"I want to make a little party every day," says owner Jen McCrystal. She is standing near the swinging door between the dining room and a backroom kitchen. For the past decade, McCrystal has managed, owned and cooked at Jen's Garden, inspired and detailed French cuisine in Sisters.
But a year or so ago, she decided to change course—and from five course French dinners to casually elegant breakfasts and lunches. "I'm past the point of meticulous," she says. "I want it to be fun."
On a recent preview day, though, she watches over her staff, makes sure that the service is more dining club than diner, and fidgets over the details of presentation. "Old habits," she smiles bashfully.
In late April, the restaurant formerly known as Jen's Garden reopened as the Cottonwood Café, and with the same wonderful attention to detail—in the food, the décor, and the service—it is equally wonderful.
The cozy cottage that had carried a sophisticated yet approachable air as a French country kitchen has been slightly remodeled—gone are the white linens and replaced with glass tops over table clothes, and slightly dressed-down window curtains; all details that add up to a familiar, but distinctly different and casual elegance.
The haute cuisine that made Jen's Garden well known has been channeled into smart choices for breakfast and lunch dishes. A grilled romaine salad moves the normal lettuce fare into a new zone of smokiness and a broader flavor range; topped with a sweet vinaigrette and salt ham, the salad is a wide, balanced spectrum of taste. A pulled pork sandwich has a succulent slow-roasted meat, topped with provolone and grilled pineapple, a delectable touch that adds a zing and juiciness to the sandwich. Tasty homemade pickles were a side garnish; yet another detail that elevates the dining experience at Cottonwood Café.
There is a healthy variety of standard, yet decidedly upscaled, breakfast and lunch offerings—soups, salads, sandwiches, and a Dutch apple crepes stack, which provides all the comfort of a conventional apple cobbler, but with a more delicate construction and balanced, lighter taste.
Like a good friend who has decided to leave the big city life, Cottonwood has "returned" to Sisters, familiar, but dressed down and more relaxed.