This post started on the Northwest board, but since I tried a few places in CA, I thought this post might help future road trippers. For you Upper Nor Cal folks, the places in Oregon were DEFINITELY worth a trip!
Friday we drove up, we stopped at Granzella's first, it was fine, but too touristy and their olives were not to our liking. They do have a nice looking selection of gelato that we didn't sample, and other "gourmet" foods and gadgets, all of which I have access to Sonoma County-side.
Next we stopped at Bartel's Giant Burger for a deliciously simple burger. Just lovely people, and lovely stop along I-5 for someone who LOVES a good burger. Only word of advice, order Ketchup on your burger if you fancy, otherwise, you don't get it. It wasn't horribly hot, so we sat outside... It was nice...
Our next stop was the Rogue Creamery. Amazing and SO fun. We met one of the cheesemakers (the older gentleman) who, apparently, lives and produces cheese in Sonoma County. (He lives in Sonoma.) All of the cheese is fantastic. We settled on Oregonzola, white cheese curds, and a "touvelle" which is a cheese of their own invention. Smooth like a mild cheddar, but a little sharp too. Their lavender cheddar is also fantastic if you enjoy the subtelties of cheeses.
At Rogue, we noticed Lillie Belle Farms (http://www.lilliebellefarms.com). Normally, I am not a chocolate fan, and certainly don't like truffles and the like, but we were intrigued, so we popped in. I wish my computer wasn't acting up so I could post pictures. The pallette of colors that welcomed us was incredible. We had a sample from the proprieter of the Agave Lime truffle, tasting vaguely of tequila, which was SPECTACULAR. My PERSONAL favorite was the lavender infused caramels with Fleur du Sel salt. Ridiculously good. Everything was good there. They also do a smoked blue cheese bon bon using their neighbor's cheese! And the display was just fantastic. Too lovely to miss, truley. They also make some specialties, using their organic berries from the farm. (Lillie Belle owner said a tasting room for wine is going in in between the two store fronts soon, the trifecta of yum!)
Finally, stuffed full of those delights, we headed out for the rest of the drive. Based on the suggestion here, and the fact everywhere else looked, as you had suggested, just eh, we found BELLY. I thought Belly is the type of restaurant I would open if I were rich. Simple, simple, simple, but good, good, good, too. We started with a Little Gem Salad with tomatoes and bocorones. The Bocorones were a little overpowering if you ate them straight, but the flavor they imparted to the olive oil was fantastic, sharp and salty. Our mains were skirt steak with spinach and salsa verde and the pork belly over lentils. First, I have never seen such generous portions for $14 that taste this good ever, I don't think. The pork belly was HUGE. My only complaint was the lack of green on the dish. I thought that a vinegary swiss chard would have complemented the dish nicely. The steak was lovely, and the rough cut salsa verde (just parsley and garlic, really) was delicious. I used the spinach from my DH's dish to supplement my own. Everything at Belly was nice, and the price, with 2 glasses of wine each, plus 1 salad and 2 mains was about $75, which doesn't seem outrageous at all. The chef may get dinged for being "too simple" but I think the flavors are there, just need refinement. Solid B, in our book, but we think if we had tried more the rating might have gone up. As an aside, for a place with a growing wine region, the lack of ANY local selections was just weird...so that needs work. Wine list is a C, if not worse (cheap, but limited).
Hope this helps future road trippers!