With a name like Rat Hole, we expected—and hoped for—a gritty, hard-bitten tavern, maybe even something tucked into a well-worn basement with subterranean character. The place that maybe Captain Jack Sparrow would mingle with Genghis Khan to grab a mug. Instead, the relatively new restaurant and brewpub, Rat Hole, is located in a mostly bland office space, in an area more appropriate for an orthodontic office than a tavern. Tucked on the outskirts of the Old Mill District, it is an odd choice for locale, and one that Old Mill Brew Wërks left in May; it's comfortable, but not distinct.
The main facilities for the brewery are, in fact, located off-site, in a renovated barn—a place that sounds a lot more interesting and charming than the mall site, but also a lot less central to the bustling shopping, after-mountain and lunch crowds of the nearby Old Mill District.
On a recent lunchtime visit to Rat Hole what additionally caught us off-guard is the southwest themed menu and restaurant motif. The food loosely followed this southwestern theme, with tacos and quesadillas, along with red and green chile pork and an unheard of entrée, southwestern style pasta with roasted peppers, corn and black beans in a cheese sauce.
In taste, the dishes range from so-so to pretty good. The fish tacos were filled with hunks of Rockfish not fried or breaded, but thick and flavorful, not shy in their fishiness. Jammed with heaps of pico de gallo and fresh veggies, and at three to a plate, the dish was well worth the $9 price tag.
The pulled pork was more chunky than traditionally pulled, but the barbeque sauce was rich and delicious, and the coleslaw served with the sandwich was one of the best parts of the meal. Acidic, and almost more similar to an Asian-style cucumber salad than a standard American mayonnaise-heavy slaw, it was lively, with crunchy red cabbage and carrots.
The flatbread was pretty standard. Cheese, sauce, beans and corn on a basic and fairly bland crust made up the "southwest" style pizza substitute.
Second to the coleslaw, our group's favorite dish was a massive burrito that one member of our sales' department remarked was the size of a small baby. Enough for two modest eaters, the burrito was slathered with sour cream and cheese; a great dish to sponge up Rat Hole's various beer offerings.
And after all, the beers are the intended centerpieces. We tried their five main brews, none which strayed too far from standard, middle-of-the-road offerings. We've said it before, as recently as one month ago, but we feel the need to say it again: These days—in Bend, at least—breweries need to specialize. Producing a pale, porter, IPA, brown and red, just doesn't cut it here in the brew capital of the west. Breweries should differentiate themselves. Where's the Bavarian-themed brewery that makes kolschs, marzens and doppelbocks? Or how about a Belgian brewery, like Pfreim Family Brewers, the nearly one-year-old Hood River brewpub? Such places will certainly set themselves apart in a beer-saturated place like Bend.
That said, Rat Hole does make a few interesting seasonals outside the standard lineup. Among the five beers we sampled, the Summer Lemon Wheat was tops, though mild and lacking the hazy body of a true hefeweizen, it had bright and light flavor that our crew enjoyed. The Rotation Red Ale, we were told by our disarmingly amiable server, was his favorite and perhaps the pub's most popular brew. It was fine, but not exceptional. Ditto for the Sickle Bar Saison, which was too citrus-heavy for our tastes. The Fence Post Porter was our table's favorite, well balanced with malt and hints of chocolate.
The bottom line? Rat Hole would be excellent for an after mountain brew and a hearty comforting meal. The beer is good beer and the food is good food, an adequate addition to our brewery-saturated town.
Rat Hole Brewing 384 SW Upper Terrace Dr.
Tue.-Sat. Noon-10 pm