Happy Hour Drive-by: Currents at the Riverhouse


A crisp and brisk autumn day consisting of a long list of to-dos completed, my companion suggested a happy hour stop at Currents, the lounge attached to the venerable Riverhouse hotel across from the mall. 

I remember back in the 80s when this was the very edge of Bend. I hadn’t even looked at the Riverhouse since not long after that. I figured, why not? 

What an amazing spot! The river dances over rocks just outside, and the inside is a flashback to an older, simpler time. It is hard to tell what percentage of the crowd are locals grabbing an after-work tipple or which are out of towners staying at the hotel. Some are already a few cheap happy hour drinks in, and getting a bit loud, but thankfully the lounge is arrayed along the east bank of the river and provides quiet nooks for those seeking a quieter spot. 

We sit at a table for two, and order some specialty cocktails. I go for a Manhattan, as I’ve been searching in vain for one that will match a mindblower served to me at a famous restaurant in Seattle last year. My companion tries their “Apple from the orchard” – an interesting cocktail for sure. (So good she orders another later.) 

We order some nibbles. Lamb meatballs for me. Some flatbread for her. (See photo above). Very tasty on both counts. 

The decor is what strikes me most about this place. It perfectly captures an “old Bend” zeitgeist. The Pacific Northwest vibe I recall from my youth. Looking around you can’t really tell if this building was built in the 1970s, or last year. It truly is a timeless design, very much at home here in our little mountain town. 

Our waitress is awesome and we’re not really ready to go, so we order the meat and cheese board, and another round. 

While the Manhattan was good, I switch to a Pinot Noir for the second course. My companion sticks with the delicious apple orchard cocktail, and scoots her chair around next to mine. Partially to be close to me, but primarily so we can hear each other better. The crowd is getting loud and the jazz ensemble is warming up for their evening performance. 

Overall great impressions. We will be back. 

More Burgers! Dandy’s Drive-in, Bend

Dandy’s Burger

After a recent late-season ski day, a burger was calling my name. The lifts were still turning but the snow has gone all sticky in the hot sunshine. Bend Burger Company is my usual apres-ski burger, but honestly I was in a hurry to get back home and back to work. I needed fast food, but not fast food, if you know what I mean. Dandy’s is nothing like BBC, or Pilot Butte, or Jody’s. It is a drive-in, and the food is fast and good. Think of it as a retro In-n-Out for Bend. Very limited menu, very fast and friendly service.

The wait staff are on roller skates. They are universally upbeat and friendly. If that doesn’t improve your mood, I don’t know what will.

I ordered something quick, just a simple burger and an order of onion rings. I had some cold drinks on me in a cooler that I bring to Bachelor on hot late-season days like this, so no shake or soda this time. Sorry I didn’t snap a photo of the rings, as I snarfed them down almost immediately. Quite tasty! The burger was very good. An honest fast-food burger. I was in and out pretty swiftly, and was completely satisfied with the experience. Far better than McD’s or BK for sure.

Dandy’s Drive In Menu

 

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
541-617-5952

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

Black Bear Diner, Madras (also in Bend & Redmond)

The Cheeseburger Salad at Black Bear Diner

Road Food. That is what I think of when I think of the Black Bear Diner. I always associate eating there with road trips. I have some personal rules about road trips, but the ones I put highest in priority are:

  1. No Fast Food.
  2. No Drive-Throughs.
  3. No Eating In The Car.

I like to get off the road, sit down, and have somebody bring my food to me, enjoy some conversation with my traveling companions, and enjoy the respite from the road.

Black Bear Diners can be found in almost every mid-sized town down the west coast from here. I have made many a road trip down to California and back, and have likely eaten at every Black Bear Diner between here and the Bay Area. Why? Consistent good quality food and service. Sometimes I’ve eaten every meal in one day’s (slow) drive (with a truck and loaded trailer) at Black Bear Diners, with breakfast in Klamath Falls, lunch in Willows, and dinner in Tulare.Oddly, I have eaten at the locations in California far more often than I have the ones right here in Central Oregon. Mostly due to that “road food” association in my mind. The Madras location is my most often visited local stop, either as a breakfast, or dinner break on trips to and from the Portland area. Madras is a good stop for an early breakfast stop to gather ODOT pass condition data (All BBD’s seem to have free Wifi in my experience) before going over Mt. Hood. It also makes for a good stopping point on those late night runs home from Portland where you just want to get out of the car before that last hour of US 97 traffic to get you home. So the Road Food mentality rules again, even close to home.

