When Brian Dioguardi decided to expand his local barbecue empire from Bend to Redmond earlier this year, he found the challenge of a new restaurant “invigorating.”
Now that Baldy's BBQ is firmly ensconced in that city's Fred Meyer shopping center, serving its meaty dishes for lunch and dinner seven days a week, Dioguardi is still elated.
“I am having fun,” said the Chicago born-and-raised restaurateur, whose polished skull is the model for the caricature on Baldy's logo. “The way Redmond has received the restaurant is phenomenal. I'm busier than I ever expected.”
A suitable Western ambience sets the mood in the former Saigon Village space, which Dioguardi fully renovated before opening April 11.
Ranch-style decor adorns the walls, including one sign that suggests: “Speak your mind, but ride a very fast horse!” Narrow, corrugated-tin roofs loom over the seating areas, which are divided into a row of low tables with Formica tops and a set of rustic booths with benches. A tall wooden table with 14 high chairs runs down the center of the room. Including the bar to the right of the entrance, there's room for about 50 diners.
The menu doesn't vary from the barbecue theme. Baby back ribs, smoked chicken, pulled pork, beef brisket and a handful of seafood entries — fried catfish, smoked salmon and grilled shrimp — are complemented by such classic side dishes as baked beans, coleslaw, corn bread and fried okra.
But the new Redmond restaurant has something Baldy's two Bend stores do not: It has a smoker in the kitchen, rather than outside.
“We use it so much more now,” said Dioguardi. “We're able to smoke the meat right in the restaurant before barbecuing and serving. And our cooks are also able to use it as an oven and a rotisserie. They are constantly throwing stuff in there. We're able to cook things there all day and not run out.”
Baldy's meats are slow-smoked for up to 12 hours on a variety of hardwoods: hickory, apple, cherry, alder and mesquite. “You've got to cook low and slow,” Dioguardi explained. “Timing and temperature are crucial.”
I tested the cooking method one evening when I called ahead and picked up a take-home order — a ribs-and-shrimp combo and a plate of smoked chicken wings.
Portions are so generous, there was plenty to feed three.
A full rack of pork ribs were fall-off-the-bone tender. Rubbed with a house blend of spices before smoking, they were covered in Baldy's own barbecue sauce and grilled. And I found them absolutely delicious.
“It takes a lot of attention, love and good preparation techniques,” Dioguardi said. “You can't over-salt, but you can't under-season. And the sauce has got to complement the meat.”
Dioguardi created the recipe for his original sauce in 1994. It is still made in Chicago and is shipped to Bend four times a year in 600-gallon batches, he said.
Along with the ribs, my friends and I enjoyed a skewer of grilled jumbo shrimp, basted with sauce. On the side, we had molasses-rich beans, creamy coleslaw, tasty honey-jalapeno corn bread and sweet-potato fries.
The smoked wings, rubbed with spices and served hot out of the smoker, were tossed in Baldy's spicier Cat's Meow barbecue sauce.
But Dioguardi is still working on new sauces.
“Not everyone likes a tomato-based sauce,” he noted. “I want to make a vinegar-based sauce. The tanginess really brings out the flavor of pulled pork.”
I tried that pulled pork when a friend and I returned for lunch in the restaurant.
I ordered one of several “lunch combos.” The platter was piled high with pulled pork, sliced brisket and smoked chicken breast, and was served with a choice of salad.
Each of the meats was wonderful — the pulled pork juicy and flavorful, the brisket remarkably tender, the chicken scrumptious within its smoky exterior. Even my Caesar salad was well made, with hearts of romaine tossed in a piquant dressing.
My companion chose an eight-ounce rib-eye steak sandwich, topped with grilled onions and sliced mushrooms, topped with crumbled blue cheese. Cooked medium , the steak carried the flavor of the smoker. It was served with heaping helpings of coleslaw and crispy French fries.
As our lunches were being prepared, we shared an order of rib tips, cut from the end of spare ribs before preparation. Smoked, chargrilled and slathered with sauce, they were served with a cup of ranch dressing for dipping and were the perfect starter to take the edge off our hunger before the main courses were delivered.
One of the things that most impressed me about Baldy's Redmond restaurant was the level of service, beginning with a greeting at the door. As customers approach, a young woman opens the door to welcome them, offers a menu and shows them to a table, at which time a server takes over.
“The host position is one of the most important in the restaurant,” Dioguardi said. “I've done extensive training with the girls, reminding them that the host is the first and last person a diner sees. They must put a smile on their face when they arrive, and make sure they enjoyed their experience when they leave.
“I don't have any managers. Instead, I empower all of my staff. I'm not an easy guy to work for, but it's helped make them a little more responsible for the restaurants.”
Baldy's two other restaurants are in Bend. The original Baldy's, which opened in February 2005, is located on Century Drive next door to Pine Mountain Sports. A newer outlet, less than a year old, is within the Stop ‘n Go Shell station on East U.S. Highway 20 at 27th Street.
Adrian Carpenter, previously sous chef at the Little Nell in Aspen, Colo., has been named executive chef at Brasada Ranch, which reopened its signature Range Restaurant & Bar on July 1. Featuring indoor and outdoor dining, the Range is open for lunch and dinner; menu highlights include buffalo carpaccio, veal sweetbreads and Alaskan black cod. Dinner entrees, served starting at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday, range from $18 to $34. Casual meals are offered at the Ranch House and Outpost. 16986 S.W. Brasada Ranch Road, Powell Butte; www.brasada.com or 541-526-6865.
A dedicated butcher shop, the Primal Cuts Meat Market , has opened on Bend's west side. Bryan Tremayne, formerly a cook at Zydeco, established the store in late June to provide consumers with local cuts of beef, pork and chicken, as well as house-made sausages, smoked meats, cheeses and other items. Open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday. 1244 N.W. Galveston Ave., Bend; www .facebook.com or 541-706-9308.
Broken Top Club (B+): A skilled and creative menu of Northwest cuisine is served in a relaxing atmosphere, enhanced by a lovely lake-and-mountain view. Service can be spotty, however, attentive in the evening but lackadaisical at midday. Open 11:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday. 62000 Broken Top Drive, Bend; www.brokentop.com/dining.htm or 541-389-8200.
Pono Farm & Fine Meats (A-): A carnivore's delight, this custom butcher shop on Bend's north side serves quality beef and pork from Pono's own 200-acre organic livestock ranch near Culver. Sandwiches and combination plates, all priced under $14, are served in a well-maintained cafe. Open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Saturday; kitchen opens at 11 a.m. 63595 Hunnel Road (at Cooley Road), Suite 100; www.pono farm.com or 541-330-6328.
IHOP (B): The restaurant group formerly known as the International House of Pancakes, serves meals that are often humdrum but sometimes excellent. The broad menu lists estimated calories on every item; service is friendly but not always efficient. Open 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, 6 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday. 30 Bend River Mall Drive, Bend; www.ihop.com or 541-317-9812.
Hola! 3 (B+): Extending over the Deschutes River, there are few more beautiful places to dine in Central Oregon. The newest of the locally owned Mexican-Peruvian chain has held back on its creative menu to satisfy clientele more interested in traditional fare. Breakfast 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday to Sunday; lunch and dinner 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day. 57235 River Road (access from Circle 3), Sunriver; www.hola-restaurants.com or 541-593-8880.