Leo Plass, 100 years young, strode without a cane into Redmond's Big O Country Nook restaurant and seated himself beside a window. As a server addressed him by name, he ordered a hamburger steak and a dish of coleslaw, dug in with a healthy appetite, and greeted other diners with a friendly smile.
The Big O is the sort of place that makes everyone feel at home the moment they walk in the door. It's been around since 1990, but moved into its current space only about two and a half years ago, in August 2009.
The food may not be the best you've ever had, and it may be inconsistent.
But it's thoughtfully prepared and is, by and large, pretty good, especially if you like such things as country-fried steak and eggs, liver and onions or grilled catfish.
The home-style mood carries into the decor and service. The atmosphere is part ranch, part country homestead, flavored with a touch of whimsical humor; a poster depicting “steamed vegetables,” for instance, shows broccoli, carrots and tomatoes wearing very unhappy faces. Bronzed and repainted children's cowboy boots stand atop a wall of rough planks that form a room divider.
And both of my recent visits — the first, solo at the front counter; the second, with a companion at a booth — were attended by experienced servers who offered friendly banter with the coffee, took orders accurately and delivered them quickly.
I almost felt as though I were at the home of a relative, especially when at my second meal, our server said, “Bless you both,” when my companion and I had finished our meal and paid our check.
I didn't feel like diving into a big meal when I first stopped by for breakfast. The pork cutlet with eggs and applesauce looked like a good choice for another day, as did the bacon-and-cheddar omelet and the Nook Special scramble, with prime rib, sauteed onions and mushrooms.
Fortunately, the cafe offers an appropriate alternative: “I ain't that hungry and I'm kinda cheap.” The menu under this category offers options priced at $5, $6 and $7, with this notation: “Hey! No substitutions! If you are going to cry about it, please tell the server so we can take a picture!”
But there were no tears here. Given a choice of two from a list of eggs, meat and breads, I requested a minced-ham scramble (“Please tell your server if you would like us to mince the eggs and scramble the ham”) and a half of a waffle.
Not surprisingly, the meal was basic, with no more and no less than promised. The ham was finely chopped and mixed with two eggs. The waffle was cooked to a golden brown, served with butter and warm syrup. But it perfectly suited my morning mood.
And I found the Redmond natives, seated on either side of me at the counter, to be as friendly as the service staff. Light conversation and a sharing of the day's headlines were the order of the day. Something tells me that's not an infrequent occurrence at the Big O.
Later in the day
A few days later, my dining companion joined me for a late-afternoon meal. The cafe's lunch menu was still being served, but we both turned to the short dinner menu that is served three nights a week.
Our entrees were not exceptional.
She had a honey-glazed chicken breast, brushed with a sweet glaze of honey and Dijon mustard, then charbroiled. It was properly cooked and tasty but was surprisingly small, more along the lines of a thigh than a breast. “I guess they're trying to keep me on a diet!” she commented.
The meal came with a choice of soup or salad, a choice of bread, vegetables and a choice of potatoes. Her dinner salad was pretty good, as house salads go: chopped fresh romaine lettuce with tomato, carrot and cucumber slices, croutons and a bleu-cheese dressing on the side. Texas toast was nicely grilled with a touch of garlic.
Although it was served only with butter and sour cream — no chives or bacon — her baked potato was perfectly cooked. The same could not be said of the veggies, which on this occasion were thickly sliced carrots, severely overcooked in butter. So much for the diet theory.
My main course was catfish, breaded with Cajun-style spices and grilled. I was turned off by the first bite — I thought it had an overly fishy flavor — but as I continued to eat, I began to enjoy it. Certainly, it was cooked as a fish should be, perfectly flaky. Tartar sauce accompanied.
My meal starter was the Big O's soup du jour, a stew-like bean-and-ham concoction. Cubes of ham, pinto and white navy beans, were blended with celery, barley, carrots and onions in this house-made soup. A warm dinner roll went well with the soup, and although I didn't enjoy my overcooked carrots, my French fries (a generous serving) were offered skin-on, clearly made in-house.
Before leaving, we took out a “hot beef plate” for my companion's teenage son. His subsequent critique: “It was okay, I guess.” Thin slices of beef were served on a bed of white bread with mashed potatoes; thick, house-made brown gravy was spooned over all.
I never got around to asking Leo Plass how he was enjoying his hamburger steak and coleslaw. By the time I thought to do so, he had eaten every bite. Then he got in his car and drove off down the street.
Our server assured us that he'd be back the next day, perhaps more than once. The Big O Country Nook, evidently, is a place that Redmond locals find it hard to stay away from.
Ginger's Kitchenware, in Bend's Old Mill District, will host a “Table of Content” fundraiser for The Nature of Words on April 11. Chef and co-owner Jaime Aguirre will prepare an authentic Mexican menu that includes chorizo soup, three unique tacos (pork, fish and vegetarian) and homemade fruit gelato. Retired OSU-Cascades Spanish professor Dick Falxa will read excerpts from Isabel Allende's “Aphrodite: A Memoir of the Senses.” The dinner begins at 6 p.m.; seating, at $70 per person, is limited and by reservation. 375 S.W. Powerhouse Drive, Suite 120, Bend; 541-617-0312, www.gingerskitchenware.com.
Big O Country Nook
Location: 325 N.W. Fifth St., Redmond
Hours: 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Sunday to Wednesday, 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday to Saturday.
Price range: Breakfast $5 to $13.25; lunch $6.50 to $10.75; dinner appetizers $6 to $8, entrees $9 to $16.25
Credit cards: MasterCard, Visa
Kids' menu: Numerous choices priced $7 and less
Vegetarian menu: Limited choices
Alcoholic beverages: Full bar
Outdoor seating: No
Food: B. In-house preparation may be inconsistent, generally fresh but often heavy-handed.
Service: A. Fast and friendly, almost like you're at the home of a relative.
Atmosphere: B+. Part ranch, part country homestead, with a touch of whimsical humor.
Value: B+. Prices are reasonable but portion sizes vary.
Next week: Palmer's Cafe
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