Joe Devenchenzi had a simple idea. After years in the restaurant business he wanted to make and serve fresh products while avoiding the late hours.
After visiting Bend for most of his life and owning a home in town for the past eight years, the Grants Pass native decided to open up a place of his own. And where better to open a local food joint then downtown Bend? Although to the dismay of many thin-pancake-loving locals, Devenchenzi entered the former Crepe Place location and opened Planker Sandwiches. Named for the term snowboarders use to describe skiers, Planker has become a local favorite despite the slight change in menu offerings from the previous occupant.
"People have been pretty supportive," said Devenchenzi, "We still offer crepes. We just went from a build-your-own-crepe menu to a set menu. But anything you want inside we can still do our best to accommodate."
But as a former Crepe Place fan, I can safely say that after tasting the sandwiches at Plankers, crepes were the last thing on my mind. At first glance, I would say that the menu is one of the best I've encountered downtown, not necessarily due to its array of options and unique titles, but because it literally has every comfort sandwich you would want. Options range from a tuna club to a meatball parm, and that doesn't include the panini menu. And although the menu is quite basic, the sandwiches themselves have surprise ingredients that put a unique spin on these classic foods.
The chicken salad sandwich had granny Smith apples, adding a sweetness to the already rich flavor, while the roasted turkey had huge strips of thick bacon that contributed a necessary salty addition to the avocado and pickled onion. Even the tomato and basil panini had enough melted cheese to satisfy my love of such dairy delights.
Each sandwich was served with a bag of kettle potato chips, which was a nice palate cleanser, making each bite feel like it was my first. My only suggestion was that for the $8 price tag, a half-sandwich option would be perfect since I had to take a huge portion to go. But for those with more spacious stomachs, finishing the large ration shouldn't be a problem.
Having visited on a Tuesday afternoon, I was not surprised by the steady flow of customers. I was even less surprised when a customer entered from his table outside to introduce himself to Devenchenzi (working behind the counter that day) mentioning that he would definitely be back again.
It was this genuine and friendly vibe that persisted throughout my experience and impressed me more than anything else. Sometimes it takes years for new eateries to gain regulars and make a lasting come-again impression. But in such a short amount of time, it feels as though Planker has already been accepted into the downtown family. This could, of course, be attributed to the vintage Mt. Bachelor artwork affixed on the wall and the old skis that border the Planker sign opposite the counter. It could also be because the void in downtown for a quick, fresh sandwich has now been filled.
It wouldn't surprise me if Planker became the newest downtown lunch hotspot. And as long as Devenchenzi continues to live by his oath to serve fresh comfort food, Planker will be the best place for lunch on the go or to have relaxing afternoon with a beer and a sandwich.
824 NW Wall St., 541-317-5717. Plankersandwiches.com. Open daily from 10am to 6pm.