The Menu

The menu at BBD is huge. It is presented as a newspaper, with the outside of the folio being a reproduction of that town’s newspaper from the past, complete with local ads. The ones I’ve seen range from the 1930s through the 1960s. It is a fun thing to read. The inside of the folio is the full B/L/D menu.

You’ll also find a laminated flip menu on your table with some amazing dessert choices. Black Bear Diner’s berry pies are amazeballs. The only pie I’d steer you away from is the coconut creme pie. I bought one from the Redmond location once to bring to a friend who loves coconut creme pie, and it was a bust. But their berry and other fruit pies are fantastic.

On a recent road trip we stopped and had a dinner after an exhausting day in the car. It was quite late on a weeknight, so the place was almost empty, with just one or two other parties finishing up their meals. In fact a hostess was running a vacuum over the floor when we walked in. She stopped immediately and seated us in a booth. As it was late we opted for a light meal and ordered two salads. My companion picked the “Cheeseburger Salad” and I chose a Chicken Caesar.

Chicken Caesar Salad

The meals arrived promptly, and were fresh and delicious. My companion didn’t like the bacon on her salad, as she said it wasn’t crunchy as she likes it. I happily took it off her salad and added it to mine, as I like bacon any way I can get it! Otherwise she loved the cheeseburger salad.

On other occasions/visits I’ve enjoyed their bacn & eggs, eggs benedict, several sandwiches, and even a steak dinner. All have been great values.

As a final test, I thought I’d test their hot sauces for you dear reader. Not having eggs at this dinner (even though they serve breakfast all day) I tried them on a spoon. Starting with the “Baby  Burn” and working up to the “Papa Burn”…

BBD Hot Sauces

They’re all quite good. None of them are “mild” by any stretch of the imagination, even the “Baby Burn” has some heat. All had some savory flavor to go with the heat. Try them yourself next time! Yum.

 

Black Bear Diner Locations in Central Oregon:

Madras:
237 SW 4th St. Madras, OR

Redmond:
29 NW Cedar Avenue, Redmond, OR

Bend:
1465 NE 3rd St, Bend, OR

Bend Burger Company in Bend

The best onion rings in Bend!

There are four categories of hamburger in American Cuisine:

  1. The one you make at home on the grille.
  2. The fast food burger.
  3. The pub-food burger.
  4. The local burger joint burger.

Bend Burger Company falls into the latter category, as it is the prototypical local burger joint. BBC has two locations in Bend: on Franklin just west of Drake on the corner of Wall & Franklin downtown; and a second location on 3rd Street between Thurston & Seward, right across from Rite-Aid. I’ve eaten many times at both locations. Oddly, I eat downtown when it is ski season and on 3rd when it is bicycle season. I think I’ve only parked a car at the BBC on 3rd once, but have biked there many times. Go figure.

Note: The 3rd Street location does land-office business on weekday lunches, so be prepared for a crowd, unless you arrive early!

This week we stopped at the Franklin location downtown for a dinner before a movie at McMenamins. While it may seem odd to have dinner before going to a movie theater that serves dinner, I will admit to having a strong hankering for a PARTICULAR burger at the Bend Burger Company all week prior to our date night, and since I was driving, BBC it was!

Main Menu
Sides Menu

We’re both on “low carb” diets at the moment and BBC offers two great bunless low-carb options:

  1. A Burger Salad
  2. Any burger served on a bowl of sautéed green beans

When you enter either BBC you order at the counter and they give you a number, delivering your meal when it is ready. BBC is NOT fast food, so set your expectations accordingly. It will be a while, as your meal is made to order and VERY fresh. Good things come to those who wait. Both locations plenty of seating (the downtown location is much smaller however) and have bright decor with large format photos of central Oregon scenery and action shots of climbing at Smith Rock. A large screen TV has an endless slide show of Central Oregon images.

Both locations offer beer on-tap and wines by the glass. If your diet allows it (like my summertime 50+ mile bike days do!) order a milkshake. BBC shakes are delicious.

On this trip I order a Ponderosa Burger on Green Beans, and my date orders a Bend Burger Salad. I ask for a side of onion rings. Yeah, that’s a bit of a cheat on our diet, but since I am missing out on some of the best fries in Central Oregon, I want something to compensate with.


Our rings arrive first and rather than a small side, it is a huge basket of them! The BBC onion rings are amazing. Perfectly cooked with a crunchy outside and tender inside. My date proclaims them the best onion rings she has ever had. They are served with fry sauce, which I like to spice up with a few shots of the hot sauce they have on the table alongside the catsup and mustard.

