Downtown has been waiting for a restaurant like Drake for years. A swanky lunch place that has the bustle of Times Square and the sensibility of L.A., Drake is instantly an "it" place, with a menu where martinis and milkshakes are equally at home next to minty peas and a killer oyster po boy.
Drake (a Bend tradition since April, as the Coasters say) has converted the former El Jimador (and, before that, Mexicali Rose) into a hip and swank venue, with an exposed brick wall and an open gleaming kitchen; it is nearly unrecognizable from what previously felt like a cramped sliver of a space.
The color palette here—clean grays, dark reds, and simple whites and blacks—feels classic, especially with a newly tiled floor and a long, bright chrome hood. A heavy brasserie-style bar anchors the other end of the room and is fronted by a carefully chosen array of good booze—Jack Daniel's is the well, and it only gets better from there.
The effect is an upscale diner, which provides a salient backdrop for Southern hospitality of the New Orleans variety—an attentive waitstaff that doesn't take itself too seriously and food from both the French and Bayou traditions. Adding to the ambiance is owner Ted Swigert's penchant for quietly making the rounds of the restaurant. On all three of our visits, his presence in the midst of the busy scene had a calming effect—he rotated through shaking hands, directing patrons to their tables and inquiring about the dishes.
The food is a perfect marriage to the space. The dishes are indulgent, but treated with a combo of simplicity and whimsy. In the several visits we made, not a single dish disappointed. From the pimento cheese spread served with slender slices of grilled bread and house-made pickled vegetables to the fat honey ham sandwich smothered in sharp cheese sauce on a brioche bun, everything is supremely satisfying.
The menus aren't huge, but it is hard to limit oneself to one selection. We went for lunch: mussels and fries, shrimp and grits, and a fried chicken BKT (the k is for kale), fish of the day with candied pecans, and a fancy little open-faced hamburger that for a few dollars more comes with a hen's egg, duck egg or roasted bone marrow. Dinner looks killer with syrah and balsamic braised short ribs, pork shoulder and lamb meatloaf, and "The Barber," a New York strip with cauliflower gratin, onion jam and a red wine reduction. Several specials are scrawled on a chalkboard by the bar.
The desserts offer something out of the ordinary in downtown Bend, where crème brûlée, a chocolate lava cake and bread pudding round out most everyone else's list. Here you can have milkshakes and floats with house-crafted ice cream, red velvet cake, a cocoa cake with marshmallow fluff, or a blueberry pie that actually eats a lot more like a crisp.
It is clear the food is the showpiece and that chef Riley Eckersley, who held several pop-up dinners last year and did a brief stint as executive chef at Jen's Garden, is happy to be running point in the open kitchen. Tall stacks of cookbooks top the warming station near the bar, and the specials change regularly depending on Eckersley's creative culinary mind.
While we were mostly pleased with our experiences, one of the tricks of visiting a newly opened restaurant is the willingness to forgive, and we had to do that a few times at Drake. For instance, on all three visits something burned (and there's no hiding it with that open kitchen), and the staff can get in the weeds pretty quickly with what appears to be a shortage of consoles for entering orders and running cards. On one occasion we waited at the bar for about 10 minutes before anyone took our drink order. But all that can easily be chalked up to opening jitters. We went away from our first lunch joking about whether it was too early to call it restaurant and rookie of the year. We'll see if the Drake can keep it up, but this restaurant is about to give other downtown eateries a run for their money.
801 NW Wall St.
Mon-Thu 11 am-10 pm
Fri 11 am -11 pm
Sat 10 am-3 pm, 5 pm-11 pm
Sun 10 am-3 pm, 5 pm-9 pm