Restaurant review: Big Belly Grill House

Sunriver cafe offers good burgers, inconsistent service

By John Gottberg Anderson / For The Bulletin

Big Belly Grill House

Location: 56815 Venture Lane, Sunriver

Hours: 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday

Price range: Breakfast $5.75 to $12.50, lunch $3.95 to $11.95

Credit cards: American Express, Discover, MasterCard, Visa

Kids’ menu: Yes

Vegetarian menu: Limited choices

Alcoholic beverages: Fully licensed

Outdoor seating: No

Reservations: No

Contact: www.facebook.com/bigbellydeli or 541-382-3354

Scorecard

Overall: B

Food: B. Home-style burgers and Benedicts are good but preparation is inconsistent.

Service: B-. Relaxed and friendly but not always reliable, sometimes with overly long delays.

Atmosphere: B. Rustic and with a makeshift charm, although I can do without the TV shows.

Value: B. Prices are moderate, but only good value when the food is cooked properly.

I have mixed feelings about Sunriver’s Big Belly Grill House.

On the one hand, this pub-like cafe, in an industrial park just south of the Sunriver Resort, is a relaxed and friendly establishment that serves up better-than-average burgers and Benedicts.

On the other hand, I’ve found service to be spotty at best and food preparation to be inconsistent.

Open for two years, previously named the Big Belly Burger Deli, the cafe serves a selection of eight different eggs Benedict plates and a dozen varieties of burgers, as well as a handful of other sandwiches, tacos and burritos.

Owned by Lisa Hogue, a former restaurateur in towns just east of Sacramento, Calif., Big Belly has a sort of makeshift charm. Unvarnished, sanded-pine tables seat 32 guests upon a concrete floor. Three more oversized chairs stand at the bar, separated from the grill area by a divider of corrugated tin.

Beer signs hang on wallboard painted a pale blue, while country music plays in the background — except when “Friends” or another TV show is playing loudly on a single television set.

Lunchtime meal

The best of the three meals that I’ve had at Big Belly Burger Deli with my dining companion was lunch. While it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary, it was (for the most part) solid, tasty fare. And we found service to be prompt and reliable.

My friend started with a house salad, made with crispy romaine lettuce, along with sliced tomato, black olives and shredded Monterey Jack cheese.

Her hamburger — a “Chunky Bleu Cheese Bacon Burger” — had a home-cooked flavor that she said more than made up for any shortcomings. The hand-shaped patty was broad but lean, topped with bacon, onion, tomato, romaine lettuce and melted blue cheese. It came on a bakery-made bun that held solidly together despite the plethora of ingredients.

I began with a cup of soup, which on this day was spicy chili. Unfortunately, it seemed to have been sitting too long on the stove, because it was overly thick and, more significantly, had a slightly burned flavor.

But my Big Belly Cheesesteak, served on a bakery-fresh hoagie roll spread with horseradish mayonnaise, was delicious. Although I would have liked more melted cheese, the meat was lean and cooked just to medium. It was sautéed with green and red peppers and onions, and on my request, additional sautéed mushrooms.

Breakfast blues

Hogue and her staff were having a bad day when we returned shortly after opening one morning to test the breakfast menu. We waited a long time for a cup of coffee, and when it arrived, it was lukewarm and watery. Things didn’t get any better.

In particular, our eggs — Big Belly’s signature Benedicts — were severely overcooked. Neither my dish (a smoky pulled pork Benedict) nor my companion’s (a California Benedict with sliced avocado and smoked chicken breast) had a hint of runny yolk; the eggs may as well have been hard-boiled.

We nibbled at our side dishes, a waffle square and a couple of pancakes, but wrote off the experience as “one of those days.”

When we returned a couple of weeks later, the coffee was still disappointing, still weak and lukewarm. What’s more, it had been made with a hazelnut-flavored bean, not my favorite. Fortunately, Hogue brewed a new, somewhat stronger batch that was much better.

It took more than a half-hour to prepare our meals, although there were only two other patrons in the café. When the eggs did arrive, however, they were perfect this time around.

On the rerun

My friend had chosen the Belly Classic Benedict, featuring Black Forest ham on English muffins. Thinly sliced and chopped, rather than a single piece of meat, the ham was topped with two eggs, their yolk running freely, with a generous sprinkle of paprika and an ample serving of house-made Hollandaise sauce.

It wasn’t a thick sauce, although it had the nice lemony flavor that one expects in Hollandaise. The butter pats on two side pancakes ran into the sauce, however, adding an unexpected richness. “I would have preferred if the pancakes were not on the same plate,” my companion noted.

As the time was close to noon, I had opted for a lunch rather than breakfast. I began with house-made seafood chowder, a blend of clams and calamari with potatoes and spinach in a light but not overly creamy broth. I found it delicious.

My Poblano Chile Jack Burger was only average, however. It featured a decent piece of meat, but the mild roasted chilies laid atop could have come from an Ortega can. Lightly grilled onions and Monterey Jack cheese added to the flavor, along with slices of tomato and pickles. Chopped iceberg lettuce was not as appealing to me as a full leaf of lettuce might have been.

Hogue, a very genial hostess, disclosed that she has had problems with partnerships at Big Belly and that she has recently posted the restaurant for sale. She’d like to continue to manage the establishment, she said, but has grown tired of the business aspects. “In an ideal world, I’ll find a buyer who wants me to continue to work here,” she said.

— Reporter: janderson@bendbulletin.com

SMALL BITE

The Lot, a congregation of food carts on the west side of Bend, now offers Tuesday trivia nights and Thursday live music, both beginning at 6 p.m. A full-service beer garden with 16 taps embraces a covered and heated dining area. Owned by David Staley, The Lot offers food from Rico’s Tacos, The Brown Cow, Mauna Kea Grill and Thailandia, as well as the adjacent Real Foods Street Bistro. Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. 745 N.W. Columbia Ave., Bend; 541-610-4969.

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