Jimmy Buffett, the Beach Boys, Jack Johnson — singers whose tunes can transport you far from wintry Central Oregon weather — create a daydreamy soundtrack at northeast Bend's Beach Side Bar & Grill.
Palm trees and surfboards, tropical murals and even a hammock or two promise a meal that will make you think of Hawaii or the Caribbean.
But don't expect a cheeseburger from paradise. The food at Beach Side carries no surprises whatsoever; with the exception of soups and a side dish of grilled vegetables, in fact, the dishes that I tried lacked any sense of originality. And the service offered very little in the way of aloha spirit.
Located just off Empire Way at the corner of Layton Avenue, the Beach Side holds down a place in the city where sit-down restaurants are in short supply, between an industrial park and a residential subdivision. Pro-football banners add a sports-bar element to the coastline motif, and a big-screen television in an adjacent lounge is fringed with Oregon Duck and Oregon State Beaver paraphernalia.
Owner Bill McCadden, who spent 15 years in the bar-and-restaurant industry in Southern California before coming to Oregon, said he is focusing on establishing a niche business in northeast Bend. “We have a good commercial base here,” he said. “We're concentrating on family food, gearing it more toward this neighborhood.”
McCadden also assured me that Beach Side's food is made “90 percent” from scratch. That includes soups, salads and side dishes, he said.
Burgers and clubs
There is, in fact, a “Cheeseburger in Paradise” on Beach Side's menu. It's described as a char-grilled patty of ground chuck, served with American cheese, lettuce and tomato for $6.95.
I was looking for a little more in my burger, so I ordered a one-third pound Island burger — which, for an additional $1, promised cheddar cheese, a lightly grilled pineapple slice and a spread of “our signature” teriyaki sauce.
Nothing about this burger inspired me to think of days spent in the tropics. The sweet teriyaki spread was a mere dab on the bottom layer of a large sesame bun; no ketchup, mustard nor mayonnaise were offered until I requested them.
Burgers come with two side dishes. My fries were standard issue, as if they were poured into the deep fryer from a bag of frozen potatoes. My coleslaw was marginal at best, dry and vinegary but lacking a sweet edge.
My companion had a California club sandwich, layered on lightly toasted white bread that was modestly spread with mayo and honey mustard. Ham, turkey and bacon, along with lettuce, tomato, avocado and alfalfa sprouts, all went into the sandwich.
But she found the sandwich nothing out of the ordinary, preferring to munch on oven-fried “buffalo chips” and eschewing her other side dish, baked beans, which she said tasted as if they had come out of a can.
The good news from this lunch was the soup of the day. It was a hearty, nicely seasoned chicken-rice blend with lots of vegetables — broccoli, cauliflower, squash, carrots and onions — to complement the generous amount of chicken in the potage. If only so much homemade goodness had been in the other dishes.
Salads and wraps
On a return visit, I went back to the soup of the day. This time, I was disappointed.
The corn chowder, prepared in a thin cream base, was very bland; in contrast to the chicken-rice soup, there was no seasoning that stood out. Kernels of corn and chunks of potato dominated the mix, along with bits of celery, onion, carrot and other vegetables. A generous sprinkling of black pepper made it more palatable.
Next, I had an Asian sesame chicken salad. This was made with chopped romaine lettuce tossed with grilled chicken and crispy chow-mein noodles, sprinkled with cilantro, toasted almonds and sesame seeds, and served with a creamy sesame dressing.
The menu had promised: “All salads are served with fresh bread.” When I inquired of my server why bread hadn't been delivered with my salad, she giggled. “It's just a dinner roll,” she said. “Trust me, you don't want it.”
That kind of set the tone for Beach Side service. Although we were twice greeted and seated promptly, service was very casual and inconsistent. Dishes came out of the kitchen as they were readied, with no apparent flow; we were not served our meals at the same time, and at one point waited at least 10 minutes for our water glasses to be refilled.
My companion opted for a chicken Caesar wrap on our second visit. She described it as a store-bought Caesar salad rolled in a wheat tortilla. It featured romaine lettuce and grilled chicken with a creamy Caesar dressing, shredded Parmesan cheese and croutons — which I considered an odd thing to put in a sandwich of any kind.
She did enjoy both of her side dishes: buffalo chips, once again, and grilled vegetables. The latter included zucchini and yellow squash, broccoli and cauliflower. They were perfectly cooked and seasoned, a reminder that the Beach Side kitchen has the ability to prepare excellent food even if it rarely fulfills that promise.
After a short seasonal closure, Kanpai Sushi and Sake Bar (990 N.W. Newport Ave., Bend; www.kanpai-bend.com or 541-388-4636) reopened on Monday. Meanwhile, owner Justin Cook expanded the menu at his downtown Bend restaurant, Boken (852 N.W. Brooks St., Bend; www .bokenbend.com or 541-706-9091), to include several new hot dishes and a variety of sushi specials. Among the latter is shiki Suzuki, a carpaccio of sea bass wrapped around julienned green apples and served on a puree of fried apples.
Jackalope Grill will host the Women Tasting Wine group from 4 to 6 p.m. Nov. 21. Chef Tim Garling will prepare foods to complement vintages from Hestia Cellars of Woodinville, Wash. Cost is $45; reservations must be made by Wednesday. 1245 S.E. Third St., Bend; www .womentastingwine.com or 541-420-1213.