The most prominent landmark in Ochoco National Forest is Steins Pillar. The 350-foot-tall volcanic plug, 15 miles northeast of Prineville, was named for one Major Enoch Steen, who led a U.S. cavalry expedition through this region in 1860.
A century and a half later, the most prominent landmark on any Prineville restaurant menu is also called Steins Pillar.
At the Solstice Brewing Company, which opened just over a year ago in the heart of the Crook County seat, Steins Pillar is a hamburger — and not just any hamburger.
One-third pound of grass-fed Hereford beef, locally produced at the Breese Ranch on Ochoco Creek, is grilled medium and served on an artisanal bun spread with mayonnaise. It is stacked high not just with Swiss and sharp cheddar cheeses, but also thick slices of bacon, ham and a fried egg.
That doesn't even consider the usual suspects: lettuce, tomato and onion, all for $10.95. And for an extra $2.50, the kitchen will throw another one-third pound meat patty onto the sandwich. I heard one wag refer to it as “a heart-attack burger."
Steins Pillar is best consumed with a local beer. At Solstice, eight Oregon beers are always on tap.
The brewpub still isn't pouring its own brew. The staff is hopeful that will change in a month or so, as all required licenses have finally been obtained.
But already, Solstice owner Joseph Barker has given Prineville a place with quality comfort food — one that bends over backward for families.
My initial impression of service was unfortunately not a good one, although Solstice later redeemed itself.
Parking outside the brewpub on Main Street, I entered to a sign that read: “Seat Yourself." I looked around for a couple of moments, said hello to a server, and found a table in the main dining room.
Fifteen minutes passed before I was approached by anyone. I was offered no menu, no water, no table setting. There were no more than 10 diners in the restaurant. A busser passed by twice, stared at me and kept moving.
I watched as two young children loudly played in a designated play area that occupied about a quarter of the room. I noted the pub's painted concrete floor, its intimate bar area and two separate dining rooms, and a pair of stainless-steel brewing tanks beyond which extended an outdoor patio and rear parking area.
And I waited for service.
Finally, a family of four sat at a table adjacent to my own. A server brought them menus, turned to look at me, and asked: “Are you waiting for someone?"
“I'm waiting to be served," I said.
From that point on, the staff made an extra effort to make things right for me.
How could I resist Steins Pillar? A single beef patty was enough for me, but it was certainly one of the best burgers I've had in a long time. The dusted bun was sturdy enough to stand up to the stack of ingredients, even if I couldn't fit them all into my mouth at the same time. And a side salad — I requested greens instead of fries — was fresh and crisp.
I took out a roasted veggie sandwich for my usual dining companion, who hadn't joined me for the 45-minute drive from Bend to Prineville. She confessed, after the first couple of bites, that it far exceeded her expectations.
Diagonally sliced carrots and roasted red peppers were the principal vegetable ingredients, along with caramelized red onions. They were layered on a half baguette — crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside — spread with roasted garlic and arugula pesto. The addition of feta cheese from Prineville's own Cada Dia farm was a delicious bonus.
On the side, my friend enjoyed an order of sweet-potato “tater tots." She loved them as well.
When I went to pay the bill, my server brought a gift certificate to use on a future visit for a free entree. The brewpub couldn't have gone further to apologize for its initial service glitch.
When I did return several days later — having left my gift certificate at home — the service was perfect.
Instead of looking for a table, I sat at the main bar and ordered two separate meals: a Cobb salad and a Tuscan pasta.
The salad combined a variety of greens — romaine and iceberg lettuces, arugula and spinach — with every ingredient I expect in a Cobb. There was smoked turkey and ham, crispy bacon, tomatoes, black olives, a hard-boiled egg, avocado and bleu cheese crumbles.
Instead of each component being carefully spooned into small piles around the perimeter of the greens, the ingredients were stacked atop the salad, making mixing much easier. My choice of spicy honey-mustard dressing, house-made with German stoneground, was excellent, although slices of baguette were more like crispy croutons than artisan bread.
Farfalle, also known as bow-tie pasta, was perfectly cooked in the “Tuscan toss." It was blended in a thick and creamy arugula pesto sauce with grilled Italian sausage, roasted garlic, sun-dried tomatoes and — less obvious to the eye, but clear to the palate — caramelized onions. A generous sprinkle of Parmesan cheese finished the dish.
I accompanied the pasta with a small dish of coleslaw. White and red cabbage and carrots were perfectly balanced between sugar-sweet and vinegar-sour, neither too dry nor too soupy, and nicely seasoned with dill.
In spite of my one negative service experience at Solstice, and minimal atmosphere, I enjoy the food here so much that I will definitely return — probably as soon as the pub is pouring its own beer.
Mazza Bistro has celebrated its first month in the former Pita Pit location in downtown Bend. Owner Michel Shehadeh, born in the Middle Eastern country of Jordan but educated in Southern California, serves such regional favorites as shwarma wraps, kebabs and falafel. Most full meals run $12.95, although a lamb kebab plate is $14.95. Open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday to Friday. 806 N.W. Brooks St., Bend; www.facebook.com/mazzabistro, 541-639-8444.
The Noi Thai Restaurant is expected to open in downtown Bend's Franklin Crossing building before the end of this month. Facing Northwest Bond Street between Franklin and Minnesota avenues, it will fill the former Typhoon! space. It is owned by partners in the highly regarded Bai Tong restaurant group in Seattle.