THE LEMON TREE

Food: () Internationally inspired brunches from a pair of shipboard chefs.

Service: () Staff is universally friendly, well-trained and professional.

Atmosphere: () Bright and cozy cafe would benefit from a little soundproofing.

More Info

Location: 718 NW Franklin Ave., Bend

Hours: 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday

Cuisine: International

Price range: Most dishes $9 to $17

Credit cards: American Express, Discover, Mastercard, Visa

Kids’ menu: On request

Vegetarian and gluten-free menu: Feta-and-spinach frittata, Greek salad, pesto pasta alla Genovese

Alcoholic beverages: Fully licensed

Outdoor seating: Sidewalk tables

Reservations: First come, first served

Contact: lemontreebend.com; 541-241-5306

Good food is good food, regardless of whether it’s served on land or sea.

At downtown Bend’s Lemon Tree restaurant, diners get the best of two chefs experienced in both.

Focused on all-day brunch recipes, inspired by years in the galleys of international cruising vessels, Betsy McDonald and Jaclyn Perez have taken downtown Bend by storm, judging by midweek patronage since the restaurant opened in early May.

Their menu ranges from Greek to Tunisian, Italian to Indonesian, French to honest-to-goodness American.

The pair worked together for six years on the 205-foot “Lady Lola,” a luxury mega-yacht on which Betsy’s husband, David “Mac” McDonald, served as captain. Perez had left an exclusive resort in her native Panama and trained under renowned chefs in Italy and France before she joined the “Lady Lola.”

Originally from North Carolina, the McDonalds purchased a home in Bend 15 years ago — deciding that it would be their “final resting place,” Mac said. During a wine dinner in Modena, Italy, last August, the trio accelerated their timeline and began shopping for Bend restaurant space.

They purchased the former Bend Burger Company in February of this year; Perez arrived on the scene a month later.

Exotic recipes

During their years at sea, the chefs adopted the habit of shopping in their various ports of call, assuring that cuisine was fresh and local — even if it was unfamiliar to many of their guests. They’ve incorporated a range of spices (coriander, paprika, sumac) and vibrant flavors not tasted at many Central Oregon restaurants.

“Our style is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea,” Betsy confessed. “But we want to be surprising.”

Really? What’s surprising about Tunisian shakshuka or Indonesian nasi goreng?

I love them both. Shakshuka ($11) is a tongue-tickling stew of coarsely chopped tomatoes, onions and chiles. It’s spiced with cumin, coriander, garlic and paprika, then topped with a pair of poached eggs and accented with toasted slices of baguette.

Nasi goreng ($13) translates from the Bahasa Indonesian language as “fried rice.” In the Lemon Tree’s close-to-authentic version, the rice is stir-fried with prawns, chicken and vegetables, seasoned with ketjap manis (a sweet soy sauce) and chile sauce, and finished with an egg, fried over easy.

“Our food is internationally inspired,” said Mac, who serves as the restaurant’s congenial host and oversees a staff of friendly, well-trained, professional servers. “We can do anything.”

Brunch choices

On a morning visit, my dining companion wasn’t entirely enthralled with her breakfast of smoked salmon with The Lemon Tree potato cake ($13). While she agreed that the preparation and presentation were outstanding — the salmon was even twisted into two beautiful roses — she didn’t love the coupling with potatoes, despite the addition of sliced tomato, onions, capers and herbed cream cheese. We decided that underscored Betsy’s point about “not everyone’s cup of tea.”

However, she thoroughly enjoyed her seared steak Benedict ($16), featuring slices of tender, medium-rare skirt steak seasoned with fresh thyme. Poached eggs, creamy Hollandaise sauce and house-made hash browns made this a delicious if somewhat more traditional meal.

I would like to see a greater selection of lunch items on the all-day (8 a.m. to 3 p.m.) menu to accompany a handful of salads, sandwiches and pastas. But it’s hard to overlook the jumbo crab cakes ($16), blended with diced bell peppers and served on a bed of greens and cabbage, jicama and green apples, with a citrus vinaigrette.

The roast chicken and leek pie ($15) is a fine midday meal, served under a beautiful golden pastry crust in a souffle dish. The two main ingredients were blended in a rich and creamy velouté sauce with peas, carrots, celery and thyme.

Setting the mood

On Franklin Avenue at the corner of the Brooks Street alley, half a block off Wall Street, The Lemon Tree has renovated the former hamburger parlor into a bright and cozy cafe.

Several tall tables stand beside an espresso bar and dessert display case; other tables offer views to sidewalk seating through large picture windows.

My only complaint about atmosphere is the level of noise when every table is in conversation. Soundproofing would be helpful, but it would also be costly.

The Lemon Tree is fully licensed, and offers a nice selection of cocktails, including bloody marys, mimosas and bellinis. But I am most impressed by the drinking water, which is infused with sliced fruit and herbs. Currently that’s strawberries and mint; in other seasons, it might be peaches and basil.

The cafe is open only for brunch Tuesday to Sunday, but there is room for change. On First Friday in June, the McDonalds and Perez offered a menu of evening tapas and were stunned by the positive response. It’s something they may soon revisit.

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

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