About the time we’re licking our fingers after the last onion ring is gone, our burgers arrive:

The Ponderosa is covered in Pepper Jack cheese, onion straws, and to top it off another couple of onion rings!

The green beans are perfectly cooked and have a sauce that includes bacon and bits of ground beef. Some black pepper and a few shots from the hot sauce dispenser kicks up the heat a little.


The Bend Burger Salad is delivered with a bit of salad dressing of your choice. I would have picked Blue Cheese, but my date requests Ranch, on the side.

The entire meal is delicious. My date finishes her Burger Salad, but there is no way I can finish the bowl of beans. I’ve ordered this dish a few times and never been able to finish it in one sitting, but it makes for great leftovers so I get a “to-go” box and bring them home.

Leftover BBC Green Beans with eggs and bacon for breakfast

Bend Burger Company Locations:

718 NW Franklin Ave, Bend, OR
541-306-6166

1939 NW 3rd Street, Bend, OR
541-382-1914

 

 

Tim Garling’s Jackalope Grill in Bend

Adam Smith wasn’t an economist, he was, in the parlance of his day, a “Moral Philosopher.” He was an observer, thinker, teacher, and a writer. One of his postulates based on observation is the societal benefit of the division of labor. Rather than each of us having to do everything for ourselves in order to survive, we all specialize in something and contribute that specialty back to society. This give-and-take benefits us all and as Smith wryly observed, has allowed us to rise up from a primitive, difficult culture to a productive, comfortable one. On a macro scale it has produced truly amazing things such as transcontinental flight (which ironically we loathe as an inconvenience!) and portable currency. On a micro-scale it feeds us at restaurants with great ingredients from local producers.

As such I have always preached how it  pays to be a regular customer of any business, especially fine dining establishments. Eating after all, is the most basic of human needs, but fine cuisine has raised that most basic of things to high art of a most satisfying nature. We bring our currency, and the restaurant exchanges it for sustinence and service… win/win. To escalate that to a higher level, become a “regular.” Every businessperson knows that your best customers are the ones who keep coming back. Long ago, I ran a business and we knew precisely who our best revenue producing customers were, and I had every one of their contact details in my phone. I knew them on a first name basis. I also took my staff and customers frequntly to a sushi bar nearby for lunch quite often. We had an office tradition of “payday sushi”, meaning a trip to the sushi bar for lunch (almost) every payday.  The Owner/Sushi Chef at this place recognized our “regular” status, to the point that after a year or so, he would start making my order (Sushi Combo & Spicy Tuna Roll) as soon as I walked in the door. He never learned my name (he just called me “Boss”) but he knew who I was. My portions were bigger, I would get the best cuts and freshest fish. We treated each other well. Perfect Symbiosis.

I’ve been eating at The Jackalope Grill since the first month I moved to Central Oregon. Back then the Jackalope was in a strip mall south of Reed Market Road, a bit off Third street. It was hard to find and, to be honest, had near zero curb appeal. BUT… once inside, it was great. Fine food, a great wine list, and an excellent staff. It was through the wine list that I met Kathy Garling. Wine has been a passion of mine for a long time, and I have always enjoyed finding great wines at bargain prices. I recall seeing an obscure Chilean red wine on their list and ordered it. Kathy intercepted the order from our waiter and brought the bottle to our table herself. I recall that she remarked that I was the first person to ever order this wine, so she wanted to meet the oddball who picked it. We had a conversation about wines, and have been good acquaintances ever since.

The Jackalope Grill has since relocated to a far better space on Lava Rd in Downtown Bend, just north of the Oxford Hotel. This space is wonderful, and has a lovely courtyard filled with a vegetable/herb garden that makes a for fantastic alfresco dining in the warmer months. There is a cozy bar up front, and a warm, welcoming dining room.

Regular Menu

We stayed home for Valentine’s Day Dinner, mostly because we are practical people, and know what a circus V-Day can be at any restaurant. But we chose to celebrate the night after (2/15) with a dinner at The Jackalope. The dining room is not quite full, but you can tell the people who are in attendance have a similar cut to their jibs… Smart folks.

Usually I’ll order their amazing Grilled Romaine Salad as a starter. It is delicious! My date does order it, and confirms my diagnosis. As for mains, I’ve always had a rough time selecting between the astounding Rack of Lamb, or one of the steaks. Tonight however, the choices off the specials were too tempting to pass up:

Specials Menu

For my starter I order the “Burrata, Prosciutto, and Leeks on Grilled Country Bread.”

It is amazing.

I’ve actually never eaten anything like it before. The fresh mozzarella is creamy soft, and the flavor combination it makes with the leeks, prosciutto, and bread is wonderful! Just one of those savory treats that just satisfies your soul.

