Don’t head out to northeast Bend’s Black Horse Saloon expecting to find a row of Harleys and BMC motorcycles outside the front door attended by leather-clad bikers.
In their place you’ll find a new establishment called Maverick’s Country Bar & Grill. Here, you’re more likely to see nattily dressed men and women in cowboy hats and embroidered boots, two-stepping across the dance floor.
A makeover of the Black Horse has shifted its mood from Peter Fonda’s “Easy Rider” to Clint Eastwood’s “Pale Rider,” its musical theme from ZZ Top to George Strait.
Decor of the establishment, which reopened as Maverick’s May 20, now features a giant eight-spoke wagon wheel above the bar and servers whose hats match those of the patrons. A set of black-and-white stills from famous Western movies have replaced a three-panel mural of Central Oregon bikers. And off in one corner of the building is a mechanical bull.
Food choices have been redesigned. Hearty weekend breakfasts are no longer served. Neither is the Black Horse’s hearty chili bowl. Instead, the new menu is dominated by burgers — 15 choices, including a 24-ouncer called “The Duke” — along with a handful of salads, appetizers and other grilled and cold sandwiches.
In many cases, the burgers have simply been renamed. The former Hog Burger (a bacon cheeseburger) is now the Texas Hog Burger. What once was called the BMC Burger (bacon and cheese, piled with fried onion straws and finished with a whiskey steak sauce) is now known as the Wrangler Burger.
There’s also a Maverick Burger (grilled mushrooms and onions), a Bronco Burger (pepper jack, onion rings and chipotle puree) and a Rise and Shine Burger (bacon and egg).
I lassoed myself a Cowboy Burger. One-third pound of ground chuck, cooked to juicy perfection, was served with a melted slice of cheddar cheese on a delicious sourdough bun that had been buttered, heated and spread with a tangy house-made barbecue sauce. It was dressed with fresh lettuce and tomato slices, and piled with a generous handful of fried onions.
This was one of the best hamburgers I’ve had in recent months. And a big slice of dill pickle also hit the spot.
Unfortunately, I could not say the same about the accompanying fries, which retained too much grease for my taste. Next time, I would request a house salad as a side dish instead of the potatoes.
Sandwiches and wings
On a couple of other recent visits, I’ve tried some different items from Maverick’s limited menu, and each time I’ve been pleased.
A Reuben sandwich was the equal of the burger. A generous portion of shredded corned beef was heaped with sauerkraut, grilled onions and Swiss cheese, and served on grilled marbled rye bread spread on one side with German mustard, on the other with Russian dressing.
A grilled club sandwich featured hickory-smoked bacon, Black Forest ham, turkey, cheddar, pepper jack, lettuce, thinly sliced tomatoes and red onions, piled between three slices of fresh sourdough. The sandwich was sliced into four stacks and skewered with toothpicks, making it seem even larger than it probably was.
Chicken wings are offered in four preparations, and I tried the one I didn’t know: “Wodoni.” They were slathered with a sweet-and-tangy barbecue sauce that locks in the moisture of the meat and kept me licking my fingers when I was done. If the recipe for this sauce is available, I want it for my home kitchen.
Filling a niche
Owner Mike Schoelz said he opened Maverick’s to fill a market niche. “This is the only country-and-western bar in Central Oregon,” he said. “There was not one place that was absolutely geared toward the roots of where we live.
“The vibe has been awesome. The response I’ve gotten is really positive. We’re having a really fun time, more than we have had in years.”
Schoelz said that a large wooden dance floor has encouraged country dancing, with lessons in two-step and line dancing offered on a regular basis.
He regularly books Nashville acts — Lee Brice last week, Ray Scott tonight — for which his ticket prices are minimal. Other times, local bands and country karaoke entertain.
For non-dancers, there are pool tables indoors, a bocce ball court beside a heated outside patio. Sports play continuously on a pair of televisions above the bar. And if you need a haircut, Maverick’s barber shop is open until 5 p.m. daily except Sunday.
Most days, hard-working bartenders do double duty, pouring drinks and also delivering menus and food to every table within shouting distance. I always find service here to be prompt and friendly.
“You should be able to come into my establishment for $5 and get enough product to tip out and feel happy,” said Schoelz.
Well, $5 may be a little bit optimistic. But $20 will certainly get you a delicious burger and a draught beer, as well as a healthy serving of country music and Western hospitality.
Jim Doherty , a resident of Bend since 2001, has been inducted into the American Academy of Chefs Culinary Hall of Fame. The lifetime achievement designation cites Doherty’s tenure as former publisher and editor of Nation’s Restaurant News. Now the executive vice president of Lebhar-Friedman Inc., a New York communications company, Doherty sits on the board of trustees of the Culinary Institute of America and is co-owner of the historic Original Pantry Cafe in Los Angeles.
Slick’s Que Co. (B+): Dry-rub meats, slow-cooked in a pit barbecue, are the specialty at this casual Texas-style café. The new Bend outlet features a classy Western ambience matching that of its year-older cousin in Sisters. Open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday to Saturday in Bend, every day in Sisters. 212 N.E. Revere Ave. Bend (541-627-2114); 240 E. Cascade Ave., Sisters (541-719-0580); www .slicksqueco.com
Pump House Bar & Grill (B): A country-style establishment with food and service a step above a typical roadhouse, the Pump House is a convenient meal stop between Redmond and Madras. Maragas asparagus chicken is a fine option from the homey menu. Open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to midnight Friday, 8 a.m. to midnight Saturday, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday. 8320 N. U.S. Highway 97, Terrebonne; 541-548-4990.
Toomie’s Thai Cuisine (B): A pioneer among Thai restaurant in Central Oregon, Toomie’s offers bargain lunches although dinner entrees are overpriced. Service is steady, décor clean and simple, but entrée preparation is inconsistent. Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. every day; dinner 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, 5:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. 119 N.W. Minnesota Ave., Bend; 541-388-5590.
Planker Sandwiches (A-): A career restaurateur opened this top-value, gourmet sandwich shop in May in the former location of a downtown Bend creperie. Patrons order tasty, hearty sandwiches, paninis, crepes, soups and breakfast items from a trio of blackboard menus. Open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day. 824 N.W. Wall St., Bend; www.plankersandwiches.com or 541-317-5717.