The decision to expand the Deschutes Brewery Public House in downtown Bend was not made overnight.
In fact, according to Gary Fish, founder and chief executive officer of Deschutes Brewery, it was two decades in the making.
“We’ve been working on this project for at least 20 years,” Fish said.
The restaurant expansion, which formally premiered on Feb. 1 after a couple weeks of soft-opening events, more than doubled the size of the popular brewpub, a stanchion of the downtown area since it opened in 1988. Where it once seated 141 diners, leaving hungry patrons without reservations waiting for a half hour or longer, it now makes room for 306.
Fish said Deschutes Brewery had considered expansion several times over the years. But only after the success of the company’s Portland brewpub, established in 2008, was the company able to move ahead with the new plans.
The two-story space is beautiful. DKA Architecture has created a modern building with historic flair. Outside, a brick fašade features three arches that frame a floor-to-ceiling glass wall.
An inside feature is cast-iron artwork, replicating hop vines, that was created by Jeff Wester, owner of Sisters’ Ponderosa Forge. It wraps around columns of timber that rise from polished concrete floors to separate well-spaced tables and booths.
An exhibition kitchen on the north side of the new room has replaced the much smaller kitchen in the original pub. The wall that faces it, on the south side of the room, mimics an original tuff-stone wall that was uncovered during construction.
Wester also created the ironwork edging a broad, two-tiered staircase, built mainly of wood left over from the Portland construction. It leads to additional seating, including a seasonal open-air balcony, and a large wood-paneled room for private events.
The original brewpub now has a larger reception area. The main dining area extends to a relocated fireplace, pushed back into a section of the former kitchen. Behind it, the prep kitchen incorporates a bakery and charcuterie. Other cosmetic touches have opened up the bar area.
But a handsome space does not make a good restaurant. Despite its appearance, the Deschutes pub struggles in key areas.
Service, in my experience, is hit and miss. Significantly increased menu prices have moved it well out of the budget category.
And while there are some excellent menu items, notably sausages and other meats prepared in-house, the quality of food hasn’t improved in line with the higher prices. To complicate matters, longtime executive chef Matt Neltner left Deschutes within a few weeks after the pub’s opening, and a replacement was not immediately announced.
I have dined at Deschutes three times since late January. One of those occasions was during the soft-opening period; another was just a couple of weeks later. I forgive service and cooking errors in the initial phase after a restaurant opens, so I won’t discuss them here.
But by the time three friends joined me for a dinner in late March, the kinks should have been worked out.
Arriving early for dinner, we were seated promptly without any wait. Menus were quickly delivered, and our server returned to the table almost immediately to take our orders. We weren’t quite ready yet, however, so he offered us “a little more time.” At least 10 minutes passed before we saw him again.
Food and drinks were delivered in reasonable time, but twice we had to make a special request to have our water glasses refilled. That was the job of a busser who was either inattentive or not making his rounds frequently enough.
What we ate
As we waited for our orders to arrive, we snacked on fried chickpeas; with less substance than popcorn, I found them tasty but a little bit greasy.
We also nibbled on a sampler of three house-made meats, one of the best plates of the night. My favorite was a hunter’s-style boar sausage. Also good was a black pepper-and-garlic pork sausage. I found the cured pork belly to be a little too dry. The meats were served with two house-made mustards, including a stone-ground variety made with Black Butte Porter beer.
One member of our group had an ahi salad, featuring sesame-crusted tuna, lightly seared and wonderfully tasty. Served over a bed of arugula and baby lettuce — and tossed with generous handfuls of cranberries, pine nuts, capers and candied malt — it was served with a vinaigrette of sesame, soy and lime juice. This blend was perfect for the fish, but would have been better offered on the side, as the dressing thoroughly doused the greens.
Another person chose barbecued baby back ribs. Smoked in-house, the slow-cooked pork ribs weren’t quite fall-off-the-bone tender, but they brought a smile to our friend’s face. He especially liked the sauce, which was similar to the mustard made with Black Butte Porter. House-cut fries were very good, but accompanying coleslaw, despite a sweet-and-sour taste, was much too soupy.
My regular dining companion ordered an evening special — a halibut tostada — together with sweet-potato fries. While the potatoes were just what she had hoped, tossed in sea salt and pepper and served with a red-pepper dipping sauce, the tostada was not. The flavor of black beans and chipotle mole overwhelmed the delicate white fish, which she could see but had difficulty tasting.
My vegetarian entree, mushroom ravioli, was similarly heavy-handed in preparation. Sauteed maitake mushrooms filled chalky pasta pockets that were cloaked in a rosemary cream sauce. A small amount of spinach, green onions and Parmesan cheese were sprinkled on top.
Beginning this week on Easter Sunday, Common Table will serve a weekly Sunday brunch buffet starting at 10:30 a.m. Vegetarian ($10.75) and meat-eaters’ ($13.75) menus are available. The restaurant also has begun offering a late-night $5 menu, served until 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. 150 N.W. Oregon Ave., Bend; 541-639-5546, www.common table.net.
Spork has reopened for the season. Chef Jeff Hunt’s mobile kitchen, housed in a 1926 Airstream trailer, serves such international dishes as chile relleno burritos, Thai-style green curry, and chicken thighs stuffed with ginger, pork and noodles. Open 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday to Friday. 1234 N.W. Galveston Ave., Bend; 541-390-0946, www.sporkbend.com.
Letzer’s Deli closed both of its stores March 23. Sheridan Letzer and his family established their main deli at 1155 Division St. in Bend two years ago, and in January had installed a second smaller outlet at 431 N.W. Franklin Ave.
Boondocks Bar & Grill closed March 31. The nightclub in the former Bend Elks building at 70 N.W. Newport Ave. had been in business since 2008. It previously had been Jokers Bar & Grill.