Rimrock Café at the High Desert Museum

Food: () From-scratch soups and locally sourced salads and sandwiches.

Service: () Cafeteria staff goes the extra mile and seems always to wear a smile.

Atmosphere: () Simple but well kept, with photo exhibits and a covered patio area.

More Info

Location: 59800 S. U.S. Highway 97, Bend

Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day, May through September; remainder of year, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day

Cuisine: Salads, soups, sandwiches

Price range: Salads $5 to $11, soups $4.50 and $6, sandwiches and wraps $7 to $11

Kids’ menu: Six choices priced $6 and $7

Vegetarian and gluten-free menu: Choices include salads, garden burger, veggie wrap

Alcoholic beverages: Beer

Outdoor seating: Large covered patio

Reservations: No

Contact: highdesertmuseum.org/rimrock-cafe, 541-382-4754

For more area restaurant reviews, visit www.bend bulletin.com/restaurants

Looking back on it, the day after the eclipse may not have been the best time to visit the High Desert Museum.

Throngs of solar viewers, still with science and nature on their minds, exited U.S. Highway 97 to explore one of Central Oregon’s premier educational facilities before continuing their drive to California and other points south.

Despite the layer of forest-fire smoke that engulfed the region, visitors enjoyed the exhibits of history, art and animal life — in particular the river otters, as raptors weren’t flying in the bad air.

And when hunger called, they didn’t have far to go.

On this particular day, the museum’s Rimrock Café was packed. That was no surprise. But the cafeteria-style establishment handled the crowds with grace, taking orders calmly and precisely, even as it struggled to deliver orders in a timely manner. Staff alerted diners they shouldn’t expect to get their food for at least 15 minutes; in fact, my order took more than 20 minutes.

Chili and a wrap

That said, I was mostly delighted with my food. A bowl of chili, one of two soups on the menu, was delicious. The house-made recipe was simple but satisfying. Ground beef, diced peppers, pinto and kidney beans were stewed in a tomato base and served with the option of chopped red onions on top. It was presented with biscuits rather than soda crackers, as I might have expected.

I paired the potage with a veggie wrap, served in a green spinach tortilla. A white cabbage slaw with cut carrots, celery, red onions and black olives might have been very dry without chopped tomatoes, for instance, but a hummus spread kept the filling moist, while Swiss cheese boosted the flavor. A crispy serving of Tim’s Kettle Chips came on the side.

On a prior visit, my dining companion enjoyed a fresh chef’s salad, one of six salads on a list of a half dozen. Lines of chopped turkey, bacon, tomato and red onion were laid upon a bed of spring greens, accompanied by slices of hard-boiled egg and shredded cheddar cheese. From a choice of five dressings, she chose to accompany it with bleu cheese.

Other salads include a Southwest quinoa salad, a strawberry summer salad, and smaller garden and fruit salads. But I was not as pleased with a caprese pasta salad that I chose to go with a warm sandwich.

A classic caprese is a tomato salad, ideally made with sliced heirloom tomatoes layered with fresh basil and buffalo mozzarella cheese. This concoction, its bow-tie pasta noodles tossed with a heavy pesto cream sauce, had basil and mozzarella, but tomatoes were nearly absent. I think I found three tiny pieces.

My sandwich was excellent, however. A Southwestern chicken melt was served on a ciabatta roll (from Bend’s own Big Ed’s artisan bakery), spread with chipotle mayonnaise that made it spicier. A tender chicken breast sat atop a leaf of lettuce and two slices of bacon; it was topped with melted cheddar and a tomato slice. Like my wrap, it came with Kettle Chips.

Fine service

Despite the Rimrock being a cafeteria, I was particularly impressed by the service.

The counter and bus staff went out of their way to make me feel comfortable, even voluntarily refunding the price of my unwanted pasta salad and bringing me a freshly baked chocolate-chip cookie by way of apology.

When I had not picked up my own silverware and napkin before sitting at a table to await my order, a server took care of that for me. And when I had finished one dish but had not yet bused my own table, the staff attended me with a smile.

The cafe seats 50 indoors, another 60 outside beneath a retractable canvas awning. That patio is more popular when smoke doesn’t fill the air.

Inside the cafe, one wall offers wildlife photographs for sale at prices from $80 to $295.

A longer wall highlights the dream of museum founder Donald Kerr with a set of large-scale photos.

The High Desert Museum — which waives admission for anyone stopping by merely to dine at the cafe — was founded in 1982. The cafe has been in operation since late 1995.

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

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