In “The Nut” House
By Jennifer Cossey
Business partners Scott Cunningham and chef Jesse Kincheloe have given the Willamette Valley yet another culinary gem in the form of their new 44-seat restaurant, Walnut City Kitchen, named after McMinnville’s old nickname, Walnut City, from the turn of the 20th century when the area was famous more for its nut production than for wine.
Cunningham and Kincheloe met in 2011 at Community Plate, located on Third Street in McMinnville. They had intended to offer dinner at the downtown restaurant, but for reasons beyond their control, the opportunity never materialized. So, when the chance arose to take over the former Blackbird Café off Highway 18, they jumped on it.
At Walnut City, or “The Nut” as they endearingly call it, Kincheloe has created an approachable but intriguing menu featuring some of the same local farmers supplying Community Plate. Compared to the Plate, The Nut’s menu has a heightened level of sophistication, allowing Kincheloe to flex his culinary muscles in designing a dinner menu that includes cider braised bone-in pork chop with sweet potato and Brussels sprouts hash and a foraged mushroom pasta dressed with sage and cream.
Kincheloe graduated from Western Culinary Institute Le Cordon Bleu in Portland, but he credits his most valuable learning to his work experiences at Crush in Seattle, Meriwether’s in Portland and the Allison Inn & Spa in Newberg.
Cunningham has also brought his many years of service and management experience to the new venture, helping create a casual but polished service atmosphere. His culinary career began in breweries as a brewer for Riverside Brewing Co in Southern California and Pyramid Alehouse in Berkeley, Calif. His time at Pyramid taught him how to manage a restaurant, and from there Cunningham went on to work at San Francisco’s E & O Trading Co., where he honed his managerial and business skills.
Eventually, he moved to Oregon, where he worked at The Painted Lady, Dundee Bistro and the tasting room at Soter Vineyards. This new community, composed of winemakers, farmers and neighbors, inspired him to open both Community Plate and Walnut City Kitchen.
Since opening its doors in December, Walnut City Kitchen has already experienced resounding success and praise from customers.
“We have been a lot busier than I could have possibly hoped for,” said Cunningham.
Walnut City’s recipe for success is part quality food, part fantastic wine list — managed by sommelier Andrew Smith — part engaging yet comfortable atmosphere and part respect the two business partners have for each another, as well as their customers and community.
“I have worked with many chefs over my 12 years in the industry, talented chefs from casual to very high-end dining. Jesse has a passion for food and educating people about food that is unmatched in this industry,” Cunningham said. “Jesse is poised to become one of the most influential chefs of our community. I am honored to call him, first and foremost, my friend and partner.”
For Kincheloe, the admiration is mutual. “Scott is the most understanding and caring boss, business partner and friend,” he said.
“His mind is like mine, ever dreaming. He always wants to change for the better and focuses on McMinnville as a community first when doing so.”
With a couple months of successful service, the two continue to dream and perfect The Nut. Future plans include more fresh seafood, handmade pastas and butchery, as well 24 additional seats when they expand with a patio in late spring.
WALNUT CITY KITCHEN
Address: 2580 S.E. Stratus Ave., McMinnville
Hours: Lunch: Daily, 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.; Dinner: Tues.–Sat., 5 to 9 p.m.