Consistency and reliability, in food and in service, are essential to success at any restaurant. Sometimes, however, when a new eatery dashes out of the gate, it takes a little while to find the right staff chemistry to make that happen.
Two of downtown Bend’s more popular lounges in recent years, The Stihl Whisk(e)y Bar and the J-DUB Restaurant & Bar, struggled to establish themselves when they opened in mid-2014 (Stihl) and early 2016 (J-Dub). Those early difficulties are behind them.
In the Franklin Crossing Building, The Stihl has become Central Oregon’s go-to stop for a Kentucky bourbon, a rye whiskey or a single-malt Scotch. Its rich, dark-wood decor is also a great place to enjoy a steak or chop, a fresh salad or a pot pie like granny used to make.
Nearby, J-DUB, veteran restaurateur Jon Weber’s self-named establishment, focuses on attracting families and other local business. An outdoor recreation theme is most evident in the cafe area, while a spacious rear patio (facing Bend’s main parking garage) adjoins a cozy bar.
Typically, the first people to greet a visitor to The Stihl are fedora-hatted bar manager Cameron Springstun and bearded bartender Davidson Small. Both are happy to make recommendations from a selection of more than 350 whiskeys, to be enjoyed in the ambiance of a low-lit speakeasy.
Some of the bourbons find their way into the menu as marinades for beef dishes such as the Stihl bourbon burger ($15) and the loco moco gringo ($17), with garlic mashed potatoes, zucchini, mushroom gravy and a sunny-side-up egg. On past visits, I have enjoyed the bourbon steak fingers ($9), a starter-sized plate of lightly breaded and fried sirloin, served with horseradish and house-made honey mustard dressing.
But the two young tag-team chefs, Cody Hahn and Garrett Marsh, also do a whale of a job without whiskey supplements. Jason Gartz, founder and owner of The Stihl, raves about their dedication and creativity. I can only speak to the food, but it is delicious.
My favorite dish in recent visits was the elk shepherd’s pie ($18). Tender elk meat, seared and chopped, was swirled in a mushroom ragout with carrots, peas and corn. This was served atop mashed potatoes with green and pickled red onions, Parmesan cheese and a balsamic reduction. It is a superb rendition of an English favorite.
I’ve also enjoyed the pan-seared pork chop ($26), a 10-ounce cut with a peppery dry rub. The chop was perfectly cooked, tender and juicy, complemented by a red wine-citrus pan sauce atop creamy garlic mashed potatoes. Four thin strips of grilled yellow squash, set atop the pork and potatoes, and sauteed green onions comprised the daily vegetable; I would have preferred broccoli, but the rest of the dinner was so outstanding, I could hardly complain.
Table attendants ably balance the bar service, assuring that diners throughout the restaurant get the same attention as those at the bar.
A block and a half north at J-DUB, owner Jon Weber is happy to have the same chef who he started with, 3½ years ago. As when the restaurant opened, Nate Montgomery’s menu has a heavy emphasis on burgers and other gourmet sandwiches, along with salads and weekend breakfasts. His experience in high-end dining shows in a handful of nightly specials.
My choice of Asian lettuce wraps (a mere $6) from one such list was indicative. Served with a half-dozen fresh, crispy leaves of romaine, a spicy Sloppy Joe-style blend of beef and pork with garlic, onions, corn and peppers was perfect for folding into the greens.
My favorite recent meal, however, was a Texas roadhouse burger ($15) on a telera roll, the sort of flatbread typically used in Mexican tortas. Made with melted cheddar cheese and candied bacon atop a ground-beef patty, it was heaped high with oversized onion rings dressed with a sweet barbecue sauce. Lettuce, tomato and pickle finished the sandwich.
It was the perfect breading on the fried onions that made this burger. Light and not at all greasy, the batter was easy to eat with or without onions. I would take it over fries, nine times out of 10.
After 17 years tending bar at the Pine Tavern and six more as bar manager for 10 Barrel Brewing, Weber is a well-known figure in the local restaurant business. Four years ago, “it was time to have my own place,” he said. He bought a popular longtime restaurant, expanded the kitchen, upgraded the front-of-house area, and last summer finished the comfortable rear patio.
Skis, snowboards, bicycles and sports-action photography adorn the restaurant, but the emphasis is on food and service. “I want this place to be where locals come for good comfort food at a good price,” Weber said.
Well-behaved dogs are welcome on the patio. J-DUB even tempts the pooches with a pup menu, with a variety of protein-rich bowls priced at $2 and $3. There’s also a $6 kids’ menu (“I’m not hungry” is mac and cheese; “I don’t know” is chicken strips) and a listing on the burger card called “My girlfriend’s not hungry.” That’s a side of french fries.
— John Gottberg Anderson can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org