Cottonwood Café

Location: 403 E. Hood Ave., Sisters

Hours: 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday

Cuisine: Creative American

Price range: Breakfast $7 to $13; lunch soups and salads $4 to $10, sandwiches $10 to $13

Credit cards: American Express, MasterCard, Visa

Kids’ menu: Parents are encouraged to order a la carte for youngsters.

Alcoholic beverages: Fully licensed

Outdoor seating: Spacious back patio area

Reservations: Accepted for parties of 8 or larger.

Contact: www.intimatecottagecuisine.com, 541-549-2699

Scorecard

Overall: A-

Food: A-. Excellent casual cuisine served with only occasional shortcomings.

Service: A-. Friendly and professional, although servers may be forgetful at busy times.

Atmosphere: A. Lovely renovated residence has a beautiful patio beneath a cottonwood tree.

Value: A. With nothing priced higher than $13, the food here is accessible to everyone.

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When T.R. and Jennifer McCrystal made a decision last winter to transform their very popular Jen’s Garden restaurant into a more casual breakfast-and-lunch spot known as the Cottonwood Café, it wasn’t without a great deal of consideration.

“We kind of needed a fresh new project,” Jennifer said.

In its own way, the Cottonwood is every bit as good as Jen’s was.

Jen’s Garden opened in February 2006, and for nine years it was Sisters’ special-occasion restaurant. So highly regarded was the multi-course, prix-fixe dinner house, known for its self-described “intimate cottage cuisine” in a 28-seat room, that it got regular traffic from Bend, Redmond and further distant towns.

But times change. The McCrystals’ daughters, now 10 and 14, were getting involved in more after-school activities that conflicted with the dinner schedule. And when their parents divorced a year and a half ago, some sort of change was anticipated.

“We are still business partners and really good friends,” Jennifer said. “We raise kids and run a business well together. And we kind of liked the idea of getting away from fine dining and enjoying something more casual.”

“It’s a way to spend more kids’ time in the evening,” T.R. added.

Jen’s Garden closed in February and reopened on April 25, a little over two months later — after the McCrystals took a break from the business and gave their late-1920s cottage a limited renovation. They installed a breakfast-and-lunch menu that blends old favorites with new creations, and renamed the café for a giant cottonwood tree that stands tall above the spacious back patio area. “It’s easily 100 years old,” T.R. said of the leafy giant.

Breakfast fare

Lively indie rock music was playing when my dining companion and I arrived for breakfast on a recent Sunday morning. We were seated promptly at an indoor table — although all five tables on the 16-seat patio were occupied, there was not yet a line outside the door, as there was when we departed an hour later — and were quickly brought menus and water.

We began our meal by sharing a house-made cinnamon roll, a perfect complement to the strong brew of coffee we requested. Cake-like, not perfectly moist, it was nonetheless very flavorful, with cinnamon, crushed pecans and golden raisins in a caramelized spread of butter and brown sugar. Powdered sugar rather than icing provided the topping.

My companion chose a smoked salmon scramble as her main morning course. The fish didn’t have a strong fishy flavor, as some smoked salmon can have. Instead, its flavor was nicely balanced by green onions, fried capers, lemon and artichoke hearts, blended into the soft-scrambled eggs with Boursin cheese. My friend’s only grumble was that the accompanying toast had been delivered cold and unbuttered.

My breakfast was a Benedict Provençal, a vegetarian and gluten-free version of a morning classic. Rather than ham and an English muffin, my two poached eggs were served atop a delicious layer of scalloped vegetables: eggplant, potatoes, squash, onions and tomatoes. A light, lemony Hollandaise sauce was one of the best I’ve had anywhere, and a layer of provolone cheese was finished with chopped green onions.

Both breakfasts were served with fruit salad — chunks of watermelon, cantaloupe and honeydew melons, pineapple and fresh strawberries and blueberries — and coarsely chopped potatoes that were at once crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside.

We only wished that our server, who was up to then prompt and efficient, and checked back at our table to assure that we were satisfied with our order, and to refill our mugs of coffee.

Lunch visit

When I visited on another occasion toward the end of the lunch hour, I was pleased to be ushered to a table on the broad patio. A light breeze rustled the leaves of the grand cottonwood as I was once again served quickly and cordially.

I opted for a salad and sandwich. My small house salad, a blend of spinach and red lettuce leaves, was simple but delicious: It included roasted red grape halves, brioche croutons and shaved Parmesan cheese, and was finished with Dijon vinaigrette.

My “knife-and-fork” chicken salad “sando” was served open-faced on grilled sourdough and topped with an over-easy fried egg. My first reaction was that the seasoning in the chicken salad was unusual; in fact, it was made with a gorgonzola aioli along with golden raisins. Indeed, my palate quickly adjusted, and I thoroughly enjoyed the dish. It was served with lettuce and tomato.

My companion had requested that I bring something home for her, as well, so I chose a turkey and kale chopped salad. Indeed, it came with a good amount of turkey meat and an abundance of hazelnuts and chopped green apples, but precious little kale. Instead, there were other greens, along with red onions and golden raisins in avocado vinaigrette.

A note of warning: The Cottonwood Café is not open on Mondays and Tuesdays. Diners who make the drive from Bend or Redmond early in the week may wind up settling for other breakfast choices elsewhere in Sisters.

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

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