“Healthy” is not a word that one normally uses when describing pub fare. But the new Broken Top Bottle Shop & Ale Cafe is out to change that impression.
Call this new cafe near Central Oregon Community College a beer joint if you like. After all, it serves a rotating selection of 12 craft beers on tap, and the adjoining bottle shop, scheduled to open at the start of June, will make 700 different beers available in cans and bottles. There's even a small selection of wines, limited but carefully chosen.
But it's the kitchen that sets the Ale Cafe apart from other small restaurants. For that, chef Bethlyn Rider deserves the lion's share of credit.
A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in her native New York, Rider was previously the chef at Common Table in downtown Bend. She is equally adept in preparing a beefy ribs entree as she is a roasted beet salad or Indian-inspired, gluten-free spinach-and-mushroom crepes.
About half of the menu is vegetarian. Many items are vegan, and most are available gluten-free — as are all four of the everyday desserts.
Not only is the food healthy, it's good.
Owners Jason and Jennifer Powell, Andy Polanchek and Diana Fischetti knew what they were doing when they purchased the former Abbey Pub, gave it a thorough makeover and reopened Feb. 4 with a new name.
The cafe atmosphere now is warm and sophisticated, and far from institutional.
The walls are painted in shades of rust, with soft yellow accents in the ceiling-to-floor drapes that trim the windows. Framed beer posters hang above a tile floor, and a tasteful alternative-rock soundtrack adds to the hip flavor.
Expansion next door into the former WineStyles space, where the Bottle Shop will complement the Ale Cafe, is nearly complete. Rider's menu will be served on both sides of the divider.
In the past couple of weeks, I have returned three times, twice with a dining companion, to sample the fare. I have ordered both off the everyday menu and, more frequently, from a list of specials that change daily. And while I haven't loved everything, I've invariably found the food fresh and tasty, even if it's sometimes a bit too adventurous.
Especially in the case of the starters — appetizers, soups and salads — there are general guidelines about what to expect, although the details change daily. For instance, there is always a soup of the day, although it may vary from a cheese-ale potato to a garden vegetable or a beef-and-sausage gumbo.
I found the three-bean soup, featuring French lentils, kidney beans and black beans, to be a hearty, peppery, chili-style blend. Mixed with tomatoes, corn and green onions, it was topped with a Southwestern chipotle pepper sour cream that gave its flavor an extra kick. I would order this again tomorrow.
I was not as enamored with either the flatbread pizza or the sliders, both of which change daily.
I don't know why the pizza was called “flatbread,” unless it was its square shape, cut into quarters. It was as doughy as any normal pizza, and twice as cheesy. On this particular day, the mozzarella topping was sprinkled with fresh basil and tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and Parmesan cheese. In other restaurants, it might have been called a margherita pizza.
The mini-burgers called sliders (one for $3, three for $8), served on lightly toasted buns, may vary wildly from night to night. But of the trio that I ordered, none of them — not the chicken, the fish nor the veggie burger — knocked my socks off.
My favorite was the crispy chicken with mozzarella and marinara sauce; I thought it was a lot like breaded chicken Parmesan. The veggie burger, although mushy, was redeemed with portobello mushroom slices and mozzarella, along with a delicious barbecue aioli dressing. The lightly beer-battered cod was soggy, an indication that its water content may have been too high before freezing, and the slaw with which it was served was coarsely chopped and bitter.
My favorite meal consisted of two items on the everyday menu: roasted beet salad and “ribs and taters.”
Even though it had more salad than beets, I loved the salad. Modest chunks of the delicious red root vegetable were tossed with spinach, arugula and other greens, pickled red onions, candied walnuts, bits of pink grapefruit, Cada Dia jalapeņo cheese from Prineville, and sherry vinaigrette. It was fresh and certainly interesting.
The entree offered three large beef ribs, smoked and tender, too sloppy even to be picked up with fingers. They were served on a bed of whipped red potatoes, covered with mouth-watering wild-mushroom gravy, and presented with freshly steamed broccoli on the side.
A pork mole special wasn't what I had anticipated, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. I expect a mole to be served Mexican-style, its thick sauce typically highlighting flavors of peanuts, pumpkin seeds and/or semi-sweet chocolate. In this applewood-smoked version, the pork was pulled and served without any sauce. I suspect that its mildly spicy flavor was the result of its having been marinated in mole. It was very tasty, served with coconut-lime rice, sweet chili-and-cilantro salsa and Napa cabbage slaw.
Who would have thought of combining French, Indian and Ethiopian cuisine in the same dish? That was my reaction to a gluten-free, vegetarian crepe entree. Much like East African injera, two spongy pancakes were filled with saag paneer, a popular Indian dish of spinach and cheese curd. I think I would have enjoyed it more had it not been ladled with a wine-based mushroom gravy that didn't fit the style of the main dish.
The crepes were served with curried French lentils, mildly spicy but very salty, and a small dinner salad featuring pickled red onions, skinless cucumbers, croutons and a garlic tahini dressing.
While the healthy and creative comfort food adds an inspiring element to Central Oregon cuisine, I find it best when complemented with one of the restaurant's outstanding regional ales. First and foremost, as the name says, this is an Ale Cafe.
Yo Wild Frozen Yogurt opened its first Bend location at Cascade Village Shopping Center on Saturday in the former location of the Cold Stone Creamery. The self-serve frozen yogurt shop, established 16 months ago at Redmond's Nolan Town Center by Josh and Bernice Scheidler, specializes in a wide range of flavors and toppings. The official grand opening is scheduled for May 26-27. Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. 63455 N. U.S. Highway 97, Bend; 541-316-1375, www.yowild.com.