It was inevitable, perhaps, that siblings Danielle Stewart and Don Fredrickson would wind up in the brewpub business together.
Stewart had run a restaurant in Stockton, Calif., for more than a dozen years before moving with her husband, Kevin Stewart, to Deschutes County in 2006.
Frederickson had been a brewing hobbyist for two decades. When he and his partner, Natalie Patterson, followed the Stewarts north to brewers' paradise, collaboration became the logical next step.
The quartet's Smith Rock Brewing Co. opened quietly three months ago in Redmond in the former Puleo's Italian restaurant, vacant for several years. It didn't take long for locals to discover it.
“We were originally going to brew for growler and tank sales from our property," Danielle Stewart said. “Then we found ourselves focusing on the restaurant and bringing brewing in as second."
It appears to have been a wise choice. Although the menu at Smith Rock Brewing is simple, everything is fresh and well prepared. The service is bend-over-backward superb, the mood very pleasant, and all four partners know their roles: Kevin Stewart in the kitchen, Fredrickson in the bar, Patterson greeting guests and Danielle Stewart overseeing diners.
Mood and menu
Redmond residents who remember Puleo's will feel right at home here.
There remains a classically Italian feeling in the atmosphere, with textured plaster walls, arches and white pillars spread through several rooms of the converted home. There are only eight tables, but a two-way gas fireplace between the main dining room and the lounge adds homey warmth.
Smith Rock has added a Forest Service element to the decor, beginning with a street-side sign that mimics the yellow-and-black federal emblems, extending to a few Smokey-the-Bear-style posters inside.
The menu is uncomplicated: a few appetizers and side dishes, a couple of soups and salads, a vegetarian pasta entree and a selection of burgers and other sandwiches. “We're slowly introducing new items, but we don't want the menu to be huge," Stewart said. “We are kind of relying on our patrons to dictate to us what they want on the menu. We focus on good, hearty pub food that is all made in-house and locally sourced as much as possible."
As the brewpub has no freezer for long-term storage, and no microwave for reheating, everything is necessarily very fresh, she said.
Soups and sandwiches
On two recent visits, I found the food to be less than gourmet, but certainly better than the norm for brewpub fare.
Soups of the day were particularly good. On one occasion, this was a white bean-and-bacon potage of perfect flavor and consistency. On another, it was a creamy Boston-style clam chowder with large but tender pieces of clam, coarse chunks of skin-on potato, carrot, celery and bacon.
My dining companion's wedge salad could not have been fresher. A fractured head of iceberg lettuce was served with blue cheese, red onions, black olives, sliced mushrooms and tomatoes.
Her veggie pasta, made with penne cooked in a sauce of garlic, white wine and butter, featured capers, mushrooms, black olives and red onions. (She requested that bell peppers, normally included in the recipe, be left out of her dish.)
Fresh house-made ciabatta bread contributed to the success of two sandwiches, one a burger, the other with pulled pork.
“The Works" was a 4-inch-thick burger that I couldn't even dream of getting my mouth around; I had to cut it into smaller bites. Made with local Cinder Butte beef, it was topped with two cheeses (cheddar and Jack), thick-cut smoky bacon, mushrooms, avocado slices, lettuce, tomato, red onion and pickles.
The roasted and pulled pork was very moist, a flavor enhanced by a topping of freshly made cole slaw — more sweet than vinegary. I was missing a barbecue flavor, however, until I requested some sauce.
Smith Rock Brewing is rightly proud of its onion rings, available by themselves or as an accompaniment to sandwiches. They are breaded in a buttermilk-based batter, as are a deep-fried mushrooms appetizer. The steak-cut pub fries are 6 inches long and seasoned to taste.
For dog lovers, corndogs — an old-time favorite — are served in adult and child sizes. Giant hot dogs are dipped in a cornmeal batter and deep-fried. Bratwursts, meanwhile, are served in a DiLusso Kaiser roll and dressed with lettuce, tomato and onion.
I would like to see Smith Rock expand its menu to include more dishes that are neither sandwiches nor deep-fried. At present, besides the dishes already mentioned, there is only a hummus plate with vegetables. A couple of additional salad choices (mixed greens? Caesar?) and another pasta plate, like macaroni and cheese, would be a good start.
Blackboards detail the selection of Northwest beers on tap, always featuring one of Smith Rock's own. “We have six beers, rotating one at a time on the restaurant menu," Danielle Stewart said.
“We released our first brew only on Nov. 27 last year," she said. “We only have a small-scale system in the back of the building, only about 20 to 22 gallons at a time." On my most recent visit, this was a Morning Glory IPA.
And my companion enjoyed a Laughing Dog huckleberry cream ale from the Laughing Dog Brewing in northern Idaho.