It's not every day that a person can enjoy the company of friends, wine and food in a great setting while supporting the local community and farmers. But at The Taverna at Maragas, the newly revisisioned tasting room on Colorado, you can have your wine and drink it, too. The Culver-based Maragas Winery is about as local as you can get. Add to that a menu of locally focused, Mediterranean-influenced dishes from talented chef Justin Brown and you've got a winning combination.
I arrived at the Taverna on a Saturday evening with close to a dozen friends and the intention of sharing good conversation, small plates of food, and some legit local wine. We'd all enjoyed tapas restaurants in larger cities, but hadn't found the equivalent in Bend, until now.
We started with two bottles of Maragas' signature wines - a Poetic Pinot Gris ($17) and a Swingin' Zin ($20). These wines, and others, are also served by the glass, with glass pours priced between $6 and $12.50. Wines arrived quickly with glasses for everyone at the table. The pinot gris was refreshing and fruit forward, with a clean, crisp taste. The Swingin' Zin ($20) was an intense red with notes of cherry jam and pepper. We made our food selections deliberately, making sure that two people didn't order the same thing. With 17 small plates to choose from, all priced between $3 and $7, we might as well sample a little bit of everything.
The small plates arrived after somewhat of a wait, with no explanation from the casual staff. The lack of service was made up for with the quality of the food. The service element is a quick, easy fix and would greatly improve the overall customer experience at The Taverna. The bottomless spiced popcorn ($3) was seasoned with care, spiced with fennel, coriander, sea salt and drizzled with olive oil. The bacon wrapped dates ($5 for three) were gone before the plate hit the table. We ordered a second portion. Gone. On the third go-round, I managed to snap a photo before the sweet and salty, honey-drizzled creations were gobbled up. Between bites, "delicious" and "so good" were some of the words used to describe this dish.
Meanwhile, two Mediterranean spreads ($5 each) were passed around the table. The crimson-colored eggplant spread was served with pita and had just the right amount of seasoning to bring out the eggplant's flavor. The dish paired well with both the zin and the pinot gris. The mushroom spread was earthy enough, but could have used more seasoning. Along with the majority of menu items, both spreads were vegan and vegetarian friendly.
The rosemary polenta ($5) was cooked firm and sliced into triangles atop braised greens - flavorful yet light and perfectly seasoned, this dish matched well with both wines at our table. The braised beef small plate ($7) featured a roasted garlic polenta and fresh tomato ragout that was poured generously over the dish. The garlic polenta had a slightly milder flavor, giving the tender, braised beef the attention it deserved. Paired with the zinfandel, this small dish was packed with flavor.
Other plates include the slightly spicy roasted Anaheim chili ($5), stuffed with feta and meaty mushrooms, the radicchio salad ($7), the spanakopita ($7), and the wild Alaskan cod ($7). Chef Justin Brown does not disappoint, hot food is served hot and cold food is served cold. Ingredients are fresh and preparations are modern. Take the spanikopita for instance, a classic triangular puff pastry stuffed with spinach and feta. Taverna gave us a tower of spanakopita with puff pastry, roasted garlic, feta, mushrooms and walnuts layered high.
The best plate of the evening was the pastitsio ($7). At the base of the plate, a couple of inches of bucatini pasta added height to the dish. Above sat a layer of Greek spiced meat sauce with cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg, under a nearly firm Bechamel sauce of rich cheeses. The sweet, spicy flavors paired with the meat and the cheese sauce added unexpected depth to the plate.
While the warm spiced chocolate shot ($3) was hard to resist, we opted for the chocolate fondue ($7) with strawberries, grapes, green apple slices and cookies. "Have you all had enough?" one of the girls asked, diving her finger into the warm chocolate for what had to be seconds or thirds. M Bar also offers a selection of homemade chocolates, one of many reasons for me to return soon.
While The Taverna isn't the first restaurant in Bend to roll out a small-plates menu, Maragas appears to be setting the bar with this welcomed reinvention of the Colorado Avenue tasting room and the inspired Mediterranean menu.
M Bar at Maragas Winery Tasting Room
643 NW Colorado Ave, Bend, OR 97701
Open Ts - Thurs Noon - 9pm;
Fri - Sat Noon - 10pm