McGrath's Fish House

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Published Jan 1, 2003 at 04:00AM / Updated Nov 19, 2013 at 12:31AM

McGrath's Fish House didn't start in Bend, but it snowballed from here.

McGrath's is a thriving, Oregon-owned chain offering halibut, crab, lobster, oysters and a slew of other seafood in such landlocked places as Idaho and Utah. Recently, it saw the Beaverton opening of its 15th location, with more to come in Colorado and Arizona.

It started small, at a downtown Salem location that opened in 1980.

As far as owner and founder John McGrath is concerned, McGrath's became what it is - a family-friendly dinnerhouse worthy of any coast - when he opened the second location in Bend in 1986.

”I always like to think of Bend as what really got McGrath's started the way it is,” McGrath said in a recent phone interview. ”The first one we did in Salem (now home to two locations) was just a little, tiny space underneath the parking lot there. We were very successful with that, but we did our first free-standing building in Bend. It kind of changed what McGrath's was from that point on.”

Relative to Salem, Bend is landlocked.

Relative to Salt Lake City (saline body of water notwithstanding), Bend is practically a beach town.

”Frankly, it's very easy to get fresh seafood to Bend,” McGrath says. ”At one time, I thought it was going to be kind of tricky getting fresh seafood to Bend because now it's over the mountains and we're in Salem. But now we send fresh seafood to Utah and Arizona, so Bend's a piece of cake.”

Hauling oneself to the Bend restaurant is equally cake-like. McGrath's is one of several businesses nestled between Third Street and the west parking lot of Bend River Mall.

Even at 3:00 on a midweek afternoon, there are diners seated at window tables. Framed photos of beefy fishermen, wooden fishing boats and giant fish landed on docks line the walls while paddle fans whirl lazily overhead.

General manager Jody Reeve has worked at McGrath's since 1989, when he was a teenager. Still only 29, he has been a busboy, server and bartender. He began managing five years ago, and was promoted to GM last year.

Given his years of employment at McGrath's, Reeve has an easy familiarity with the menu, dining room and habits of the patrons. One should hear him say the words ”Hazelnut Sole.”

The most popular and best McGrath's menu items, in no particular order, according to Reeve:

”There's a Broiled Seafood Platter. It's pretty popular. It's got salmon, halibut and skewered tiger prawns. That's also good because it's low-fat.” ($16.99)

”Probably the best Long Islands in town.” (Regularly $5.50, $3.95 during happy hour from 4 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday)

”Good margaritas.” ($4.50, $3.95 during happy hour)

”Halibut Parmesan, definitely. Everybody loves that.” ($13.95)

”Seafood Jambalaya.” ($11.99)

”Pan Fried Oysters.” ($6.99)

”Hazelnut Sole.” ($10.99)

A lot more seafood is available from the ever-evolving menu, as entrees and in soups, salads and appetizers, or piggybacked in combos with prime rib or top sirloin. One can also buy dungeness crabs and other fresh seafood by the pound for a homemade meal.

For landlubbers' tastes, there are burgers, steaks and sandwiches.

Life at McGrath's has changed for the better over the years, says Reeve. ”We've upgraded our service, we've done a more intensive training program, we've improved the menu knowledge with the servers.”

Reeve says he has an understanding of how hard everyone works. ”I've been there myself.”

So has his boss, John McGrath. In years past, he would come to Bend to help manage, work shifts and ”keep my eye on things.”

”I still go there quite a bit,” he says. ”Our family bought a house in Sunriver a couple of years ago. Lots of things to do there.”

”Yeah, it's been a real fun business selling fresh seafood.”

David Jasper can be reached at 541-383-0349 or djasper@bendbulletin.com.