of the Saloon naming the restaurant after the building – I think it says volumes about the type of owners they must be – less interested in naming a place after themselves, rather naming their business after the historic building.  I like that!!

Outside Gem

The outside of the Gem Saloon sports dark rich wood and wrought iron lanterns – it reminds me strongly of the French Quarter in New Orleans – I can say that with some authority as I lived in Louisiana for twenty years.  Additionally, all of the lettering on the outside of the restaurant is gold colored, and reminds me of gold gilding, the contrast between the rich wood and gold lettering is fantastic!

Gem’s sign matches the rest of the exterior - with gold highlights and fleur-de-lis sigils
Even the Gem Sign above and in front of the restaurant looks fantastic – with fleur-de-lis sigils above and below the name and more gold coloring – it perfectly matches the elegance of the rest of the exterior
The writing next to the front door harkens me back to living fun New Orleans, it’s so familiar.
Even the writing on the wood next to the front door is stylized and colored to match the rest of the decor

Inside Gem

The first thing I noticed when inside was the how much the theme made the place look so fantastic!!  The dark rich purple paint on the walls, the dark wooden tables, the gold framed pictures and mirrors all work together to create a rich atmosphere perfectly suited to a creole restaurant.  The entire inside just breathes Creole food, and I found myself salivating the moment I opened the door.

The dark purple colors and gold colored frames work together to create a wonderful mosaic
Inside Gem the colors, textures, sounds, and even smells made a wonderful atmosphere
The mirrors in Gem are gorgeous and striking against the dark purple of the walls
Inside Gem at eye level are a collection of gorgeous mirror – all framed in gold-painted wood – while the interior initially seemed a little narrow, the mirrors add width and a rich atmosphere to Gem.  With the dark purple color the gold mirrors are the perfect colors for Mardi Gras, in New Orleans, where Creole food was born
Gem has a fantastic large skylight that lets in a wonderful amount of rich light
The day was a little grim, but the skylight let in significant light, adding a warm atmosphere to Gem’s inside Inside

The amount of detail that has gone into Gem is truly amazing, it isn’t a random collection of New Orleans themed items, but rather a specific ingenious design that makes the dining experience fantastic.

The chandelier above the bar at Gem I fantastic and matches the decor and design scheme perfectly
The main light above the bar area in Gem reminded me of some kind of normal chandelier that’s been upcycled, redesigned and had Edison bulbs installed
The wall of masks - all painted gold with the dark purple wall just looked amazing, kudos to the designer
I really liked the design in Gem and the wall of masks was another example of simple small design that looked fantastic

Gem has a great interior, but in addition it also has great thematic music.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been to a restaurant and the music didn’t match the theme of the restaurant – not that it’s a tremendous big deal, but it’s enough that when I visit a place where the theme does match the music I really appreciate it.

Music List:

  • Your Heart is as Black as Night – Melody Gardot – My One and Only Thrill – 2009
  • She Caught the Katy – The Blues Brothers – Blues Brothers Original Soundtrack – 1980
  • Dance the Night Away From You – Dr. John – City Lights – 1978
  • No Particular Place to Go – Fats Domino – Forever Fats Domino Vol.01 – 2013
  • Big Bad Handsome Man – Imelda May – Love Tattoo – 2007
  • See That My Grave is Kept Clean – B.B.King – One Kind Favor – 2008
  • Having a Real Bad Day – Taj Mahal – Señor Blues – 1997
  • School Day (Ring Ring Goes the Bell) Chuck BerryAfter School Sessions – 1997
  • Jockomo, Jockomo – Bo Dollis & The Wild Magnolias – Le Mississippi: The Song of the Rivers/The Mississippi – 2015
  • Leaving Trunk – Taj Mahal – Taj Mahal – 1968
  • Back Door Santa – Clarence Carter – Testifyin’ – 1969
  • Whut’s Wit Dat – Dr. John and Lower 911 – Tribal – 2010

Gem Menus

The menus at Gem were – like everything else there, just fantastic, and the offerings, well, let’s just say that I blew my lunch budget by quite a bit.

The starter menu at Gem has some amazing offerings and I sincerely wanted to try everything!
I’ll save my selections for the next section, but the items available to have as simple starters are unique and fantastic.  I really appreciated the menu items
The Entrees at Gem are amazing and I wanted all of them!
Gem has many creole and cajun offerings along with salads and burgers and sandwiches
The desert menu at Gem is wonderful
An establishment really can’t be much of a creole or cajun type place with out beignets, and Gem definitely has them – I can verify that they are wonderful!!

Gem Food!!

And other wonderful things!  At Gem, one of the primary attractions for me at least was the possibility to enjoy some genuine cajun and creole cooking.  I wasn’t sure what to expect – there are lots of places that have similar items – that claim to have some kind of souther roots or cajun influences, but fall short.  Let me tell you this – Gem is the real deal!  The food is amazing and fantastic!!!  I started with some the boo fries and cornbread.  I wasn’t too sure about fries that had money in them, but was completely blown away when I tried them.  You must try them!!  The cornbread was fantastic as well – cooked in small muffin tins, the size and price were both perfect!!!  Thile I was waiting for my main course I had to try a whiskey flight – the Portland Flight. Let me tell you – the northwest (and Portland) definitely knows it’s way around a whiskey barrel, these were amazing.  For anyone who doesn’t know what a flight is, it’s a “sampler”, of just a taste – about 1/2 shot of several different types of liquor.  In this case the choices were all local Portland whiskeys, and they were just fantastic!!!  Cannot recommend highly enough!!  For my main course, since it was for all of you and in the interest of science I decided on the Jambalaya – which due to being homemade ON THE SPOT requires forty-five minutes from order time to dining.  Let me tell you, it was definitely worth the wait!  This was the single best jambalaya I’ve ever had, and I’m from Louisiana!  After the lunch I really needed a desert and there’s nothing that screams creole more than beignet’s, and I have been to the original beignet place in New Orleans called Cafe DuMonde.  The beignets at Gem were just amazing and some of the best I’ve ever had – warm, just cooked and covered with powdered sugar,  The best way to end an amazing meal.

At Gem the boo fries and cornbread are both simply amazing - definitely highly recommended
The cornbread and boo fries from Gem are just amazing, the fries are fresh and have a sweet and wonderful flavor.  The cornbread is perfectly sized and comes with locally made and churned butter
The Portland Flight whiskey sampler was just amazing at Gem, I’ll definitely be trying that again
The whiskey flight was the perfect compliment to the meal, it gave a rich and cultured edge to everything, and I was very please they were available
I can’s say enough good things about the lunch at Gem, the Jambalaya in particular was just amazing
The jambalaya at Gem was some of the best this Louisiana raised boy has ever had.  It requires some additional time to cook, but to me that just adds to the anticipation and is definitely worth the wait
The desert beignets are just amazing at Gem, definitely recommended
The beignets pronounced Ben-yay, are some of the best I’ve ever had and I’ve had beignets from Cafe DuMonde – the gold standard, from the French Quarter in New Orleans

Summary and Rating

I’ve tried many different things and love visiting new spots, but I’ll able to say that Gem is one of my new favorites.  It rivals any of the other establishments I’ve visited and is definitely one of the top five I’ve been to in a long time.  The atmosphere, location, design and decoration inside, the music all create a wonderful dining experience, and then there’s the food, Wow,  I cannot say enough good things about the food at Gem, it’s genuine creole cooking.  Just like I had hundreds of times in Louisiana.  Anyone who is a foodie, or enjoys relaxed fantastic meals and atmosphere simply must take the time to visit Gem in McMinnville.  Gem definitely deserves five and a half Heywillamettes.


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