Next week: Bistro 28 at the Athletic Club of Bend

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Cafe Yumm! is a bit of a phenomenon in the Pacific Northwest. Founded in Eugene in 1997 and riding a wave of health consciousness, the restaurant group has grown in fewer than two decades to 15 locations in Oregon and Washington, including two franchises in Bend.

The newest shop opened in January on the city’s east side, adjacent to St. Charles Bend and Bend Memorial Clinic, adjoining the expansion location of Jackson’s Corner.

Bend’s first Cafe Yumm! was established in December 2007, beside the Deschutes River in the heart of the Old Mill District at a time when vegetarian-oriented restaurants were much scarcer than they are today. It was the initial Cafe Yumm! outside of Eugene; the group now extends north all the way to Seattle.

The ambiance at the Bend cafes is simple, moreso on the east side than in the Old Mill, and the price is right — not an item on the menu costs as much as $10. Diners order rice bowls, wraps and sandwiches, soups and salads from the counter; collect their own silverware, paper napkins and water; then find a table to which their food is delivered.

In east Bend, there are 32 seats in the main dining room, half that many in a secondary room, and more on the seasonal patio. That’s fewer than in the Old Mill outlet, giving this shop a more intimate feel for its light wood furnishings in its custom-built, modern building.

Rice and beans

The emphasis on healthy cuisine is right, and the quality ingredients are invariably as fresh as can be. But, too often, I have found that the execution is not.

Now, my regular dining companion is a big fan of Cafe Yumm! — specifically, the “Original Yumm! Bowl.” She likes this dish so much, she buys bottles of its key ingredient, Original Yumm! Sauce, and uses it as a drizzle on home-cooked food. The flavor doesn’t appeal to me, but that is clearly a matter of personal taste.

The “Original” bowl is a blend of organic brown rice, black beans and mild red salsa, along with a choice of tofu or chicken, and a variety of toppings — cheddar cheese, tomato, avocado, black olives, cilantro and sour cream.

On the Cafe Yumm! website, vegetarian chef Mary Ann Beauchamp, who co-founded the company with her husband, Mark, said it was rice and beans that provided the basis for the business. Her Japanese mother cooked rice, her Kentuckian father loved beans, and she discovered that “rice and beans, when eaten together, create a complete protein.”

Many of the ingredients used are flagged as organic, including tofu and tempeh (both soy products), eggs, peanut butter and yogurt. No red meat is served; premium chicken and turkey, salmon and tuna are carefully chosen.

And then there’s the trademarked Yumm! Sauce, a blend of garbanzo and soy beans, almonds, lemon, basil, garlic and nutritional yeast. It’s described as “sugar-free, dairy-free, egg-free, wheat-free, gluten-free and vegan.”

Imperfect prep

But on two recent visits with another friend, sharing a variety of non-rice bowl dishes, I have not been wowed.

A soup-and-salad lunch was uninspired. From a choice of three soups of the day, I opted for a medium-sized bowl of African groundnut stew, described as a “spicy peanut soup with yams, cabbage, tomatoes and cilantro.” But rather than being thick with veggies, the broth was thin, overly salted and lacking in depth. A few slices of French bread with butter (in packets) were better than oyster crackers, but not that much better.

My small salad was fresh but made without imagination. Field greens were topped with plum tomatoes and sliced red cabbage, red onion and carrots. From a choice of eight dressings, I requested sweet ginger miso; it was a surprisingly mild mixture and did little to enhance the salad.

My friend ordered a Southwest wrap with grilled and seasoned tofu. The soy meal was folded into a whole-wheat tortilla with cheddar, avocado, tomato, cilantro and red salsa — the same toppings as appear in a Yumm! bowl. But the tortilla had been grilled too long; partially charred, it was dry and fragile. He wound up eating the “wrap” with a fork.

On a follow-up visit, we shared two sandwiches: a turkey Reuben and a ginger-garlic veggie burger.

The Reuben comprised two extremely thin slices of turkey on toasted light rye, with thin slices of tomato and red onion, slaw and a Russian-style dressing. The menu had promised sauerkraut — this decidedly was not — along with Swiss cheese. There was no cheese of any kind on the sandwich.

Although it didn’t hold together well, the vegan burger was pretty good. Served on a moist whole-wheat bun, it was topped with fresh green-leaf lettuce and tomato slices. But the chopped white cabbage on which the burger was laid was anything but the “creamy ginger Asian coleslaw” that was, again, promised on the menu. I finally figured out that the cup of sauce that came with the meal was a coleslaw dressing.

I think Cafe Yumm! does a great job for its target audience. Clearly, my regular dining companion is among its fans. Just as clearly, I am not. While she dines at Yumm!, I will head next door to Jackson’s Corner.

— Reporter: janderson@