For dinner my date chooses the Ragu alla Bolognese, and I select the Paleron de Boeuf au Vin Rouge, which is described as:

“A warming wintertime classic of French country cooking. The Paleron is a very beefy, hardy cut from the shoulder perfect for braising in red wine. Served with mashed potatoes, oven-dried tomato and natural sauce.”

It arrives in a large bowl and includes roasted vegetables, and a modest amount of mashed potatoes at the bottom of the bowl. I like the nod to healthier eating and leaving out the mountain of potatoes! The vegetables are a nice winter mix of carrots, turnips, green beans, etc. The beef is heavenly! Tender and tasty, with a crackling thin crust of a wine reduction. It is perfectly seasoned… so much that I never even touch the salt & pepper on the table. The sauce is spectacular! Wonderfully French. The photo I take just doesn’t do it justice:

Dinner. Top: Ragu alla Bolognese. Bottom: Paleron de Boeuf au Vin Rouge.
 For the two of us this is not only a Valentines celebration, but something of a “Mardis Gras” as we’re going on diets the next day to look our best for an upcoming event. As such, we must have dessert!
Having tasted my way through their dessert menu I opt for the Creme Brulée. The Jackalope Grill makes one of the best Creme Brulée in the world. Nothing fancy, just straight forward, traditional French-style CB. The creme is soft, and not mealy/cold like you find in so many places. Bereft of the usual attempts to make it fancy with lemon, or cheese-cake style textures… Tim Garling’s Creme Brulée is perfect, and traditional. Served with a raspberry, atop a perfectly carmelized crunchy top.
Half eaten Creme Brulée
We are truly blessed to have Tim & Kathy Garling here in Central Oregon to take the fresh ingredients of the region and transform them through skill and labor into some amazing cuisine. I honestly rank The Jackalope Grill atop my list of favorite restaurants in the region. If you haven’t visited yet, what’s stopping you?
750 NW Lava Rd #139, Bend, OR 97701

Greg’s Grill in the Old Mill, Bend

Back in the day, I used to host many business dinners and Greg’s Grill in the Old Mill was an easy choice because it:

  1. Is huge, and can usually accommodate a large party on short notice.
  2. Has a great setting. High ceilings in a very pleasant dining room, phenomenal view of the river, Snob Hill and Mount Bachelor above it all.
  3. Produces god quality fare swiftly and at a reasonable price.

However in recent years I haven’t had a reason to visit Greg’s, until today that is. Testa Rossa (my redheaded S.O.) and I are at the Old Mill to pick up something for her at a nearby store and I suggest lunch.


We are seated immediately and I order a glass of Merlot. Testa Rossa order a Moscow Mule. They arrive in a flash.

The wine list is simple and utilitarian, with an emphasis on domestic vintages. A good section of beer taps and custom cocktails round out the drink selection.


Above: Custom Cocktail Menu
Above: Starters & Salads

Above: Lunch Menu

For lunch Testa Rossa orders a Salmon Caesar salad, and I take the Chicken Club sandwich. As with the drinks, they arrive almost instantly.


Above: Our lunch. Salmon Caesar and Chicken Club sandwich with side salad.

Testa Rossa reports quite favorably on the Caesar… “Tangy dressing!” “Great salmon!” She shares a few forks of it with me, and I concur.  Quite good. I have a weakness for a Caesar salad and it is rare to find a REALLY good one.

I opt for a side salad for my sandwich, and in hindsight should have requested a Caesar, as it is much better than my green salad. It has an overload of diced cucumbers. The dressing (blue cheese in my case) comes on the side, something I guess most folks want, but I did not request it that way. The sandwich itself is quite good. It is not a traditional triple-decker Club, but instead a bun containing the usual Club ingredients plus the California-standard avocado slice. I’m not a huge fan of the avocado normally but in this case it is complemented by the buttery roll that Greg’s calls a “Stadium Brioche.”

I finish my sandwich easily, but end up leaving the majority of the side salad. Maybe next time I’ll damn my waistline and opt for the fries.

As for the rest of the experience, the service is excellent. The host allowed us to opt for a shady booth away from a window (it is a very bright sunny mid-winter day.) Our server is prompt, but unobtrusive. She arrives at the right moments and takes care of us very well.

She offers the dessert menu, and as tempted as all of the items appeared, we reluctantly demur…

Above: Dessert Menu.

Overall, Greg’s is an excellent choice in Bend for a good value meal in the mid-high price range. They execute well, consistently serve good food and provide great service.