With potential for the madcap hijinks of Meatballs (think Wet Hot American Summer if you were born too late for that reference), the nostalgic romance of Dirty Dancing and the serenity of On Golden Pond, Elk Lake provides the ultimate backdrop for the full lineup of classic cinematic summer fantasies. You can't help but imagine the Brady Bunch pulling up in a Winnebago or catching a glimpse of the twins from The Parent Trap scheming to get rid of dad's fiancée with a tentful of honey. Surrounded by a forest of giant ponderosa pines with snow-capped Mt. Bachelor looming to the east and the Three Sisters to the north, Elk Lake and the resort that bears its name is the very picture of Americana.
The water, still and deliciously swimmable, is dotted with canoes, fishing boats, pontoons and paddleboards, all of which are for rent in the marina. The cabins and campsites that comprise the resort house a range of travelers from folks on their family vacations and older couples to Portland hipsters down for the weekend to smirk at the kitschy charm of the main lodge. Under relatively new management, an effort is also being made to bring in local crowds. Less than an hour from downtown Bend and a beautiful straight shot along the Cascade Lakes Highway, it's the ideal getaway when getaway time is limited. With a general store, ice-cream parlor, full bar and restaurant serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as an afternoon happy hour, locals night Thursday and live music on weekend evenings, the main lodge is a daytripper's paradise. Pop in and out of the water between refreshments or just kick back with a frosty cocktail on the porch overlooking the marina and watch the action down below.
You probably wouldn't make the trip for the food alone, but the kitchen is certainly nothing to dismiss. Although the mounted Elk heads, old snow shoes and skis above the doorways, football paraphernalia and log-cabin construction portray a highly masculine hunting lodge feel, the menu is lighter and healthier than you'd think, and local and sustainable ingredients are used whenever possible. If you arrive early enough, traditional meat and egg breakfasts ($9), as well as breakfast sandwiches ($7 - $9) and breakfast burritos ($10) feature natural chicken sausage, hardwood bacon and bagels from Hurricane Bakery.
The full menu, available until 8 p.m., includes a selection of attractive salads like the Summit Spinach ($10) with organic baby spinach, avocado, scallions, bacon bits, cranberries and roasted sunflower seeds and the Basecamp Beet ($11), roasted beets, goat cheese, pear slices and Strictly Organic roasted hazelnuts in a balsamic reduction. Gourmet sandwiches and wraps like the Thai Peanut Wrap ($12) with hand-pulled roast chicken, scallions, carrots, cabbage, bean sprouts, onions and peanut sauce and the Tuscan Chicken sandwich ($12) with grilled chicken breast, mozzarella, roasted red pepper and homemade tapenade stand alongside more straightforward sandwich options, as well as pizzas available by the slice or pie. Considering the surroundings, I felt the need to go classic Americana all the way and ordered a burger. I did the right thing. Simple and served in a plastic basket with fries, the NW Mushroom Burger was a juicy half-pound hand-pressed patty of Oregonian all-natural beef topped with sautéed organic northwest mushrooms, Swiss cheese and garlic aioli.
I was sitting at the bar on a Friday afternoon, and noticed the chef putting some amazing-looking baby-back ribs, available after 1 p.m. every Saturday (half rack, $17; full rack, $28), into the smoker on the deck. There's nothing I hate to miss more than smoky meats, so I'll be sure to plan appropriately next time. Also known for winter activities including snowmobiling and CAT skiing, Elk Lake can be enjoyed year-round. But for me, now is the time to visit and live out all your nostalgic summer dreams.
Elk Lake Resort
60000 SW Century Drive,
480-7378. Breakfast, lunch and
dinner daily, 8am - 8pm