The new Crux Fermentation Project is an impressive addition to Central Oregon's burgeoning roster of craft brewpubs. Its late June opening was highly anticipated by beer aficionados, in part because co-owner and brewmaster Larry Sidor headed the brewing operation at Deschutes Brewery for nine years.
Sidor and his partners, ad exec Paul Evers and marketing man Dave Wilson, have already been featured in such esteemed publications as The Washington Post. Their roster of 14 tap beers reflects the broad range of styles in Sidor's repertoire, from German wheat ales and Belgian sours to the India pale ales so beloved by Northwest beer drinkers.
A former AAMCO transmission garage has been impressively converted by Crux to house both the brewing operation and pub. Its roll-back doors and high ceilings, beneath which tower stainless-steel tanks and polished copper kettles, make clear that this is a working business even as they lend a sense of industrial chic.
But as inspiring as I find the atmosphere and particularly Sidor's beers, the quality of food and service have yet to come around to the same level.
Indeed, if I came to Crux to drink beer, I'd find something to eat — but I wouldn't make a special trip to order from the sandwich-and-salad-dominated menu.
To be fair, Crux is more of a tasting room than a brewpub. The kitchen is only 250 square feet in size, and it doesn't even have a grill. Chef Jackson Higdon deserves much credit for styling as creative as Crux offers, from delicious soups to excellent desserts.
My initial problem was with the service.
To the brewpub's credit, many of the snags had been corrected by the time my dining companion and I made our second visit, about 10 days after the first. But that early experience unfortunately colored our perspective.
We were greeted and seated promptly on our first arrival. Beer orders were quickly taken.
Five minutes later, however, our server was back at our table asking us to reconfirm our order. At the same time, she offered glasses of tap water. Later, my companion observed a dispenser of infused cucumber water and queried our server about it. “Oh, would you like that?" she replied. We wondered why it was showcased if it was not being offered.
The server also misinterpreted my companion's food order — and the kitchen complicated the problem.
The menu specifies that any of the menu's sandwiches can be ordered as a wrap. My companion asked if a salad could also be fashioned as a wrap, and she was assured that was possible. But what she got was a sort of cross between an agave salad and an agave club sandwich: It had, for instance, a thick layer of raw spinach like the salad, and a beer-based agave-porter dressing, but none of the bacon nor avocado that had been promised.
It didn't help that our server did not once return to our table to ask if we were enjoying our meal. When my companion finally flagged down another employee to complain about the order, the pub graciously provided her with a different sandwich of her choosing. The chef apologized for the kitchen's error and another server took over our table for the rest of the night.
On our second visit, we again drew the server of our first time around. Now she had corrected her earlier service errors, checking back frequently on our meal. But she still failed to offer the infused water or to ask which side order I preferred with my sandwich.
Soup and sandwich
The menu always features a soup of the day. We enjoyed the whole-kernel corn chowder with ham and onions; it was a thick potage that was more spicy than creamy. We also liked a broccoli and cheese blend that reminded us of a split-pea stew, as its mere smidgen of cheesiness was forgotten in the potatoes, carrots, onions, celery, ham and parsley that filled out the recipe.
A Caesar salad was made with chopped romaine lettuce and a creamy dressing made with the brewery's own India pale ale. It was topped with house-made croutons, black olives and sun-dried tomato flakes, as well as shredded asiago cheese. By itself, the salad was very good, but my companion chose to accompany it with salmon in a smoky white-ale glaze. So strongly flavored was the fish that it dominated the salad, which was better without it.
A chicken bruschetta sandwich, which my friend substituted for her confused order, turned out to be an excellent choice. Both this sandwich and the chicken bacon panini, which had been my selection, featured coarsely chopped chicken meat, marinated in stout, blended with other ingredients and served between two slices of lightly grilled, Italian spent grain bread from DiLusso Bakery.
Beyond the bird and the bread, however, these were two distinctively different sandwiches. Herbed ricotta cheese with pesto aioli and balsamic drizzle gave the bruschetta sandwich a sweet flavor. In addition to bacon, the other sandwich boasted sun-dried tomato, roasted garlic and asiago cheese, along with the brewery's IPA Caesar dressing.
I wasn't as big a fan of the Crux gyro, which featured sliced lean pastrami layered on folded flatbread: kind of like pita bread without the pocket. There was a heavy spread of the chef's version of tzatziki — a “beerziki" made with feta cheese, yogurt and a little chili sauce — but not enough shredded lettuce, tomato and red onion to add interest to the gyro.
Bikes and bowwows
Among the pub's side dishes, I like Mom's potato salad, a creamy, mustard-flavored blend combining pickles, black olives and a heavy sprinkle of paprika. My companion preferred the craft lager macaroni salad, but perhaps that's because she made that choice on a different visit than did I. Her macaroni was creamy and spicy, she said. Mine was flat in flavor, which spoke to a problem with consistency.
Surprisingly, perhaps, the pub's two regular dessert choices are excellent when paired with sweet beers. A brownie made with chocolate stout was sweet and chewy, while the coffee-flavored crème “brewlee" had a silky, melt-in-the-mouth texture.
Crux celebrates a daily happy hour, but not on a top-of-the-hour schedule: It begins 30 minutes before sunset and ends 30 minutes after. The time is posted on a blackboard.
The pub's high ceiling leaves it very loud; I found myself having to shout at times to be heard in normal conversation. But with that lone exception, the seating — a blend of high tables and long communal blocks — is perfect for the warehouse-like building.
By next summer, there may be more reasons than good brew to visit Crux. “We want to be about bikes, bowwows and beers," said co-owner Evers. Bicycles are welcomed as are dogs on the patio, which soon will have a gate that opens into a private dog park between the pub and a nearby railway track, he said. A children's play area and disc-golf course are also blueprinted.
Paul Mercer, former partner in Camp Sherman's Kokanee Cafe and Sunriver's Trout House, opened the Pig and Pound Public House last Friday in downtown Redmond. The British-style pub, in the former location of Avery's and 750 wine bars, features the beers of Phat Matt's Brewing Co. Mercer, who is himself from England, offers a chalkboard menu with such traditional fare as fish and chips, bangers and mash, and chicken pot pie, with entrees priced $8 to $13. Open 4-10 p.m. Monday to Friday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. 427 S.W. Eighth St., Redmond; 541-526-1697.
Longtime Central Oregon pizza favorite Papandrea's Italian Bistro, a fixture in Sisters for more than 35 years, closed its doors last month. Owners Kristie and Kimball Luff cited lease concerns, economic difficulties and personal health issues in announcing the closure.