If you’ve ever dined at Deschutes Brewery’s Bond Street public house, you know it’s not just about the beer.
Beer drinkers far and wide are familiar with such labels as Mirror Pond Pale Ale and Black Butte Porter. Indeed, the brewery has established a nationwide reputation for its beer.
But owner Gary Fish has been serious about cuisine since he established the brewery in the late ’80s. Coupling good food with good beer has been a winning combination, as the brewpub is enormously popular among locals and Bend visitors alike.
The reason for the pub’s success lies not only in chef Matt Neltner’s kitchen, which turns out some of Central Oregon’s best “comfort food.” It’s also the service staff. Well trained and well treated, Deschutes’ employees reward the company with many years of service.
A lack of staff turnover shines through in speedy, efficient, professional service, despite shoulder-to-shoulder crowds in the bar area and frequently lengthy waits for tables. As no reservations are taken, diners who put their names on a list at the host stand are handed pagers to alert them when a table is free. Only once in four recent visits was my meal slow to arrive, in spite of the customer volume.
Crab and burgers
The menu is the same for lunch and dinner. A friend and I arrived for lunch one day at about 1 p.m. We had to wait about 10 minutes for a table, which isn’t bad; it can be much worse.
We started with Pacific Dungeness crab fritters. There were only three of these nuggets on the plate, but they were excellent.
The crabmeat dumplings were deep-fried and served on a bed of mixed greens, with tomato-vinaigrette and lemon-aioli dipping sauces.
Next, I had the brewery burger: a thick and juicy beef patty, cooked medium-rare at my request, served on a freshly baked bun dressed with mayonnaise. As not everyone likes a burger with “the works,” lettuce, tomato, onion and pickles were presented on the side. I’m not a big pickles fan, so I took what I wanted and left the rest. It was a very good hamburger.
Diners are given numerous choices of accompaniments: Brewery fries, soup of the day, house salad, house-made salt-and-vinegar potato chips or cole slaw. I chose the cole slaw and was sorely disappointed. It was dry and bitter, with insufficient sugar or honey to sweeten its scant dressing.
My companion enjoyed a French dip sandwich, which was not your everyday-variety thin-sliced, overcooked beef on a bun. Instead, smoked roast beef was amply stacked on a freshly baked panini roll and served au jus. She opted for a house salad as an accompaniment and was very pleased.
Salad and pork curry
Forgetting the night and season, I dropped by for a solo dinner in the midst of a Monday-night football frenzy at the brewpub. A handful of friends welcomed me to relax with a draught Twilight Ale until the crowd wound down, by which time I was rewarded with a secluded corner of the bar.
Service was as reliable and prompt as one might reasonably expect on such a busy night. Even with that, my server apologized for a delay.
I ordered a salad and an entrée. My first course was a fresh mozzarella and sun-dried tomato salad. Don’t confuse the description with that of a caprese, which is an Italian mozzarella, tomato and basil plate. Deschutes’ version of the salad has precious little of either of the two primary ingredients.
Three thin slices of buffalo mozzarella were placed on a bed of fresh mixed greens, then drizzled with olive oil and too much balsamic vinegar. I could find only a couple of sun-dried tomatoes and unfortunately no basil. There were, on the other hand, plenty of toasted pine nuts and kalamata olives, as well as sweet red peppers sautéed in olive oil in the style of Basque piperade. It was a good salad — not something I’d expect to find in a brewpub, but certainly not what I had expected.
My entrée of coconut curry pork was ordered off the daily special list. Again, it was an unusual plate for a brewpub and reminded me of something I might have found at the Grove Restaurant before it closed. Tender braised pork shoulder was shredded, served in a tasty red curry sauce (made with coconut milk) over basmati rice, and sprinkled with fresh cilantro.
Accompanying the pork were several good-sized blossoms of purple cauliflower. Now, I’ve had purple potatoes before, but never purple cauliflower. It didn’t look very appetizing, but in fact I found it less bitter than regular white cauliflower.
Soup and sandwich
My next lunch was the only time I could have complained about service: It look so long to receive my soup and sandwich, I read the brewery’s entire four-page newsletter word-for-word, and frankly could have gone through it a second time. I had to wonder if someone else had received my original order. Yet by this hour, about 2 in the afternoon, there were minimal diners, and my server carried on as if nothing were out of the ordinary.
My French onion soup was excellent. Yellow and red onions were sliced along with shallots and cooked in a beef broth. The soup was topped with a slice of French bread; Gruyère cheese was melted on top of it, then sprinkled with green onions.
I also enjoyed my jalapeño chicken sandwich. A chicken breast, cooked moist and tender, was topped with roasted jalapeño peppers and Monterey Jack cheese, then served on a Kaiser bun lightly spread with chipotle mayonnaise. As with Deschutes’ burgers, on the side were tomato, lettuce, a slice of red onion and three small slices of dill pickle.
The sausage special
Although diners don’t come to Deschutes for its atmosphere, it is pleasant and attractive. The front of the house, where most diners sit, has high ceilings and large windows on Bond Street. Large murals of hops fields are on two rear walls, beer posters adorn the side walls, and TV sets in upper corners are tuned to sporting events.
Farther back, ceilings are lower, which causes the bar and a rear dining area to be much noisier. If you’re hoping for conversation here during a busy time, you’ll want to bring a loud voice along. A couple of stainless-steel beer tanks are highlighted behind a glass wall opposite the kitchen.
Anywhere you sit is a great place to enjoy one of Deschutes’ popular daily sausage specials. This is what I ordered on my most recent visit. A thick Italian sausage was served on egg-rich soba noodles with a light teriyaki sauce, accompanied by fresh, lightly steamed broccoli. Everything was cooked perfectly.
It’s easy to see why locals and visitors alike keep returning to dine at the Deschutes Brewery & Public House, despite the wait.
Sugar Pine Cafe (B+). A charming restaurant with eclectic décor, where the server and cook greet regulars by name, the Sugar Pine has solid if unspectacular comfort food perfect for its small-town clientele. Locals love the prime-rib dinners on Fridays and Saturdays, the all-you-can-eat spaghetti on Thursdays. Open 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday, 5 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday and Monday. 51392 U.S. Highway 97, La Pine. 536-2539. Hong Kong Restaurant (C-). The food is subpar, both at the mediocre lunch buffet and on the dinner menu. Service is dour and unresponsive. Perhaps, after more than 30 years in business in Bend, the Hong Kong is getting tired. If you must go, try the Szechuan chicken. Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Friday, noon to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. 530 S.E. Third St., Bend. 389-8880. Greg’s Grill (B-). Greg’s is beautiful, with cathedral-like wood architecture and floor-to-ceiling windows. But the quality of food and service don’t keep pace with the pricey menu. In such a big restaurant, kitchen and service staff are unable to offer the personal attention that diners might expect. Open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday. 395 S.W. Powerhouse Drive (Old Mill District), Bend. 382-2200. www.gregsgrill.com McKay Cottage Restaurant (A-). The boyhood home of Senator Gordon McKay, relocated from Drake Park, is a 1916 Craftsman with fine breakfast and lunch dining indoors and out, on a spacious lawn. Service is genuinely friendly, and you can’t go wrong with marscapone-stuffed croissant French toast to start your day. Open 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily. 62910 O.B. Riley Rd., Bend. 383-2697, www.themckaycottage.com.