Review: RiverBend Brewing

Bend pub adds ‘craft food’ to the beer menu

By John Gottberg Anderson / For The Bulletin

RiverBend Brewing Sports Pub

Location: 2650 N.E. Division St., Bend

Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday

Price range: Starters and salads $5 to $15, burgers and sandwiches $9 to $11.50, entrees and pizzas $10 to $16

Credit cards: American Express, MasterCard, Visa

Children’s menu: Yes

Vegetarian menu: Salad and sandwich options on request

Alcoholic beverages: Full bar

Outdoor seating: Patio with fire table and games.

Reservations: No

Contact: 541-550-7550 or www.riverbendbrewing.com

Scorecard

Overall: A-

Food: A-. It may not be perfect, but the from-scratch menu is hearty and healthy.

Service: A. Reliably friendly and efficient, with personable and attentive servers.

Atmosphere: B+. Low key, family-friendly sports-bar decor, including 16 flat-screen TVs.

Value: A-. Prices are very reasonable and the quality is excellent.

It seems it was only a few years ago that chipotle pepper-inspired dishes began to appear on the menus of restaurants in this country.

At first, it was a few Mexican eateries. One franchise group, not found in Central Oregon, even adopted the name — the Chipotle Mexican Grill. Then chipotle began to show up everywhere, in sauces and salad dressings, and even at American fast-food restaurants.

Now, someone’s figured out that the earthy flavor of this moderately spicy, smoke-dried jalapeno pepper goes great with beer. In fact, based on my recent visits to review the RiverBend Brewing Sports Pub on Bend’s north side, I can assure readers that chipotle goes equally well with the RiverBend Red and the RiverBend Imperial IPA.

RiverBend is the former Rivals Sports Bar & Grill. It changed its name late last year, when owner Gary Sobala expanded into the brewing business, adding a 12-barrel facility across the parking lot from the Northeast Division Street eatery. Daniel Olsen, formerly of the Deschutes and Lagunitas brewing companies, is the brewmaster.

“But this whole thing had been in the works for two years,” said Sobala. He has owned the restaurant since it was built in 1992, but stood back as landlord to a series of dining establishments from 1995 until mid-2010, when he assumed ownership of Rivals — a sports bar briefly known for its Texas hold ’em poker tournaments.

“Having a poker bar was never my dream,” Sobala said. So he went to work on an energy-efficient makeover that included LED lighting, sound panels and hand-crafted, knotty-alder furnishings. “We took out anything that had to do with gambling,” he said.

Sports-bar decor

Today, banners of NFL football teams and a few major colleges hang from the rafters, while Major League Baseball pennants adorn the upper walls. Beneath them are framed, black-and-white photographs and posters of sports heroes from decades past, along with basketball jerseys signed by their famous NBA namesakes — Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant.

There are eight large, flat-screen televisions in the front room, eight more in the equally large rear section that includes a video poker room.

The atmosphere is very low-key and family friendly. Children are welcome to dine with their parents and order off a special kids’ menu. On several visits, in fact, I have never noted a rowdy crowd, as the clientele is somewhat older and more mature than at other downtown Bend sports bars.

Sobala himself serves as executive chef. “What we’re trying to do here is craft beer and craft food,” he said. “Ninety-eight percent of our stuff, we make from scratch.”

He injected his own recipes into the menu, refining them with input from the rest of his kitchen staff. “We’ve got some great guys,” he said. And he revised the appetizer menu, removing such plates as mozzarella sticks and deep-fried onion rings in favor of house-made hummus and artichoke-jalapeno dip.

A taste for chipotle

For me, though, the clincher was the chipotle connection. I had the smoky pepper in the slaw that accompanied my burger, in the dressing of my salad, in the barbecue sauce that came with my chicken wings. I’m a believer.

The guacamole bacon burger was hearty and delicious, one of the best I’ve had in Bend. Six ounces of lean ground beef was topped with crispy, applewood-smoked bacon and melted Swiss cheese, then served on a bakery bun spread with avocado and topped with romaine lettuce and thin slices of tomato. A few red onions were presented on the side.

The chipotle slaw, a blend of white and red cabbages, was a little dry for my taste, but the peppery mayo gave it a nice bite.

On a different visit, I thoroughly enjoyed the chipotle barbecue sauce in which my pound of chicken wings (eight “buzzard drumettes”) were tossed. A choice of five sauces was offered, and I was delighted with my choice. The wings were served with thick carrot and celery sticks and a creamy Gorgonzola dressing.

My Southwest chipotle salad wasn’t quite up to the standard of the other dishes, but that was no fault of the tangy dressing. Crunchy iceberg and romaine lettuces were mixed together with sliced hard-boiled egg and avocado, lots of diced tomato, but only sparse amounts of black beans and kernel corn. It was finished with shredded cheese and a few tortilla chips.

Companion meals

My dining companion has different tastes than I do: She’s not a chipotle fan, and she prefers kombucha over beer. But she was pleased on different visits with each of her three orders — especially the macaroni and cheese.

Elbow macaroni was blended with five kinds of cheese — Gruyère, Fontina, parmesan, cheddar and mozzarella — but not so much as to dominate the flavor. Crunchy bacon bites, green onions and toasted bread crumbs were all baked into the melange, which was served with two slices of grilled focaccia bread.

Her prime rib dip sandwich — RiverBend’s version of a French dip — was made with thinly sliced and lean beef, layered on a French roll with Swiss cheese and served with jus. The baguette-like roll, she felt, was outstanding.

We shared a 12-inch pizza that featured barbecued pulled pork and a house barbecue sauce, along with red bell peppers, red onions and mozzarella cheese. We agreed that the toppings were superb, although the recipe for the crust needs a little work.

Service at RiverBend, on every one of our visits, was friendly and reliably efficient. The servers checked back on a regular basis, making certain our drinks, alcoholic and otherwise, were filled and our appetites were sated.

This could become a go-to place for game-time dining.

— Reporter: janderson@bendbulletin.com

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