Poor execution of an extensive menu improved with new chef on a second visit.
Single bartender-server does his/her best during lunch and early-evening hours.
Budget prices are inviting if the quality of food keeps pace.
Handsome decor in a large room with a half-dozen billiards tables.
|-||- Rate It!|
A = Outstanding
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C = Average
D = Below Average
F = Poor
|Restaurant facts (updated: 07/13/2012)|
|Hours:||11:30 a.m.-midnight Monday to Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-2 a.m. Friday and Saturday, 1-10 p.m. Sunday|
|Credit cards:||MasterCard, VISA, Discover|
$ of $$$$ What's this?All plates are priced $5.50 to $6.50
|$ =||under $12|
There may be no better place in Central Oregon to put a little reverse English on a cue ball than at Fox's Billiard Lounge.
The Newport Avenue establishment, which opened on Bend's west side three years ago, is built around a half-dozen handsome pocket-billiards tables that greet pool players of all ages and abilities. Even players who are younger than 21 are welcomed until early evening.
But no amount of spin can help a food menu that looks a whole lot better than it tastes.
The menu is lengthy and budget-priced, with about three dozen items — soups, salads, sandwiches, pastas, pizzas and more — costing no more than $6.50. But the execution of dishes by Fox's kitchen fell far short of the promise of the menu, especially on my first visit last week.
That's too bad. This is, after all, a handsome place, its black upholstery framing an entry parlor with tables and chairs both tall and small. A short bar and a plush central sitting area are surrounded by televisions soundlessly tuned to sports channels. Classic rock music plays in the background.
But minimal staffing — on both of my visits, evening and midday, an individual bartender was alone in waiting tables, and a single cook handled the entire kitchen operation — may be one factor that prevents the place from being the best it can be.
Early evening visit
The first thing that my dining companion and I noticed on our initial visit, in the early evening, was that the air conditioning was turned up way too high.
Sure, it was a warm summer day. But I found myself wishing that I had a jacket or sweater in the car, even after we moved to a different table away from the fan.
The bartender took our orders and delivered our drinks with reasonable haste. There was no rush, however, to move orders out of the kitchen.
I ordered a soup and a burger with the expectation that I could enjoy the potage before my sandwich arrived. In fact, after a wait of at least 15 minutes, the soup was the last plate delivered.
The best thing about the tortilla soup was its fresh carrots. It's not supposed to be that way. The Mexican-style chicken soup was thick with corn starch, rather than a light broth. Topped with multicolored tortilla strips, it contained black beans, chickpeas, celery and onions, and was finished with a dollop of lime-cilantro sour cream.
The meat in my BBQ burger was cooked almost to the consistency of cardboard. Even though it had barbecue sauce on top — along with bacon, fried onion straws, lettuce, tomato and shredded cheddar-jack cheese of the kind labeled “Mexican” in grocery stores — I had to add extra ketchup to make it moist enough to eat.
The Mexican cheese also was generously added to the accompanying salad, a blend of fresh iceberg lettuce with chopped tomatoes and red onions.
Cook's first day
My companion ordered an “Island Wrap.” Teriyaki chicken was wrapped in an unheated flour tortilla with chunks of pineapple, as well as lettuce, tomato, cilantro and cheese. She left almost half of it, along with an order of garlic cheese fries that could have used another minute in the deep fryer. They lacked any moisture, and a light sprinkle of Parmesan cheese and minced garlic didn't help.
We didn't raise a stink with the kitchen. But when the bartender-server came by the table and asked, as a server should, “How are you enjoying the food?” we looked at each other and said, “Um, it's ... okay ... I guess.”
He immediately apologized for the quality of the fare, explaining that we had dropped into Fox's on a new cook's first day alone in the kitchen. “Come back in a few days when our other cook is here,” he urged.
When our lunches had arrived at the table, my companion placed an additional order for a club sandwich, which she had planned to bring home to her teenage son. When we had finished eating, we inquired about its status.
“You might want to get that takeaway sandwich somewhere else today,” our server said. “The cook? He burned it.”
Second time around
In fairness, I did return to Fox's a few days later — alone this time, as my friend didn't want to experience a bad meal twice in one week.
And while my lunch may not have been gourmet, it was a decided improvement over my first visit.
I ordered two dishes that any self-respecting bar should make well: chicken wings and tacos.
The wings were nicely prepared, dredged in flour and fried crisp in hot oil. I did not, however, love the coating of “Spicy Fox Sauce,” a not-so-spicy, sweet-and-salty blend made with a base of oyster sauce. On another visit, I might choose the chipotle barbecue sauce or traditional buffalo sauce.
A pair of “puffy tacos” were made with oversized soft-flour tortillas filled with shredded, barbecued pork, along with chopped iceberg lettuce, Mexican cheese, and streaks of tomato salsa and cilantro sour cream. I would have preferred them a little warmer, perhaps grilled sufficiently that the cheese melted into the tortilla.
A new bartender-server was friendly and efficient on all counts. And the air conditioning was turned to a more moderate level.
When I return to Fox's, it will be to play pool and perhaps to munch on bar snacks. I won't be inclined to come here strictly for a meal.
The Blacksmith Restaurant has installed a summer menu featuring hibiscus ceviche with tilapia and wild shrimp; sun tea-marinated salmon with a fennel, orange and almond couscous salad; and a surf-and-turf with chilled crab salad. As well, Chef Jonathan Hardy and his team prepare a different prix-fixe meal every Thursday, based upon the day's selection from the Bend Farmers Market. Open 4:30 p.m. to close. 211 N.W. Greenwood Ave., Bend; www.bendblacksmith.com, 541-318-0588.