It isn't often that a self-described “old skier” with a sterling pedigree in the restaurant business moves from a major urban center to open a sandwich shop in a smaller community.
But that's exactly what Joe Devenchenzi did.
After 27 years with Seattle-based Restaurants Unlimited, the last 10 as vice president of operations, Devenchenzi and his wife, Karin, bought the former Crepe Place in downtown Bend from Jill Byers, reopening as Planker Sandwiches in early May.
“We've had a home in Bend for seven or eight years, and with our kids older now (finishing high school or entering college), we decided that we wanted to settle here,” said Devenchenzi, who is originally from Grants Pass.
“But I didn't want to get into a large-scale operation. I wanted something conducive with living here in Bend and enjoying the lifestyle.”
In his former position, Devenchenzi oversaw operations at more than 20 restaurants, including such Northwest traditions as the Portland City Grill, the Newport Seafood Grill and Stanford's steakhouse. And Karin Devenchenzi continues to commute between Bend and Portland, where she herself is in the corporate restaurant business.
But, according to Joe, they are putting that behind them.
“We're just two old skiers, opening a place in Bend,” he said. “We're just a couple of ‘plankers.'”
Planks and blackboards
A couple of the boss's own “planks” — perhaps the pair of skis he once learned upon, complete with early cable bindings — hang on the wall beside the counter where diners place their orders with an enthusiastic young staff. A trio of large blackboards displays the cafe's fare, which is also published on printed takeaway menus stacked on each table.
Otherwise, the new owners made few changes in the stylish little restaurant, which had been the Cafe Brasil before Byers purchased it in late 2006.
The menu features sandwiches, paninis and crepes, as well as a few breakfast items, soups and sweets. The sandwiches are my favorites.
I especially like the tuna club. Served upon a toasted Kaiser roll, it featured a thick layer of tuna salad: “It's wild-caught Northwest albacore,” Devenchenzi emphasized. This is topped with thick-sliced, smoky bacon and half an avocado, also sliced, as well as green leaf lettuce and a wedge of heirloom tomato.
My companion enjoyed her chicken salad sandwich, although she commented that the ciabatta roll upon which it was served was a bit on the dry side. A generous amount of chicken was blended in tarragon mayonnaise with chopped toasted walnuts and Granny Smith apples; a little less mayo might have rendered it not as soupy. Red leaf lettuce topped off the sandwich.
The best thing about the meatball Parmesan sandwich that we brought home to my companion's son was the quality of the meatballs themselves. Moist and savory, a blend of beef and pork with herbs and spices, they were complemented by a house-made crushed tomato sauce, then topped with Parmesan and mozzarella cheeses and served on toasted sourdough.
Flavor and texture
The Planker — that is its name — is one of the best breakfast sandwiches served in Central Oregon. Two eggs, cooked over medium, are served with both bacon and ham, avocado and tomato, and cheddar cheese within halves of an oversized, toasted English muffin.
I didn't love the toasted vegan panini I sampled. Featuring a spread of chickpeas and kalamata olives in a lemon vinaigrette with roasted red peppers, I found it tart and insubstantial. Had the chickpeas been prepared like falafel, I think I would have liked this sandwich more.
But there are other paninis on the menu; on a future visit I'll opt for a comforting grilled cheddar with tomato soup.
There are numerous crepes, both savory and sweet. “The place has had crepes for a long time, and we wanted to honor that end of the business,” said Devenchenzi.
I ordered a Nutella crepe, filled with the sweet chocolate-hazelnut spread manufactured in Italy and sold worldwide. The batter was a little thick and the paste was not evenly distributed, but in its thicker pockets, it burst with flavor.
An extensive drink menu ranges from espresso coffee to craft beers and includes a variety of cane-sugar sodas and fruit smoothies. I sipped a marionberry-banana smoothie and found it a refreshing beverage for a hot summer's day.
“The food we serve represents the way we like to eat,” Joe Devenchenzi said. “It's good, honest food, with flavor and texture. That is really important to us.”
Mio Sushi reopened Aug. 1 in the Old Mill District after moving from the Cascade Village Shopping Center. In addition to sushi, the menu features tempura, teriyaki, noodles and bento boxes. Lunch 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday to Friday, noon to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; dinner 4 to 9:30 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 4 to 10 p.m. Friday, 5 to 10 p.m. Saturday, 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday. 375 S.W. Powerhouse Drive, Suite A125, Bend; 541-241-1008, www.miosushi.com.
Former Bluefish Bistro and Broken Top chef Matthew Mulder has established Phat Matt's Brewing Co. in Redmond, assisted by former Kokanee Cafe and Trout House owner Paul Mercer. The company, which has not announced any food-service plans, intends to initially release an India pale ale and a golden ale, according to Mercer. 580 N.E. Hemlock St., Suite 105, Redmond.
El Jimador (A-): A partnership between Baltazar Chavez of Baltazar's and Roberto Anaya of El Caporal has resulted in a fine renovation of a corner restaurant in downtown Bend. Seafood and other dishes are outstanding, even if service slips when the owners are away. Open 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. 801 N.W. Wall St., Bend; 541-318-1333.
Riverside Market & Pub (B+): An Old Bend neighborhood hangout, the Riverside offers good, casual, deli-style breakfasts, sandwiches and salads. A hip young staff takes orders at the counter and provides table service. Open 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Wednesday, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday. 285 N.W. Riverside Blvd., Bend; www.riversidemarketbend.com or 541-389-0646.
Chan's (B): A major renovation after a disastrous fire has given this 25-year-old restaurant a new look, with more space for dining and exhibiting art. But the menu remains the same as before, with Westernized variations of Chinese regional dishes. Open 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday, noon to 10 p.m. Saturday, noon to 9 p.m. Sunday. 1005 S.E. Third St., Bend; www.chanschinese.com or 541-389-1725.
Baldy's BBQ (A): The popular barbecue joint's new Redmond cafe delivers fresh pork, beef, chicken and seafood straight from the smoker to the plate. A well-trained staff provides attentive service amid ranch-style decor. Open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day. 950 S.W. Veterans Way, Redmond (541-923-2271), 235 S.W. Century Drive, Bend (541-385-7427), 2699 N.E. U.S. Highway 20, Bend (541-388-4227); www.baldysbbq.com.