The next time someone suggests that you “cowboy up” to a steak dinner, you might consider doing so at the Tumalo Feed Co.
Good steak houses are few and far between in Central Oregon. I can count on one hand the number that come immediately to mind. Those that serve up the beef in true ranch style are even fewer — strange, perhaps, in a region where ranching was once so important to the economy, and remains resilient today in rural areas.
Maybe that's why I like the Tumalo Feed Co. The cowboy spirit is strong here, five miles northwest of Bend on U.S. Highway 20, in the unincorporated hamlet of Tumalo. You'll even find “mountain oysters” on the menu: What could be more cowboy than that?
Now, don't come to Tumalo expecting any more glitz and glamour than you'd see at the Sisters Rodeo in June. You'll park in a spacious gravel parking lot and grasp the lodgepole rail as you climb the steps to the false-fronted yellow building that has been a landmark here for a solid century.
An entrance area lined with photographs and press clippings divides the dining area in two. At a host stand, servers dressed country casual will show you to tables covered with red-checkered cloths, surrounded by a variety of Western regalia.
Unaccompanied, I skipped the dining room on one recent visit and headed directly through swinging doors into the saloon.
Decidedly more intimate than the main restaurant, this low-lit rear lounge has a solid Old West ambience. Red velvet backs the banquettes; longhorn skulls and Western paintings and photos hang on the walls. On most Friday and Saturday evenings, singer-guitarist Pat Thomas entertains with lively country music, often inspiring couples to two-step across the small dance floor.
I sat on a cowhide-covered barstool and ordered a mound of mountain oysters — otherwise known as calves' testicles. Sliced, breaded and sauteed, they were served tender and tasty with a choice of barbecue sauce and a spicy German-style mustard.
Then, as if to cleanse my palate, I had a Texas taco salad. A generous serving of fresh greens filled a crispy tortilla bowl, along with finely diced steak: I had expected ground beef, but this was a pleasant surprise. Chopped tomato and shredded cheddar finished the salad along with a tangy, tomato-based “fiesta” dressing.
Dinner for two
When I returned several nights later with my regular dining companion, we had a meal that was considerably more substantial. And we appreciated the friendly, no-nonsense service and straightforward recipes. Nothing was overly creative, but everything we sampled was skillfully prepared.
Anxious to sample a variety of dishes, we ordered a pair of starters: steamer clams and stuffed mushrooms. The shellfish — a full pound of manila clams steamed with white wine — were juicy and not at all rubbery. The large button mushrooms, hand-stuffed with a blend of cream cheese and green chilies, were simple but savory.
Tumalo Feed Co. is first and foremost a steak house, however, so my entree order was a steak — a 12-ounce rib-eye, cooked to perfection. I like my beef prepared medium-rare, and my char-grilled cut was done just as I requested. It was tender, not overly fatty, and one of the best steaks I've had in many months.
Diners may choose two of 11 side dishes to accompany their meals. I opted for a big baked potato with “the works” — butter, sour cream and chives — and Feed Co. beans. This house recipe blended pinto beans and black beans with light molasses. I enjoyed the flavor but wished that it had a little more flavor beyond the sweetness.
Tumalo Feed is not just steaks, however. The menu lists 10 seafood dishes (including salmon, cod, trout, scallops, oysters and lobster) and six poultry options (including roasted quail and chipotle chicken).
My companion ordered sauteed scampi. She found the half-dozen large prawns, like other menu items, perfectly cooked in garlic-and-white wine sauce, finished in cream.
As one side, she chose steamed spinach. It was just that — simple greens, with no additional treatment besides the salt and butter she seasoned it with. Her other side was macaroni and cheese. Again, the preparation was uncomplicated; noodles and creamy cheddar were baked to a golden brown.
I have a long personal history with the Feed Co. — back in the 1960s and '70s, it was one of two places (the other was the Pine Tavern) that my family regularly dined during weekend ski trips from the Willamette Valley.
At that time, it was known as the Tumalo Emporium. Business partners John Bushnell and Robert Holley purchased the restaurant in 1991.
They have continued to operate the Feed Co. since, along with the Niblick & Greene's restaurant at Redmond's Eagle Crest Resort, which they bought five years later.
The Tumalo Feed Co. offers proof that fine dining doesn't have to be complex. It persists as a throwback to a past era. For many Central Oregon food lovers, that's just fine.
Tumalo Feed Co.
Location: 64619 W. U.S. Highway 20, Tumalo
Hours: 5 to 8:30 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, 5 to 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday (lounge opens at 4:30 p.m.)
Price range: Appetizers $7.95 to $11.95, entrees $9.95 to $36.95
Credit cards: MasterCard, Visa
Kids' menu: Five dishes $6.95 for kids younger than 12 (children younger than 6 eat free)
Vegetarian menu: Order the spinach salad or request a special vegetarian plate
Alcoholic beverages: Full bar
Outdoor seating: Seasonal patio
Contact: www.tumalofeedcompany.com or 541-382-2202
Food: B+. Quality food skillfully prepared, although most dishes lack a creative touch
Service: A. Friendly, no-nonsense servers double-check to make sure patrons are satisfied
Atmosphere: A-. Old West ambience extends from casual restaurant into cowboy-style saloon
Value: A-. The best steaks are $25 or more, but nightly entree specials start as low as $9.95
Next week: Rat Hole Brewing
Visit www.bendbulletin.com/restaurants for readers' ratings of more than 150 Central Oregon restaurants.