It's Halloween weekend. What could be scarier than a biker bar?
When it's the Black Horse Saloon in northeast Bend, there's very little to be afraid of.
Sure, the Black Horse caters to a crowd that likes to ride fast and free. Many of its regular clientele may be clad in black leathers or Harley-Davidson T-shirts, although others may simply wear jeans and tennis shoes. They range in age from early 20s to senior citizens.
Classic rock music plays loudly in the background, drowning out the volume from a pair of televisions tuned to sporting events. A pair of shiny motorcycles stand on a shelf above the spacious central bar. A half-dozen pool tables dominate a large room on the west side of the bar.
Dominating the upper wall that divides the bar area from the bandstand and dance floor is a beautiful 47-foot-long, three-panel Gail Hayes mural. It depicts Black Horse owners Mike Schoelz and Ron Kutella riding across the Central Oregon countryside on their custom motorcycles beside a ghostly cowboy.
But the Black Horse is so docile, it hosts Sunday morning church services. It has a small barber shop beside the bandstand. It has a bocce ball court in the back yard.
And while this bar and grill rocks out with live music on Friday and Saturday nights, and throws an occasional “Jagermeister” party (as it will do Saturday night), it's the sort of place to which you might want to take your adult son, or perhaps your mother.
By the way: The food is pretty good. It's not fancy — think of the kitchen staff as cooks without a chef — but it's better than an average diner. The fare is solid, ingredients are fresh and service is fast and friendly.
The Black Horse serves breakfasts only on weekend mornings. My group of four arrived about 10 a.m. on a Sunday, after a late Saturday night with friends visiting from out of town.
We were greeted by music. One after the next, a pair of solo guitarists sang and played as about two dozen people sipped their morning coffee and listened in appreciation. Then a tall man in a buckskin jacket with flowing white hair and a beard that would make “Buffalo Bill” Cody proud took the microphone.
This, I learned, was “Preacher Bob” Nash. Every Sunday, Nash stands at the Black Horse behind his portable pulpit (a music stand) and discourses on the Christian Gospel. On this particular Sunday, he sermonized for 45 minutes as his informal congregation consumed every word.
At the same time, my quartet was consuming every morsel of our breakfasts.
We sat at a booth apart from the pulpit, in the main dining and bar area, and sampled three egg dishes and an order of biscuits and gravy. The meals were workmanlike and far from memorable, but they were sufficiently tasty and filling.
I ordered a make-your-own omelet with link sausage, cheddar cheese, mushrooms and black olives. The ingredients were folded into a neat two-egg package and served with country-fried potatoes and toast.
One of my companions chose a scramble of similar ingredients, with bacon and onions. The eggs were perfectly cooked and seasoned.
Another member of our party opted for eggs Benedict. She was not as impressed. The eggs were basted, rather than poached, and served over thinly sliced Canadian bacon on a skinny English muffin. Cloaked in a thick Hollandaise sauce, the meal was basic but tasty. On the side, she also had a pancake — which she liked better than her eggs.
Our final companion had biscuits and gravy. Two biscuits were sliced in half and covered with white country-sausage gravy. There wasn't enough meat in the gravy, he complained, but he liked the fact that he was served two biscuits instead of one.
Two solo visits
I have dropped by the Black Horse alone on two other occasions for a couple of casual meals from the lunch-dinner menu.
On my first visit, I ordered chili and a grilled chicken salad.
The chili, which happened to be the soup of the day, was excellent. It was rich with small chunks of steak, kidney beans and tomatoes, served in a moderately spicy, tomato-based broth.
The salad would have been no better than ordinary had it not been for the delicious house-made croutons of marbled rye. They were a fine complement to a plate of romaine hearts and other greens, topped with a grilled and sliced chicken breast. The salad also had slices of hard-boiled egg and red onion, as well as tomato and cucumber; I chose honey-mustard from a list of several dressing options.
At a subsequent lunch, I cast my eyes briefly upon the crowning glory of the Black Horse menu: the BMW Burger. The menu described this $10.50 masterpiece as “a ginormous burger! Two big beef patties, beer-battered onion rings, two hickory bacon strips, melted pepper jack and cheddar cheese, piled high with homemade barbecue sauce.”
While my taste buds salivated, my arteries cringed at the thought. I settled for a Hog Burger, which I considered sufficiently cholesterol-raising. One-third pound of beef was topped with bacon and cheese, a couple of slices each of tomato and red onions, lettuce and a tangy house dressing. It was perfectly cooked and served with nicely seasoned french fries.
On every one of my three visits, service was handled by the bartender — each time, a woman working alone. She was prompt and polite, coming out from behind the bar to deliver menus, water, drinks and food with reasonable speed. She checked back to be sure we were satisfied with our meals and brought our check when requested.
There was absolutely nothing to be scared about.
Bend's 900 Wall restaurant no longer serves lunch. General manager Mike Millette said he plans to focus on dinner and reintroduce midday service in the spring. The restaurant now offers happy-hour bites, priced $1 to $9, from 3 to 6 p.m. daily, with Chef Cliff Eslinger's dinner menu (entrees $12 to $28) served 5 p.m. to close every day. 900 N.W. Wall St., Bend; 541-323-6295, www.900wall.com.
Closed for two weeks while its owners celebrated a first-anniversary vacation, Trattoria Sbandati will reopen tonight with an a la carte menu. Entrees are priced from $12 to $22. The popular Italian restaurant now offers prix-fixe meals (four courses, $50 including paired wines) on Saturday nights only. Open 5 p.m. to close Tuesday to Friday, 7 to 9:30 p.m. Saturday. 1444 N.W. College Way, Bend; 541-306-6825, www.trattoriasbandati.com.
Mazatlan Family Mexican Restaurants (C+): Portions are good and prices moderate, but food and service are mediocre at both the Bend and west Redmond restaurants. Open 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. 61419 S. Third St., Bend (541-385-8772); 1302 S. U.S. Highway 97, Redmond (541-923-7426); 905 S.W. Rimrock Way, Suite 202, Redmond (541-548-1595); 887 N. Main St., Prineville (541-447-7437); 675 N.W. U.S. Highway 26, Madras (541-475-6873); www .mazatlancentralor.com.
Bourbon Street Sea&Soul Food (A-): Hearty, savory New Orleans-style meals — including jambalaya, crawfish etouffee and and spicy gumbos — are true to the Southern palate. Servers “let the good times roll,” in an authentically Bayou ambience. The moderate price point makes this a good value. Open 8 a.m. to midnight every day. 5 N.W. Minnesota Ave., Bend; 541-323-2833, www.bourbonstreetbend.com.
The New Lodge Restaurant (A): Blending and contrasting the textures and flavors of Northwest cuisine, executive sous chief Adam Kapela is a rising star of the region's fine-dining scene. His canvas is the renovated lodge restaurant at Black Butte Ranch, eight miles west of Sisters. Service and ambience are equally superb. Open Wednesday to Sunday, 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. to close. 13653 Hawksbeard Road, Black Butte Ranch; 541-595-1260, www.blackbutteranch.com.
Tart Bistro (B+): Serving French-inspired global cuisine at a moderate price, Tart has taken over the downtown Bend corner once occupied by 28 and Barcelona. Preparation can be inconsistent, but mesclun salad and duck make a great meal, and service is highly reliable. Open 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday. 920 N.W. Bond St. (St. Clair Place), Bend; 541-385-0828, http://tartbistro.com.