Happy Hour Quick Stop: El Rodeo in Bend

One of the best benefits of living in Central Oregon is skiing on Mt. Bachelor. In the springtime our ski season blends into summer sports and recreation, so that you can ski in the morning and play at some other pursuit in the afternoon. Additionally, during certain days and conditions, Bachelor will remain open into the evening for special events. 

On a recent Saturday Bachelor had a “Pine Party”, keeping the Pine Marten Express lift running until 7pm. I had been skiing since first chair. Completely worn out by 6pm, I came down the mountain with a mighty hunger. Having heard of the excellence of El Rodeo many times I thought it would be an opportune moment to try it out.

Looking for just a quick bite, I opt for the bar. I walk in and see several tables open, and pick one in front of a TV which is showing the NCAA ice hockey championship game. Service is swift. I am given a menu, along with chips and salsa along with a sort of light salad immediately. I order a Margarita and some Carne Asada. The waiter, looking at this gringo, asks “Flour, right?” 

“No, corn” I reply. 

Who eats Carne Asada with flour tortillas?

Very soon after, in fact even before my Margarita arrives, the Carne Asada lands on the table. I tentatively taste a small bit of the meat… mmm. Quite good. Cooked close to perfect, and just the right amount of marinade. The beans and rice are “fair” but given that I just skied for seven hours straight, I was hungry enough to shovel it down along with tortillas and beef. 

The highlight of the meal is the Guacamole! 

I usually don’t like guacamole unless I make it myself. I take a small taste of this guac, and it is damn good! 

Less than ten minutes after the photo above was taken, that plate was as clean as it could be short of going after it by licking. 

Looking forward to coming back with a dining companion and taking in some more of the menu. Stay tuned!

El Rodeo
758 SE 3rd Street,
Bend, OR

Dinner and a Movie: McMenamins Old St. Francis School in Bend.

Captain Neon, your burger is here.

I love movies. I always have. Mostly I love their visual nature and how they allow you to immerse yourself in alternate realities; seeing things from literal and figurative unusual perspectives. There is part of me that regrets not pursuing cinemaphotography when I had the chance.

However, I rarely go to movies. The typical movie-going experience is pretty terrible. Uncomfortable seats. People talking. Cell phones going off. But most of all, the expense. Yeah, I like popcorn, but not enough to spend ten bucks for for a small portion drenched in fake butter. The number of movie theatres here in central Oregon seems to get smaller every year. For most of the past fifteen years or so I’ve chosen to pop my own corn, melt my own butter, and watch DVDs or lately, movies streamed online. I can sit in my comfy chair, drink an adult beverage, and watch in HD at home. The screen size doesn’t compare, but it suffices for most of my desires.

But sometimes you just need that immersive BIG SCREEN experience.

For that, I’ve largely stuck with McMenamins in Bend.

McMenamins is an Oregon institution, with hotels, bars, resturants, theatres, etc, scattered all over the state (and now in Washington as well.) They are consistently fun, funky, and prototypically Oregonian in expereince. I always suggest folks stay at McMenamins hotels if they visit our state. Their sole location in Central Oregon is The Old St. Francis School on Bond street in Bend, which opened in 2004. The sprawling campus is home to five pubs/bars/eateries, a hotel, live music venues, a brewery, and of course the theatre. It specializes in second-run movies a few weeks or months out of their box office peak.

The theatre is small, with seating for maybe a bit over 100 people, mostly on comfy love seats, couches, chairs, etc. Seating is first-come, first -served, but they do allow e-ticket holders into the theatre first, so if you want a prime spot, buy online. Prices are $4 most nights, with $3 Tuesdays, and a $10 Pizza & Pint option on Wednesdays. Online tickets have a $1 extra charge.

I attended the final showing of “Rogue One” on a Thursday night at 8:30pm. The theatre had hosted a special event beforehand so our entry into the theatre was delayed until about fifteen minutes before showtime. But as it was the final showing the crowd was light and I didn’t even bother staking claim to a comfy seat, but instead went straight to the bar to submit my order.

