Restaurant review: Pono Farm

Bend butcher shop and restaurant serves fresh, tasty meat

John Gottberg Anderson / For The Bulletin /

Published Jul 1, 2011 at 05:00AM

Pono Farm&Fine Meats is a carnivore’s delight.

The quality of meat in the sandwiches and combination plates, produced by the kitchen of this north-side Bend custom butcher shop, is some of the best I’ve enjoyed in Central Oregon.

No doubt that is because the meat comes directly from Pono’s own 200-acre organic livestock farm in Culver.

The farm “is committed to raising our animals slowly and naturally without the use of hormones or antibiotics,” owner Shin Nakato explains on the shop’s flyer.

Two breeds of premium beef cattle, Wagyu and Angus, are fed a grass-based, grain-added diet, Nakato said. Heritage-breed Berkshire and red wattle hogs also are fed a natural diet with grains, fruit and vegetables. The farm’s water is sourced directly from Opal Springs, the same water that is used in Earth2O products.

All meat is butchered, ground, cured and smoked in Pono’s own shop, which opened in early March off Cooley Road. The butchery holds the lower floor of the Sheldon Park business complex, opposite Les Schwab Tire Center.

Pono is designed primarily as a meat market. Patrons are greeted by a long, deep display case that showcases a wide variety of cuts priced by the pound, from $9 for round-eye steak to $34 for quality rib-eye.

A series of blackboard menus announce an ever-changing choice of kitchen selections. Burgers are pretty much standard daily fare, but other sandwich options vary, from bratwurst to pastrami, mostly priced $8 to $10.

A widely varying assortment of combination plate specials may include braised oxtail gnocchi, hunter’s stew or chicken-fried steak with sausage gravy.

Diners may choose to dine in-house; five small tables seat up to 16 guests. Many more prefer to collect their meal and bring it home.

Combination plates

When I arrived an hour before the 6 p.m. closing time with the intention of taking home three combination plates, I was disappointed to discover that the blackboard menu listed only one — a grilled pork chop with green beans ($11).

But the attendant assured me that the kitchen would be able to prepare a meal from anything in the display, and make a combination plate from it, for an additional charge of $3.50. A three-quarter-pound cut of round-eye steak ($7.02) and a beef shish kebab ($6.83) filled the bill.

I left Pono with a serious feast. Not only did I get my three main courses; I also received a variety of side dishes including cucumber salad, red beans and rice.

The pork chop was thin — probably no more than 6 ounces — but very tasty, with a smoky barbecue flavor. The shish kebab, removed from its skewer after cooking, had several large chunks of lean beef, cooked rare, interspersed with red onions and red bell peppers.

Best of all was the rare steak, easily an inch and a half thick. In both quality and value, it was far superior to the beef I’ve ordered at numerous other Central Oregon restaurants. It was tender and flavorful and absolutely as fresh as possible.

Sandwiches and sides

On a pair of lunchtime visits, I’ve had an opportunity to try a trio of sandwiches.

The freshly ground Wagyu burger with cheddar cheese was char-grilled to order and served on a bun with lettuce, onion and tomato, as well as hand-cut french fries. No doubt, it was one of the best hamburgers I’ve had recently.

The New York-style pastrami was very lean and rich. Presented with Swiss cheese on lightly toasted dark rye bread, spread with stone-ground mustard, it might have been even better with kraut and Russian dressing in a Reuben.

The Italian meatball grinder in a sub bun was my least favorite, but I attribute that to personal taste. Ground beef and pork were rolled with parsley and spices into tight balls, baked and served in a sub bun with a rich tomato sauce.

Among the side dishes, my favorite was the green beans, stewed in a gravy with onions and house-smoked bacon. The same bacon was also chopped with red beans, which I like together with steamed rice.

A salad of thinly sliced cucumbers with red onions, sun-dried tomatoes and fresh mint leaves was intriguing. I’ve had it twice, and I liked it better the second time around, when it was free of slices of sweet cured lemon.

The sample menu promises several Southern-inspired side dishes, and I look forward to tasting these on a future visit. Collard greens with smoked ham hocks? I’m all over that.

The Southern stimulus comes from North Carolina, where Nakato and his brother, Ted, were raised after their parents emigrated from Japan. Ted Nakato still owns two family Japanese restaurants in North Carolina and another in Missouri. Shin Nakato has lived in the Culver area, he said, since 1999.

SMALL BITES

The GoodLife Brewing Co. has opened a “bier hall” in the new Century Center on Bend’s west side. A menu of sandwiches, salads, European pasties and other items — including hop-infused hummus and bourbon-baked brie — is priced $2.49 to $9.99. Gluten-free and vegan options also are served with the company’s Old World beers, tapped at $4 to $8 a pint. Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday. 70 S.W. Century Drive, Suite 100-464, Bend; www.goodlife brewing.com or 541-728-0749.

Trattoria Sbandati has raised prices on its Saturday-night prix-fixe dinners. Four-course meals now cost $50, with another $15 added for wine pairings. An outdoor patio seating area has opened for the summer. Open 5 p.m. to close Tuesday to Friday, 7 to 9 p.m. Saturday. 1444 N.W. College Way, Bend; www.trattoria sbandati.com or 541-306-6825.

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