J&J BAR & GRILL

Food: () Sandwiches are decent; fish-and-chips are terrible; soup is nonexistent.

Service: () Owner admits, “The employee thing has been our biggest problem.”

Atmosphere: () Historic status of building limits possible renovations.

More Info

Location: 125 NW Oregon Ave., Bend

Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday and Sunday

Cuisine: American

Price range: Breakfast $5 to $13, lunch $8 to $13, dinner $8 to $28

Credit cards: MasterCard, Visa

Kids’ menu: Children’s burgers (4 ounces) are $7

Vegetarian and gluten-free menu: Eggs, salads, veggie burgers and grilled-cheese sandwiches

Alcoholic beverages: Full bar

Outdoor seating: No

Reservations: No

Contact: visitbend.com/listing/jj-bar-and-grill/, 541-797-0026

For more area restaurant reviews, visit bendbulletin.com/restaurants

What is it with all the “J” bar-and-grills in downtown Bend?

There’s JC’s, J-Dub’s and the M&J. And now, adding to the confusion, the J&J Bar and Grill opened July 4 in the former Summit Saloon space on Oregon Avenue. I’m not a fan. Not yet, at any rate.

In the 1916 O’Kane Building, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the J&J has posed challenges for its new mother-and-son operators, Judy Bell-Putis and Jack Pedro.

“This has been quite an undertaking,” said Bell-Putis, who owned the D&D Club Bar & Grill on Bond Street between 1989 and 2013. She and Pedro have operated Binky’s Lotto on SE Third Street for 4½ years, she said, adding: “We wanted another bar and restaurant to take over. This was the only one available — but we hoped for not quite this big of an ordeal.”

The historic status of the O’Kane Building limited their renovation options. “It took us three weeks just to paint the trim, clean up the place, pick up tile and put down carpeting,” Bell-Putis said.

Staffing problems

The bar is once again drawing a regular clientele, with an NFL football package assuring professional sports fans. Except on weekends, however, solo servers are working the bar and doubling as table servers.

“The employee thing has been our biggest problem,” Bell-Putis said. “And I can’t brag about our food yet. Kitchen help has been very difficult to come by.”

That’s a problem shared by other Central Oregon restaurants, and one that my recent experiences in dining at the J&J would seem to verify. In fact, on two separate occasions I requested the “soup of the day,” as highlighted on the pub menu, and I was told there wasn’t one.

And my $13 fish and chips were, quite simply, the worst I’ve ever had. The cod was chopped into such small bites, before breading and deep-frying, that I felt as though I had no seafood. The chips were basic commercial fries, and the coleslaw was forgettable.

Clearly, the J&J’s emphasis is on the bar scene. The downstairs sports TVs and lottery room are complemented by a spacious upstairs events space that offers a regular schedule of activities — headed by live music Friday and Saturday nights, karaoke Sunday and Tuesday. In addition, a disc jockey plays dance music Mondays; there’s stand-up comedy Wednesdays and open-mic performances Thursdays.

Food pros and cons

But the food isn’t all bad. My club sandwich ($13) was solid, even though its two cheeses (Swiss and cheddar) were stacked one on top of the other rather than being separated between layers of meat and toasted bread. In fact, ham, turkey and bacon shared the top layer of the sandwich, with vegetables (lettuce, tomato and onion) keeping them apart from the cheese. It was an interesting way to make a club, I thought.

My dining companion enjoyed her Oregon Street burger ($14), although it appeared thinner than the 7 ounces claimed by the menu. Served on a grilled bun spread with a house ketchup-and-mayo sauce, it included tomato, onion and pickle with a choice of cheese ($1 extra). Sweet potato fries were much better than the fries that had accompanied my fish and chips.

On another visit, my friend ordered a Reuben sandwich ($13), which she considered “very, very ordinary” — pastrami, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and Thousand Island dressing on lightly toasted rye bread.

A saving grace was her accompanying house salad, whose mix of greens (spinach, kale, red lettuce and frisee) was superior to what I find at most restaurants.

“Our goal is to bring this place back to life,” Bell-Putis said. No doubt, the J&J has a way to go, especially given staffing challenges. But experienced restaurateurs are giving it a serious push.

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

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