Out on Bend's east side, breakfast cafes have been few and far between.
With the notable exception of the venerable Jake's Diner and a couple of supermarkets, it's been hard to find anything more substantial than an Egg McMuffin on the sunrise side of Pilot Butte.
So when Brian Dioguardi, owner of the Baldy's BBQ group of Central Oregon restaurants, saw an opportunity to not only install a full-service restaurant in the Forum Shopping Center, but also to offer a complete breakfast menu, he took it.
Although breakfasts at Baldy's may be slanted toward the country style — not surprising for a restaurant that specializes in barbecue — veggie omelets and malted Belgian waffles do share the morning menu with biscuits and gravy, chicken-fried steak and eggs. Service is reliably efficient ... and even the coffee is good.
Opened in mid-July in the former location of Yoko's Japanese restaurant, next door to the east-side Hola!, the new Baldy's maintains the rustic flair of the Redmond and west-side Bend restaurants. But the barrel-like shape of the new dropped ceiling, when coupled with the standing planks and wagon wheels that duplicate the two other shops, give the east-side Baldy's an ambience all its own.
I'm used to being greeted at the door when I visit Baldy's restaurants. With a short staff working the morning shift, that was not the case on a recent visit for breakfast. And our server initially appeared to be not quite awake. But by the time all three of us — me, my companion and the server — had enjoyed a second cup of Baldy's excellent coffee, she was smiling, friendly and quick to deliver our food exactly as we had requested it.
It was better than a subsequent visit, when four servers gathered to talk as they cleared a table, all the while ignoring my attempts to attract their attention.
I ordered a morning meal that I considered appropriate at a ranch-style barbecue restaurant: chicken-fried steak.
The menu referred to it as “What the Marlboro Man would order." Although I'm a nonsmoker, I'm sure that's true. I once knew a male model who played that role, in fact. His name was Rocky, and he played a bit of football, college and professional, before finding his calling in a cowboy hat and sheepskin jacket.
Yes, Rocky would have liked this.
A good eight ounces of ground cube steak was lightly breaded and fried crispy, topped with white sausage gravy and served with two eggs, over easy per my order. I found it nicely spiced and very flavorful. My only objection was that the accompanying whole-wheat toast was left completely unbuttered.
My companion's order for a chef's choice omelet was a bit more complicated. Still, the kitchen succeeded in giving her just what she asked for, an egg-white omelet with ranchero sauce on the side, extra sour cream and a buttermilk pancake in lieu of toast.
She found the omelet — filled with chorizo sausage, onion and Monterey jack cheese, topped with sliced avocado and tomato — to be tasty if a bit greasy. But the ranchero sauce added a piquant edge, and the accompanying hash-brown potatoes were shaved in the kitchen and pan-fried with onions. She dubbed the pancake one of the best she'd had in Bend, soft and not too yeasty.
Lunch and dinner
Baldy's has been around for long enough — eight years in February — that barbecue lovers know by now what they're getting in terms of lunch and dinner.
But there are some newer items on the menu with which I'm not as familiar.
One of them is the $8 BBQ Sundae. “It's got all the things I like, piled on top of each other," said my companion. I think of it as the Chicago version of an English shepherd's pie.
Beginning with a half bowlful of house-made mashed potatoes, the “sundae" is stacked with molasses-rich baked beans, a generous portion of pulled pork and a layer of coleslaw. Then it's drizzled with sauce — original or, for the adventuresome, Dioguardi's spicy Cat's Meow blend.
Also relatively new to the menu are halibut tacos. Although I'm a seafood lover, however, I'm not convinced that this is a diner's best choice at Baldy's. The fish was sprinkled with peppery barbecue seasonings and grilled, then wrapped in a pair of white corn tortillas. But we found it somewhat flavorless despite a mango salsa and lime cream.
A Caesar salad was fresh but basic. Crisp, chilled hearts of romaine were tossed with house-made croutons and grated Parmesan cheese in an original, cream-based Caesar dressing. But with no subtle flavor of anchovy paste, a traditional Caesar ingredient, it lacked punch.
For meat lovers
When it comes to a good barbecue restaurant, just give me the meat, baby. That's what Baldy's does best.
For lunch, I ordered the Broken Top Platter, which for $9.25 gave me so much food that I put leftovers in a box for a mid-afternoon snack. Heaping portions of pulled pork and beef brisket were stacked on either half of an egg-rich bun. I suppose they could have been slapped together, but I enjoyed the two halves one by one.
Of two side-dish options, I enjoyed both of my choices. The chipotle potato salad was a little too heavily dressed, but I enjoyed its peppery zing. The slaw maintained the important balance between sweet and vinegary, dry and watery.
I was unable to choose between two dinners, so I compromised with a combo plate: a half-rack of baby back ribs and a half of a smoked chicken.
It's the ribs that Baldy's BBQ restaurants are best known for in Central Oregon. Slow-cooked on hickory, apple, mesquite and other hardwoods, the pork is hand-rubbed with an original blend of spices and smoked until the meat falls off the bone.
After basting with house-made sauce, the ribs are grilled and served. They are tender and tasty. I love them. Likewise, barbecued chickens are slow-smoked for hours over the same woods. They come out tender and juicy.
For sides, I had three. The original-recipe baked beans are rich with molasses. I was less enthused about the sweet-potato fries, which I found dry and overcooked.
But the honey jalapeno cornbread was sweet and spicy. It made me think about — you guessed it — coming back again for breakfast.
Jeremy and Tricia Pollard have opened 2nd Street Eats & Sweets in the former Brown Bag Deli, near the corner of Norton Street in Bend. Jeremy prepares original soups and sandwich specials, along with salads and — for breakfast — boiled and baked bagels. Tricia is a chocolatier who makes hand-crafted sweets under the name Tricia's True Confections. Open 7 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday to Friday, 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday. 1289 N.E. Second St., Bend; 541-617-0513.
Ryley Eckersley has joined Jen's Garden in Sisters as chef de cuisine. Jennifer McCrystal has moved into the role of executive chef as her husband and co-owner, T.R. McCrystal, has joined Bend's Deschutes Brewery as executive chef. Jen's Garden: 403 E. Hood Ave., Sisters; www.intimate cottagecuisine.com, 541-549-2699. Deschutes Brewery & Public House: 1044 N.W. Bond St., Bend, www.deschutesbrewery.com, 541-382-9242.