Bend's newest brewpub is a little different. First , it hasn't released any beers yet - in fact, it just started brewing last week, although the restaurant has been serving food for nearly two months. And the pub is run by a couple who, until recently, worked in nonprofits.
But despite all this, Old Mill Brew Werks is doing something right. The owners, David Love and his wife, Terry, are personable and energetic. Save a few dinner items, the food is priced under $10 and is solid pub fare. The staff is doing anything they can to get customers in, including hosting events like this past Saturday's Beer Olympics, which saw fifty or so people crowd into the small space in the middle of the afternoon for a blind tasting to determine whether Bend or Portland makes better beer. (Bend, of course, won.)
The first time I visited the Old Mill Brew Werks, it was a quiet weekday evening. It took me a minute to find the restaurant among the financial and social services companies in the building which is actually located above the Old Mill in the bluffs business park. Once I stepped into the restaurant, all of the familiar trappings of a great brewpub - brewery paraphernalia on the wall, a plethora of great beers on tap, chunky wood furniture and a warm, inviting staff - made me forget the almost doctor's office vibe of the lobby.
I was greeted by Terry, who was running the bar in addition to taking orders. I ordered the fish and chips ($8.95) and the baked artichoke and jalapeño dip ($5). The fish was cooked perfectly, and the panko was a lighter alternative to the thick flour batter I'm used to. The dip was pretty standard but solid and for $5 it can't be beat. After my meal, I was informed that the kitchen was in transition and David Love was cooking until the new chef, Mark Sanders of the Black Butte Ranch, took over later that week. I was intrigued.
As I later found out, Love had never even cooked fish and chips before. But he's given the reins to Sanders, who tweaked the menu slightly although kept the price point accessible. I returned to the pub to try some of Sanders' dishes and while Love's food was perfectly good, I have to say that Sanders' new dishes, including the Santa Fe mac and cheese ($6.95) and the barbeque pulled pork sliders ($5), were welcome additions to the menu. The mac and cheese, made with pepper jack cheese and topped with pico de gallo, crushed tortilla chips and avocado, was a refreshing and spicy take on classic mac and cheese. The sliders were pleasantly large (as opposed to the one-bite burgers that seem to have become standard), with a generous amount of slow-cooked pork covered in a tangy sauce.
Right now, Old Mill Brew Werks has 12 rotating beers on tap, with about half from Bend. The brewer, Justin James, a young man from Pennsylvania, recently replaced the original brewer, Lorren "Lolo" Lancaster, formerly of Deschutes. James is currently brewing in Silver Moon's space, which Love says has more room than they currently need. Love says they hope to debut their own beers on tap within a month.
Although Love never worked in restaurants, he says the concept was an opportunity he couldn't pass up. The former director for Bend Area Habitat for Humanity, he recently retired and found himself with more energy than projects.
"I was lonely from 12:30 to 5 p.m.," he said, which is when his wife returned home from working in hospice. "My best friends were the checkout girls at Albertsons."
While opening a brewery and pub might not be first on most people's list of what to do when bored, I can't help but be glad that Love decided to give it a try. Even without their own beers on tap and the less than desirable location, there's something about Old Mill Brew Werks - and its owners - that makes it a diamond in an industrial park rough.
Old Mill Brew Werks
384 SW Upper Terrace Drive, 541-633-7670. Hours: Mon-Wed, 11 a.m. - 7 p.m., Thurs - Fri, 11 a.m. - 12 a.m.,
Sat 1 p.m. - 7 p.m.