I feel like a heretic in saying that I don't absolutely love the new Worthy Brewing Co. Restaurant and Garden.
The new craft brewery, which opened the first week of February on Bend's east side, is already a suburban landmark. Its spectacular building rises above U.S. Highway 20 just before it leaves the Bend city limits.
A surrounding garden area (not yet in bloom) is made even more inviting with picnic tables and a sand volleyball pit.
On the north side of the brewery, a small greenhouse nurtures young hops plants being nurtured for outdoor planting.
Come fall, they'll be put to use in the production of ales right in this building, in fermenters and tanks that overlook the expansive floor where food and beer are dispensed to a delighted patronage.
The beers — those that I've sampled, including East Side Pale and Pilot Butte Bitter — are excellent.
The food and service, not so much. Not enough, certainly, that I would consider waiting without a reservation for more than an hour for a table, given that there are well over a dozen other brewpub choices in Central Oregon. Yet I have dropped by on occasions when I have discovered waits of that length or longer.
Work to do
To that end, I'm not sure the kitchen at Worthy has amped up to the production standard required to turn out an extensive menu of appetizers, soups, salads, sandwiches, pizzas, full entrees and desserts to more than 150 diners in a timely fashion. Pizzas and burgers, maybe, but cedar-planked wild salmon and oven-roasted chicken breast call for a different level of attention. Food delivery can be rather slow and orders confused.
As well, at least a couple of the servers seem less than dedicated to their jobs. One example: A staffer opened a door between the dining room and garden, and as she did so, a gust of wind blew napkins off a nearby table that had recently been vacated but had not yet been bused. Rather than casually picking up the garbage, she turned her back, leaving it on the floor for several minutes until another employee cleared the table as newly arrived diners waited for seats.
That's not to say that my dining companion and I didn't find friendly and adequate service. For the most part, we did, on both of our recent visits.
And although we weren't happy with every dish we ordered, we gave two thumbs up to at least one dish. This was a warm beet salad, made with oven-roasted red and pink beets and wilted organic kale. They were presented on a bed of fresh mixed greens with coarsely chopped pistachios, creamy chevre cheese and citrus vinaigrette dressing that employed a taste of fresh hops. It was absolutely delicious.
“We are a 'from scratch' kitchen that focuses on using seasonably available and locally sourced organic herbs, veggies and meats,” executive chef Mike Harrison writes on the restaurant's menu.
Win some, lose some
Several other dishes earned one thumb up and one thumb down from my companion and me.
She enjoyed the vegetarian black-bean burger. The burger patty was made from a blend of mushrooms, red peppers and onions with black beans and spent grain — the wet solids left over from wort production in the brewing process. It was served on tasty, toasted brioche bread and topped with melted mozzarella cheese, slices of fresh tomato and green-leaf lettuce (although the menu had promised arugula).
I thought the patty tasted like cardboard. But we agreed that the accompanying sweet-potato fries were superb. Large wedges of potato, they had not been deep-fried or breaded like standard French fries, but had instead been baked.
There were two other plates that I ordered and liked. My friend sampled both and shrugged, which was fine with me: It left more for me to enjoy.
One of them was St. Louis ribs. Basted with a pale-ale barbecue sauce and slow-smoked, the half rack of pork spare ribs was delivered free of any slather of additional sauce. I enjoyed the flavor, which featured a dash of some unidentified spice. On the other hand, the accompanying white-cabbage coleslaw left me flat, although my companion appreciated that it had a minimum of dressing and was more bitter than sweet.
Chili verde tacos, a new item on the Worthy menu, had a filling of smoked pork blended with a mild tomatillo and jalapeno sauce. Three tacos were stuffed with this concoction, along with coarsely chopped tomato salsa, shredded cabbage and Mexican cotija cheese. A cup of chive creme fraiche accompanied.
When we saw “Oven Roasted Brussels Sprouts” listed on the appetizer side of the ledger, my companion and I nodded in agreement that we should give them a try. Two bites apiece later, we sent them back to the kitchen with a rejection notice.
Although the sprouts had been prepared with minced garlic and crispy pancetta (Italian bacon), tossed in extra-virgin olive oil with sherry vinegar, they carried the very bitter flavor that comes with not having been cooked long enough. Cabbage-like leaves still clung to the vegetables, far from tenderly falling off the stems.
Nor were either of us impressed by Worthy's pizzas, although this seems to be a feature menu item. We ordered two of the pizzas. The toppings were fine, but the crusts were not.
Although the flavor of the prosciutto fig pie was delicious, with arugula leaves complementing the hearty fruit and meat, the gluten-free crust was more akin to flatbread than to pizza dough. A standard-crust Smokehouse pie, with pepperoni and Italian sausage from the Redmond Smokehouse, was only slightly more substantial.
I would return to Worthy to drink and gather with friends, but I wouldn't make it a regular dining destination.