Black Bear Diner

Food: () Ample portions of all-American food prepared just as Mom might have done

Service: () Friendly and professional, slow in the morning but much faster in the evening

Atmosphere: () Beyond cute, with giant stuffed bears and chainsaw-carved bears everywhere you look

More Info

Location: 237 SW Fourth St., Madras (additional franchise locations in Redmond and Bend)

Hours: 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day

Cuisine: American

Price range: Breakfast $6.99 to $13.99, lunch $8.49 to $12.99, dinner $11.99 to $16.99

Credit cards: American Express, Discover, Master Card, Visa

Kids’ menu: Variety of meals for 12-and-unders and “big cubs.”

Vegetarian and gluten-free menu: Request an omelet or a salad with no added chicken

Alcoholic beverages: No

Outdoor seating: No

Reservations: No

Contact: blackbeardiner.com/location/madras/, 541-475-6632

Since the restaurant group was founded at Mount Shasta, California, in 1995, Black Bear Diners have grown to 93 franchises — mostly in California, but also in Nevada, Arizona, Washington, Idaho, Utah and Colorado.

With the opening earlier this year of a Black Bear Diner in Newberg, the company has nine restaurants in Oregon. The first, established 14 years ago, was in Madras. In my experience, it’s one of their best.

When I wrote about the Black Bears in Bend and Redmond in late 2009, I was less than impressed. Madras was under different ownership, a reader subsequently told me. I would find better food and service there, he said.

He was right.

You’d never know it from the decor. As with any other Black Bear Diner I’ve visited, it is beyond cute — starting with the two large stuffed bears in a pickup outside the entrance. There’s another occupying the first stool at the lunch counter.

Pictures and photographs of bears seem to be on every wall. Chainsaw-carved bears hold signs that read “Almost Bear-adise” and other rib-tickling puns.

I could bearly contain my excitement. This restaurant had all the signs of a babysitting service. And, indeed, several families shared large tables and children’s menus.

Breakfast service

But service was professional, especially in the evening, when it was far better than I might have expected. A vigilant hostess quickly seated me on each of my two recent visits. Morning service could have been better: 10 minutes after I was offered a glass water, I was again asked if I wanted water, and I was on my second full cup of coffee by the time my breakfast arrived. Evening service was much speedier, even though my server was charged with four busy tables.

My breakfast was a plate called the Bear’s Choice. It offered two eggs any way, a selection of meat sides, and a variety of “bread” options such as biscuits and gravy, pancakes and French toast.

I had my eggs over easy, and they were perfectly turned. A thick slice of bacon was very good, and a link of pork sausage was tasty despite my having to extract a substantial piece of bone that I was glad didn’t break a tooth.

A sweet-cream waffle, served with butter and maple syrup, had a nice flavor, and was so substantial that I ended up eating only about half.

The breakfast menu, served all day, offers nearly three dozen other choices, including omelets, chicken-fried steak and eggs, pineapple upside-down pancakes and cinnamon-roll French toast.

Lunch features include a variety of burgers and other sandwiches, and salads (such as the Asian chicken cabbage salad) that are most popular at midday.

Smaller portions of many plates may be ordered from a “Little Less” roster.

Evening dining

I came for an evening meal with my dining companion. We were quickly served water — as Black Bear is an alcohol-free restaurant, there is no wine or beer option — and two large cornbread muffins with butter.

Full dinners include a choice of soup or salad. I picked the soup, a vegetable beef barley blend with carrots, celery, potato, mushrooms and green beans. It was clearly homemade, a hearty cupful of Mom-style soup. My companion’s salad was fresh if basic, iceberg lettuce with shaved carrots, sliced cucumbers, a cherry tomato and a light dressing.

Her entree, a pecan-crusted rainbow trout, was filleted and grilled, skin-on, with crushed pecans. We wondered if it might have had a less “fishy” flavor had the skin been removed. The meal was accompanied by mashed red potatoes (served with country gravy on the side) and a seasonal veggie medley of zucchini, yellow squash, carrots and broccoli.

For my entree, I chose the tri-tip combo. Six ounces of sliced tri-tip beef and four barbecued pork ribs slathered with a thick and tangy sauce shared a plate with vegetables and a russet potato baked in foil. The meat was perfectly cooked, and when I requested creamy horseradish for my beef, the flavor was further enhanced. Small cups of sour cream and butter allowed me to doctor the potato to my liking.

— John Gottberg Anderson can be reached at janderson@bendbulletin.com.

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