Theatre Menu

I’ve had some great meals at various McMenamins around the state, including a few that blew my mind (most notably at Cafe Zeus in the Crystal Hotel in PDX), but I have to be honest about our local outlet… their food is mediocre at best, and terrible most of the time. I must be insane as I keep going in with hopes held high, and they keep disappointing me.

The last time I had a burger at a McMenamins it was at the Broadway Pub in NE Portland. I ordered the Captain Neon (Blue Cheese & Bacon Burger) and it was awesome. Big, juicy, lots of flavor, and with an excellent bun.

Looking to reprise that experience, I ordered one, with sweet potato fries, and a glass… then went to find a comfy seat, glass in-hand. My burger arrived right before the previews started rolling.

How was the Captain Neon burger this time at St. Francis Theatre in Bend? It was overcooked to the point of being dry. (I ordered “medium-rare”) I coudn’t taste the blue cheese, and also couldn’t check if it was there in the dark. The bun tasted like some week-old deep-discount buns from the Safeway on 27th. The fries were good, but not enough to redeem the terrible burger.

I should have learned my lesson from last time I saw a movie here… I ate nearby at Bend Burger Company beforehand, and just stuck to drinks from McMenamins.

As a movie-going experience, I heartily recommend the McMenamins Old St. Francis School Theatre, but I can’t really endorse the dining experience at all.

Old St. Francis Theater
At Old St. Francis School
700 N.W. Bond Street, Bend, OR 97703
(541) 330-8562

Club Pioneer in Prineville 

Back in the day, my father and I used to travel to places in rural Canada a lot to participate in a hobby we shared. My father would say “being in Canada is like going back twenty years.”

He meant it as a compliment. Simpler times. Friendly people.

Driving to Prineville is a similar experience. 

On a recent Sunday night we turned the clock back a decade or two and drove Highway 126 down the grade and through town to Club Pioneer at the far end of Prineville. My date, a Portland native but new to central Oregon, has never been to Prineville, so I insist we visit the town for our next dinner. Club Pioneer is a Prineville institution. Much like the town itself it is a simple place, with simple fare, but tries very hard with a great attitude. I’ve dined there many times over the past decade. I’ve seen them bend over backwards for a patron, like the time a friend ordered a single-malt Scotch. They didn’t have any at the bar, but ran to the liquor store in town to buy a bottle in order to fill his order.

On this Sunday evening we are early, and I expect the place to be near empty. Instead it is packed! The parking lot is nearly full. Seemed like half the town is there for their Sunday dinners too. They seat us right away, at a small table for two, likely the last open spot in the whole dining room. The decor is “homey” and includes plenty of images of old Prineville.

The service is very fast. We order cocktails and they appear within minutes. The waitress brings us bread, and in a new twist from my last visit it includes a cheese dip of some sort. My date and I dive in…

Different, but tasty!

The menus disappear quickly, before I can snap a photo of them, but you can check them out on their Facebook page. We order the bacon-wrapped prawn appetizer… and it is just as good as I remember. Nice Thai sweet-chili dipping sauce and skewers of tasty prawns wrapped in crisp bacon. Yum! They also vanish before I can grab a photo!

My date orders the Whiskey Chicken, and I order the Black & Bleu Top Sirloin:

Black & Bleu 10oz Top Sirloin.
Whiskey Chicken

Club Pioneer gives you the option for choosing your side(s) and we both opt for veggies. But carb-lovers be aware they offer potatoes cooked in a myriad ways just for you.

Everything is tasty, cooked perfectly, and very satisfying. Oddly, as we’re halfway through our meal, the crowd starts to thin out. Clearly Prinevillians are early-to-bed, early-to-rise sorts and by 7pm the dining room is near empty. So tip for the out-of-towners: Arrive later for guaranteed seating.

As we’re finishing Jim, the owner, stops by and says hello. He recognizes me from previous visits, and asks us how our we liked our meal. Again, this is part of that “set your clock back XX years” thing… in a good way.

If you are looking for a great value in family dining, you can’t go wrong with Club Pioneer.

1851 NE 3rd St, Prineville, OR 97754