David Shurtleff is a contractor by trade. But to scores of Redmond-area steak lovers, he owns the best restaurant in town.
Since opening the spacious Coyote Ranch, just off U.S. Highway 97 on the south side of Redmond, in March 2004, Shurtleff and his staff have served hearty, ranch-style meals to hundreds of guests each week. And the numbers continue to grow, now that the restaurant has added lunches in its adjoining Ranch Hall Sports Center.
Perhaps befitting its cowhand ambience, the restaurant takes a no-nonsense approach to dining, one that resounds with a clientele that is happy to pay $16.95 to $22.95 for steak dinners that might easily cost $30 and up elsewhere. And here, that sirloin or rib-eye or New York strip is not a la carte. It comes with bread, salad and potatoes.
“We're going to have to bump the prices up a little bit soon," Shurtleff confessed. “But we're able to keep our prices reasonable because I own this building."
Shurtleff converted a 1940s warehouse in establishing the Coyote Ranch. The original building retains an industrial exterior that belies the rustic palace within. Tables in the sprawling dining room, divided in three by wood walls that rise 8 feet toward a lofty ceiling, range from two-tops to booths that easily accommodate six (or eight, if two or more are children). Saddles, wagon wheels and other Western touches add to the mood.
Behind the divider farthest from the entrance, the Watering Hole lounge is often the busiest room in the house. Daily lunches are served here and in the roomy Sports Center, which had been used only as banquet space until Aug. 1.
Shurtleff added nine televisions and pool and shuffleboard tables, inviting Redmond sports lovers to watch their college and pro games here. Lunch service stops at 3, but happy hour extends until 6 in the Watering Hole.
When my dining companion and I arrived for dinner one recent evening, we were seated at one of the oversized booths, which left us ample room to spread our dishes across the tabletop.
Steak and seafood
To begin, we shared an order of steamed littleneck clams. Nineteen of the bite-sized shellfish (I counted) were served in a buttery chardonnay wine broth with garlic and other herbs and spices. The starter was tasty but very salty, even for ocean-bred mollusks.
Our garden salads were a simple spring mix with pear tomatoes, pickled red onions and cucumbers, and herbed croutons that could not have been made in-house. I had a sweet honey-mustard dressing, my friend a chunky blue cheese.
For my entree, I chose the restaurant's surf-and-turf combination. The “surf" portion consisted of a half-dozen medium-sized shrimp. They were skewered, basted with tequila, lemon juice and olive oil, and lightly grilled. The tequila flavor burned off but the seafood was perfectly finished with fresh herbs.
The shrimp accompanied a pair of 4-ounce filets, each wrapped with a strip of fatty bacon and flame-grilled medium-rare, as per my order. While unremarkable, it was a satisfying course.
I was disappointed, however, with my choice of gratin potatoes rather than the options of beans or rice. (Best would have been a baked potato, but this wasn't offered.) When served au gratin, I am used to potatoes that have been sliced and baked. These were basically hash browns stirred with a little sour cream and topped with melted cheddar.
My companion's order of blackened catfish tested the kitchen. By itself, the fish was excellent, rubbed with spices and pan-seared just to a flaky texture. But a rich sauce that bore vague resemblance to Creole étouffée was much too salty. Featuring bay shrimp rather than traditional crawfish, the tomato-cream sauce was smothering.
Further Southern touches were fried pickles — dill slices were rolled in a mix of cornbread crumbs, herbs and Parmesan cheese before deep-frying — and a square of very dry, orange-flavored cornbread. A side of black beans, mixed with bacon, onions and tomatoes, was a nice complement.
Service was an ongoing issue during my dinner visit to the Coyote Ranch and a lunch-hour return. When servers were present, they were professional and courteous, efficient with order taking and delivery. But too often, they were scarce.
At dinner, although the menu promised that our clams would be “served with warm, fresh-baked bread," we had to flag down a server to ask for the bread. That was easier said than done, and it was Shurtleff himself who finally came to the rescue with the baked goods we needed to soak up some of the juice.
A few minutes later, we went through a similar procedure seeking butter. A passing busser finally provided assistance. A few days later, when I visited the Sports Center for lunch, I had to go looking for a server. (Once I found her, she was excellent.)
“We are very conscious of customer service, but we are going through some growing pains," Shurtleff acknowledged. “We expanded our staff from 18 to 30 when we added lunch, and we are still making some employee changes."
I'm glad the Coyote Ranch is now serving lunches. Perhaps my favorite meal here was the chicken Caesar sandwich that I enjoyed one midday. A large, tender chicken breast was served on a lightly grilled ciabatta-style bun, topped with a thick layer of roasted, sun-dried tomatoes; several slices of crispy, thick-cut bacon; melted Parmesan cheese, sliced red onions and green leaf lettuce.
It was delicious. I would have enjoyed it more had the accompanying sweet-potato fries not been overcooked.
Chicken sandwiches are part of the menu at the Coyote's Airport Pub, which Shurtleff opened on the upper level of the expanded Redmond airport in late September 2010. After passing through security, air travelers can await their flights while relaxing in the pub with a Philly cheesesteak or a Caesar salad, along with a choice of 10 Central Oregon microbrews.
The new Mexi-Fresh & More Family Kitchen in south Bend's Pinebrook Plaza now serves lunch specials starting at $4.99, dinners from $6.99. The everyday menu features tacos, burritos, fajitas, salads and other Mexican favorites, including carne asada, all priced at $12 or less. Open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Saturday. 61147 S. Third St., Bend; 541-318-2962.
With new management and a “for sale" listing, The Blacksmith restaurant has stepped up its social calendar. Wednesday brings a 5 to 7 p.m. cocktail mixer for professionals. There is electronic dance music beginning at 9 p.m. Thursday, Top 40 and hip-hop from 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Dinner only 4:30 to 9 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday, 4:30 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. 211 N.W. Greenwood Ave., Bend; 541-318-0588, www .bendblacksmith.com.