Most every locality - be it country, state or city - has a bitch. It's that neighboring area that serves as home to the rednecks and tramps of barroom jokes, the town that makes another town's citizens feel better about themselves. Every France has a Belgium to degrade. Where would New York be without New Jersey to kick around? Londoners have their Essex girls, Beverly Hills has the Valley, even Arkansas has Mississippi. Around these parts, poor Redmond takes it in the gut from Bend at every turn. However, the most slighted of Central Oregon cities would have to be Prineville. Other than Prinetucky jokes and snickers at the town's very mention, I've heard little about the area, so I thought it was time to pay a visit.
Wow, does that town get an unwarranted bad rap. In addition to being the oldest city in Central Oregon, Prineville is currently experiencing something of a renaissance, and attractions like the Ochoco and Prineville Reservoirs, Stein's Pillar and Ochoco State Park are a stone's throw away. And speaking of stones, apparently Prineville, as stated by the Crook County Chamber of Commerce, "has the unofficial title of Rock Hound Capital of the United States!" (Might want to go ahead and make that official, guys. No one is going to fight you for it.) Since rock hounding for Thundereggs apparently requires a bar, pick, shovel and inexhaustible patience, I headed straight for the city center. What I found were charming, sleepy streets dotted with shops sporting 1950s signage, friendly people and my original inspiration for the trip, Barney Prines Steakhouse and Saloon.
Set in a renovated building from the 1930s, Barney Prines' cavernous dining room with a high, exposed-beam ceiling, beach wood flooring taken from the former Jim Beam building in Kentucky, copper table-tops and a long copper bar, is not what I expected. To honor its namesake, the legendary city founder, moonshine pusher, businessman and gambler, Barney Prine, there are some western saloon touches like an old-tymey piano in the corner, an antique safe and the requisite works of taxidermy. But overall the space exudes a modern, finished-loft kind of feel.
The menu, heavier on steak dishes but not neglecting other proteins, is very reasonably priced with the most expensive plate, bacon-wrapped filet mignon with béarnaise sauce, coming in at $23.95. Portions are massive and entrées include a basket of garlic bread, soup or salad, rice or potatoes and a heaping helping of the vegetable of the day. We started with the Baked Artichoke Hearts au Gratin ($6.95) in cream sauce with crusted Parmesan. Hitting all the tongue's pleasure centers at once, it went fast. Entrees included a tender 12 oz. New York Pepper Steak ($20.95) crusted with cracked pepper and topped with pepper-mushroom sauce. The medallions of beef topped with béarnaise and sautéed mushrooms and garlicky, buttery scampi ($22.95) was a lovely surf and turf. And the Steakhouse Seafood Sauté ($20.95) with jumbo sea scallops, shrimp, steamer clams and chunks of basa (white fish) in garlic butter was salty and tasty.
For dessert, we had to double up. The helpful staff talked us into a delicious chocolate truffle torte ($5.95). But a visit to Prineville without a stop at the Tastee Treet, a diner straight out of Happy Days, would be a crime. The place is classic in almost every way, from the neon sign and napkin holders to the soft-serve ice cream. But if you look a little closer, you'll see that the horseshoe countertop is paved with polished Thundereggs - no doubt the spoils of Prineville's rock hounds of yore.
I was so smitten with the town and the overall experience that I think Prineville deserves a bitch of its very own. May I suggest LaPine?
Barney Prines Steakhouse and Saloon
380 NE Main St, 447-3333
Dinner, Tues.-Sun., 5 p.m.-close; lounge specials, Tues.-Fri., 4-6 p.m.