Cowboy Dinner Tree

Published Jun 30, 2006 at 05:00AM

SILVER LAKE - When you head out to the Cowboy Dinner Tree for your vittles, don't expect any fancy-schmancy city-slicker food.

What you'll get here is good ol' ranch food, and plenty of it.

So much, in fact, that your meal could well turn into two or three more at home.

The Cowboy Dinner Tree, about 85 miles from Bend, is about as rustic as a restaurant can get. Made of rough poles and barn planks, the building itself has the look of a hermit's cabin. A sign on the wall proclaims ”No electricity - No credit cards - No kidding,” and it's not. A 12-volt solar-powered battery provides the juice for a couple of bare light bulbs in the dining room, but when the sun sets, the lights dim. All the food is cooked from scratch with propane.

And about that food ... Don't expect to peruse a lengthy menu at this restaurant. You order either the chicken (whole and smoked) when you make your reservation, or you eat beef (huge and juicy).

Expect hand-cut 26- to 30-ounce portions of top sirloin served at the Dinner Tree. They are marinated in a dry rub and seared to perfection over an outdoor propane barbecue before being plopped on mismatched plates and served alongside baked potatoes.

Diners are likely to loosen their belts a notch after eating, since before the steak comes salad, soup and rolls, all served family style. Each is made from scratch, with the soup changing daily (make a special request when you call in your reservation, and that's what everyone will eat that night). Homemade dessert tops off the meal.

Reservations should be made two or three weeks in advance, because weekend dinner tables fill up fast. In fact, after driving through the open terrain to get to the Dinner Tree, it's somewhat of a surprise to see a parking lot full of cars.

Add that to the homey Western atmosphere and friendly staff, and diners are almost always at ease when they gaze out the windows at the High Desert sunset.

And if you're dreading the drive home with such a full belly, the Cowboy Dinner Tree rents out two cabins. Two people can dine and stay the night for $94.50. But make a reservation.

Cowboy Dinner Tree

Location: Silver Lake, 85 miles southeast of Bend, Highway 31

Hours: 4 to 9 p.m. Thursday through Sunday (closed Thursdays November through May)

Price Range: $20.75, no splitting dinners, cash only

Alcoholic Beverages: None

Kids' Menu: No

Reservations: Required

Credit Cards: None

Contact: 576-2426