The little house on 17th just off State Street in northeast Salem has seen more lives than a cat. I think it previously has been a musical instrument store and at least three different cafes. Set in a kind of frumpy, uptownish neighborhood that can’t quite decide what it wants to be, the house always seemed to be a happening just waiting to happen. My recent visit to Word of Mouth, the funky little bistro currently resident in the place, has given me hope that the house, like the Tin Man, has finally gotten its long-awaited heart.
Inside, the house is bright and clean. The small tables (no parties of 8 here) are scattered through several “rooms,” but they are open to each other. This gives the place a casual intimacy, which is the hallmark of a good neighborhood bistro, without making you feel claustrophobic. Our server was friendly and attentive. I felt like I’d discovered a well-kept secret, tucked off the beaten path. In a way, I had.
My wife had visited before me and, knowing my love for a certain dessert, recommended the Crème Brulee French Toast. Dutifully (yeah, right) I ordered it. It came quickly and hot. One bite was all I needed to know that his place was for real. Good French toast—I mean really good French toast—is a rarity, and this item, if it were the only thing on the menu, would make Word of Mouth a culinary destination.
But a look at the menu reveals that these people are serious about what they do. From the breakfast offerings to the lunch and dinner choices it’s clear that this little bistro is aiming for something special. As a resident of Salem for 18 years, I’ve long lamented the dearth of unique and fun places to eat. Word of Mouth may give some of us a reason not to drive to Portland.
By the time I left, the place was packed and folks were sitting in the porch area waiting for a table. Good sign, I thought. As I stepped out into the fresh morning, I felt that mild “decadent” sensation that comes only after an enjoyable dining experience. It was a pleasant guilt, and I will no doubt return to Word of Mouth for another delightful transgression.