For years now, the McKay Cottage Restaurant on Bend's north side has been on my short list of go-to spots for casual, gourmet breakfast dining in Central Oregon.
Only now have I discovered that its lunches may be even better than its breakfasts.
I don't know why it has taken me so long to realize this. Until a couple of weeks ago, I had lunched there only once, more than four years ago. I won't make the mistake of ignoring McKay's lunches again.
Perhaps because McKay Cottage is ever-so-slightly off the beaten track, it is all too easily overlooked. Housed in a 1916 Craftsman-style bungalow, the restaurant has unmistakable charm. The food is excellent. The service is outstanding. The portions are generous, assuring good value.
State Senator Gordon McKay (1910-1990) lived in this house as a child with his pioneer parents, Clyde and Olive McKay. At that time, it sat by the banks of Mirror Pond in downtown Bend, where Drake Park is today.
The bungalow was purchased, refitted as a restaurant, and moved in the mid-1980s to the east side of O.B. Riley Road, a short drive off North U.S. Highway 97 behind Applebee's Restaurant. It was first known as the Original Pantry, but after a change of ownership and further renovation, it reopened in early 2006 as McKay Cottage.
Now owned by Pam Tatum, the restaurant has a large pastry counter in its front parlor, where guests are greeted.
Three handsome rooms, their built-in shelves stacked with books, flow one into the next, and a river-rock fireplace adds warmth beyond.
Superb service adds the crowning touch to meals at McKay Cottage. On each of my visits, a team approach to table service made certain that every table, even on the busiest days, had prompt, attentive, courteous service.
Lunch for three
When three of us descended upon McKay Cottage for lunch, we ate heartily. Both of my companions ordered sandwiches, while I had a cup of soup with a large salad.
The soup of the day was a “kitchen sink” version of cream of chicken. Besides chunks of poultry, it had a slew of fresh vegetables: broccoli, carrots, onions, Italian parsley and black beans. But it was a liberal ration of herbs — thyme, oregano and basil — that really distinguished this light soup.
My chopped Cobb salad was far more generous than I expected. Atop an ample bed of mixed greens were hefty helpings of chopped bacon (smoked in apple wood, the menu promised), grill chicken, tomatoes, crumbled blue cheese, half an avocado and a hard-boiled egg, sliced in two. The salad was tossed with just the right amount of Italian vinaigrette to add moisture and give it a little zing.
A jerked chicken sandwich didn't elicit the same exuberant reaction, although my friend was happy to share a taste. Pulled chicken, slow cooked to assure tenderness, was served on toasted ciabatta bread with melted Brie cheese, caramelized red onions, mildly spicy poblano peppers and a spread of garlic aioli. It was served with fries that were nothing out of the ordinary. I liked this sandwich, but didn't love it.
I did, however, love my other friend's order of a crab melt with sweet-potato fries. Big chunks of crab-claw meat were blended with Roma tomatoes and melted cheddar cheese. The mix was thickly layered with sliced avocados on sourdough toast featuring a light layer of Parmesan cheese on the outside.
The accompanying fries were cut like “joes,” larger than everyday French fries. Lightly salted, they had a sweet flavor that was complemented by my friend's glass of mango iced tea.
Breakfast is served all day, every day. The lines at the door, especially on Sunday mornings (when reservations are not taken for seatings after 9 a.m.), may reach a half hour or longer, but regular patrons are patient, knowing the feast that is to come.
Just last week, I had a Smith Rock Benny. I really don't know why this eggs Benedict dish should bear the name of a rock-climbing destination, except that the grilled focaccia bread upon which it was served was as thickly cut as the steps approaching Monkey Face.
The toast was topped with smoked bacon, a few leaves of fresh spinach, a pair of perfectly poached eggs, tomatoes and roasted red peppers. Lemony Hollandaise sauce covered the entire concoction, which was served with a generous helping of cottage potatoes — crunch on the outside but soft on the inside.
My dining companion ordered stuffed French toast, one of the trademark breakfasts at McKay Cottage. A large, buttery croissant was stuffed with mascarpone cheese and heated. My friend was disappointed that the mascarpone wasn't evenly spread, but she loved the rich flavor, especially accompanied with sweet strawberry compote from a side dish.
A side order provided two apple-chicken sausages of uneven quality — one sausage was very dry, but the other was moist and excellent.
Espresso coffee drinks put the finishing touch on a very good breakfast. And for those who need a buzz beyond the morning hours, they are available as well during the great midday meals.
Brother Jon's Alehouse has opened its doors at the corner of Bond Street and Greenwood Avenue in downtown Bend. A starter menu, slated for expansion, features salads ($5 to $12), sandwiches ($9.50) and such entrees ($11 to $15) as grilled wild salmon and barbecued ribs. Open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday to Saturday. 1051 N.W. Bond St., Bend; www.brotherjonsalehouse .com or 541-728-0102.
Just a block south, Di Long has opened her delightful La Magie Bakery next door to Soba Food of Asia. Fresh daily cookies, cakes and pastries are priced $1.25 to $4.50; also available are a variety of sandwiches ($6.95) and hot savory items such as quiches ($5.50) and chicken pot pies ($4.95). Open 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday and 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday. 949 N.W. Bond St., Bend; www.lamagiebakery.com or 541-914-2629.
Typhoon!, the popular Thai restaurant in downtown Bend, has permanently closed after months of rumors. Based in the Portland area, the regional group shuttered all its half-dozen restaurants Feb. 5. Labor lawsuits and the death in August of founder and owner Stephen Kline were factors in the decision, though a corporate executive denied as recently as December that closures would take place. www.typhoonrestaurants.com.