Restaurant review

Bend's Common Table offers year-round Christmas spirit

By John Gottberg Anderson / For The Bulletin

Common Table has brought a new dining concept to Central Oregon. It's a place where one might believe the Christmas spirit lives year round.

“Our purpose is to feed all people, cherish the Earth and create awareness,” said co-founder and business manager Robert G. “Bob” Pearson.

Opened in September in the downtown Bend space that for many years was home to Cork Restaurant, Common Table is designed as much as a gathering place as it is a place to eat.

“Four years ago,” Pearson recalled, “a group of people got together to ask, ‘How do we become an example of what we want to see in the world — an example of caring and support and openness to everybody? And how do we do that on a sustainable basis?'”

One answer, they decided was in the medium of food. Everyone must eat.

“We decided to create a broad-based community where the needy person would sit next to the banker, and they would both benefit from the experience,” Pearson explained. “Everybody sits around the common table and nobody is left out.”

A total renovation

Led by Pearson and general manager Zach Hancock, and with support from religious and nonprofit organizations and unaffiliated individuals, an 11-member steering committee took charge of a total renovation of Cork. When walls were removed, the once-intimate room assumed a completely new look.

Today, the space is dominated by a series of long wooden tables with seating upon chairs, benches and pews. The table at the heart of the restaurant is a polished sheet of black walnut, 18 feet long. At the center of each table is a colorful autumn squash and sets of silverware wrapped in multi-colored napkins.

Shelves of books and board games surround a small tea alcove and casually separate the restaurant's bar — a legacy of Cork — from the main dining area. Most of those who work at Common Table are volunteers.

Pearson said more than 200 workers have already donated time since the September opening. The individuals who take orders and money at the counter are volunteers, as are those who deliver food to tables and who pick up afterward.

The lunch and dinner fare prepared by chef Bethlynn Rider is organic and health-oriented. While it may not suit everyone's fancy, the menu runs the gamut of several global cuisines, notably Mediterranean and Mexican, and might appeal equally to vegetarians, vegans, carnivores and those on gluten-free diets.

“We're pretty excited about how the community is embracing what we're trying to do,” Pearson said. “We want to serve wholesome, healthy food as much local as possible. The vegan community is overwhelmed. The gluten-free community is very excited. We had about 50 people here for our vegan Thanksgiving.”

The dining experience

During two separate visits, I have sampled several Common Table dishes. Not all of them were something that I'd enjoy on a regular basis, but each was unquestionably healthy, tasty and well-prepared.

On my first visit, I sampled the “soup of the day” and the “tacos of the day.” I found the soup — garbanzo beans with spinach — to be less a broth than a smoky hummus stew. Lemon juice added extra flavor, but I doubt that I'd order it again.

The tacos were three small blue-corn tortillas, filled with shredded turkey complemented with corn, pine nuts, onions, cilantro and shredded cheddar. Although the concoction wasn't heavily seasoned, a splash of hot sauce from a condiment shelf boosted the flavor. The tacos were served with large helping of black beans and a salad-like salsa of tomato, mango and red onion.

On a subsequent occasion, I ordered a Southwestern chop salad with baby spinach, arugula and radicchio. I paid a little extra for the addition of chopped chicken breast to a mix of sprouted quinoa, black beans, corn, minced tomatoes and red onion, and shredded cheddar cheese. A creamy cilantro-lime-green chili dressing added zest to this excellent salad.

My dining companion ordered an eggplant sandwich on house-baked focaccia bread. Thinly sliced eggplant was grilled with balsamic vinegar and oil, dressed with a black-olive tapanade and served on the bread with roasted red peppers and melted mozzarella cheese. It was presented with a tasty, hamburger-sized black-bean cake, offered with a dollop of roasted red-chili coulis and sour cream.

We shared a tofu stir-fry of fresh seasonal vegetables — broccoli, carrots, red and green bell peppers, zucchini and yellow squash, gently steamed and not overcooked — tossed with sliced fresh ginger, green onions and steamed tofu. The blend was served on a bed of brown rice and topped with a mild Thai peanut sauce.

Pay what you can

Not surprisingly with a volunteer staff, service was far from polished. In particular, my companion and I wondered why our dishes were brought from the kitchen one at a time, several minutes apart, rather than being delivered simultaneously for our joint dining pleasure.

It also seemed to us that the restaurant could save its volunteers extra trouble by offering a busing station to which patrons could deliver their own dirty dishes.

But the price is always right at Common Table. Most dishes are priced at $10 or less, although meat and seafood dishes are a little bit higher. (An open-faced smoked-salmon melt, for instance, is $13.) Every Monday the restaurant offers a “pay what you can” menu that encourages financially strapped diners to enjoy a good meal.

The generosity extends to other special occasions. Today, patrons are asked to pay what they can for a ham-and-turkey Christmas Eve dinner that begins at 3 p.m.; no one will be turned away. And although the restaurant will be closed Saturday (Christmas Day) as well as New Year's Day, a special New Year's Eve dinner will be offered by reservation only.

“If we had to pick the single most important value of what we're doing here,” said Pearson, “it is to love your neighbor.

“We're open to all people. We have Christian church members involved, but we also have a Jewish rabbi and members of a Buddhist group among our volunteers. And we have people of different races and sexual orientations.”

That sounds to me like the true meaning of Christmas.

SMALL BITE

Backporch Coffee Roasters has opened a second location in the Century Center complex on Bend's west side. Owners David and Majell Beach are moving all roasting operations to the new store, but keeping their popular coffee house near the Newport Market. The new store is open 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Saturday; 70 S.W. Century Drive, Suite 130, Bend; 541-323-3224. The original coffee house — open 6:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday — is at 1075 N.W. Newport Ave., Bend; 541-617-3984, www .backporchcoffeeroasters.com.

RECENT REVIEWS

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Common Table

Location: 150 N.W. Oregon Ave., Bend.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday

Price range: Main dishes $3 to $16

Credit cards: American Express, MasterCard, Visa

Kids' menu: Yes (endorsed by the Smart Kids Initiative)

Vegetarian menu: Extensive

Alcoholic beverages: Full bar

Outdoor seating: Seasonal

Reservations: Requested for parties of 10 or more

Contact: 541-639-5546, www.commontable.net

Scorecard

OVERALL: A-

Food: A-. International menu is organic and health-oriented, if conservatively seasoned.

Service: B+. Volunteer staff works hard but, not surprisingly, lacks polish.

Atmosphere: A. Spacious room, simply but tastefully decorated, encourages conversation.

Value: A. Prices are among the region's lowest for a sit-down restaurant.

Next week: Level 2

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