I have recently revisited seven Bend restaurants that, over the past two years, I have rated poorly. Two of them impressed me sufficiently to make me want to sing their praises after having formerly been critical.

At the Country Catering Co., on the east side, my ranch-style barbecue sandwich was far improved over what I had previously experienced. Service was always solid, but now, I find the interior decor of the shop far more inviting than a year ago.

Applebee's Neighborhood Grill&Bar, on North U.S. Highway 97, retains its eclectic atmosphere but has stepped up its service to a more capable, professional level. And I found the two dishes I ordered to be of higher quality than when I reviewed the Bend restaurant in late 2008.

Country Catering

Country Catering's father-and-son team of Frank and Cody Serbus has developed a strong reputation for their deli and catering business over 18 years in Central Oregon. Their little shop, in a corner of the East Bend Plaza industrial park on Southeast Wilson Avenue at Ninth Street, is a bustling place throughout the day, but especially during an extended lunch hour.

On my last luncheon visit to Country Catering, I wasn't excited about the feature deli sandwich, made with tri-tip steak barbecued outdoors on a four-food grill. This time around, the “hot-and-spicy tri-tip” changed my mind.

Tender beef sliced a quarter-inch thick was served in a savory barbecue sauce on a soft sourdough roll, lightly spread with mayonnaise. It was presented with melted cheddar cheese, slices of red onion and a couple of sweet pepperoncinis. On my previous visit, my sandwich had no garnish.

All sandwiches come with a choice of salad from the deli case. I thoroughly enjoyed my skin-on red potato salad, which was zestier in flavor and made with more ingredients than before. In addition to chopped sweet pickles, the mix included bits of red and green onion, celery and hard-boiled egg, mixed with both mayonnaise and Dijon mustard.

Sometime in the past year, the decor of Country Catering got a bit of a cosmetic upgrade. Today it is more inviting. It still seats just 28 diners at seven tables, but appears less basic than before. As always, a variety of marinated meats is sold from a substantial deli counter, while a good-sized retail shelf offers homemade condiments — including barbecue sauce and salsa — plus specially treated briquettes for home barbecues.

Lunch at Applebee's

When I wrote about Applebee's two years ago, I found the food to be standard issue for a national franchise restaurant, service to be friendly and polite but inconsistent, and the level of cleanliness not maintained to my satisfaction. I have changed my opinion.

I thought service on my most recent visit was excellent. A hostess greeted me when I walked in the restaurant, promptly found me a booth with a window view, and handed me two menus (one of them 12 pages long). In almost no time, a server brought me a glass of ice water and introduced herself. My meal was delivered promptly from the kitchen, and my check was delivered and collected with the speed that a lunch-hour meal deserves.

I ordered a “Pick 'n' Pair” lunch combination: soup and salad for just $5.99, which I considered a very good price.

The soup of the day was a house-made chicken-tortilla stew. Although it was overly seasoned with salt, and the broth wasn't as light as I might have preferred, it was still a tasty concoction. The blend included shredded chicken breast meat, chunks of tomato, bits of diced jalapeño and multi-colored tortilla strips.

My salad choice was grilled shrimp with spinach. Nicely seasoned and fortunately not breaded, the chilled shrimp were served on a bed of baby spinach leaves with roasted red peppers and diced red onions. A honey balsamic dressing finished the salad, which was modest in size but sufficient for a midday meal.

I've always found Applebee's eclectic decor to be interesting; there's lots of sports memorabilia to study as orders are being prepared. And on this visit, I thought management ran a tight ship with no questions of cleanliness.


The Bond Street Grill will celebrate its grand opening today with live music and all-day happy-hour prices. Formerly the Decoy Bar&Grill , now under new ownership, the Bond Street has a revised menu of soups, salads, sandwiches, pizzas and full entrees, highlighted by an ahi tuna burger ($13) and 16-ounce rib-eye steak ($24). Open 11 a.m. to close Monday to Saturday, 4 p.m. to close Sunday. 1051 N.W. Bond St., Bend; 541-318-4833, www.bondstreetgrill.com.

Jimmy John's , boasting the “world's greatest gourmet sandwiches,” has opened next to the Ann Taylor Loft in the Old Mill District. Established in Illinois in 1983, the company has more than 1,000 stores in 39 states, including five in Oregon. A selection of subway and club sandwiches, most priced $3.85 to $5.85, includes the J.J. Gargantuan ($7.85), stuffed with five different meats, cheese and multiple garnishes. Open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day. 330 S.W. Powerhouse Drive, Suite 140, Bend; 541-633-7224, www.jimmyjohns.com.


Thai O Restaurant (B+): The area's best Thai food outside of downtown Bend is offered in Redmond's Fred Meyer Shopping Plaza by a father and son from Bangkok. Service is a bit shy, but prices are reasonable for quality and size of portions. Open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 4:30 to 9 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 4:30 to 9:30 p.m. Friday, 12 noon to 9:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. 974 S.W. Veterans Way, Suite 1, Redmond; 541-548-4883.

Letzer's Deli (A-): Bend's only authentic Jewish delicatessen has a pedigree that dates back to Southern California in the 1950s. Decor may be basic, but service is fast, quality is top notch and portions are huge. Patrons won't go wrong in ordering corned beef, pastrami and Swiss on rye. Open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. 1155 S.E. Division St. (Scandia Square), Bend; 541-306-4696, www.letzers deli.com.

Shari's Restaurants (B+): These family-friendly restaurants, part of an Oregon-based chain, are known for their distinctive, six-sided design. 61135 S. U.S. Highway 97, Bend (541-389-2405); 3098 N. U.S. Highway 97, Bend (541-382-0674); 1565 Odem Medo Road, Redmond (541-923-0400); www.sharis.com.