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. 

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

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.