This past summer, I began writing dining stories for the Source. While I was an avid restaurant-goer before, this gave me an excuse (although not exactly the inflated bank account) to dine out all the time, searching Bend and beyond for the most delicious and creative dishes. A warning: if you're a vegetarian and/or hate bacon, this list may not be for you.
1. SPORK POP-UP SUPPER CLUB'S APPLES WITH KIMCHI PUREE
Everything from Spork's two-day pop-up supper club this past December could be on this list. But for my money, the best dish was the first course: organic honeycrisp apples with kimchi puree. The best foods, in my mind, combine ingredients that you wouldn't think would work together, yet when mixed skillfully can elevate each other. A lovely blend of savory and sweet, the perfectly ripe apples were tossed in a kimchi puree and served with applewood-smoked bacon and miso cream cheese. In my mind, this dish was the definition of perfection.
2. LETZER'S DELI'S COMBO SANDWICH
When Letzer's, the Kosher-style deli off Division Street, opened this year, it was like a sign from heaven that Bend's culinary offerings were changing for the better. And then I ordered the corned beef and pastrami combo. I said it once and I'll say it again. This sandwich is the size of your head. With sliced-to-order meats, fresh-baked bread from Rockin' Dave's and thick slices of Swiss cheese, this sandwich isn't for the faint of heart or stomach. But if you've recently completed, say, the Lumberjack World Championships, you may be able to eat the whole thing.
3. SPARROW BAKERY BACON BREAKFAST SANDOH
When I first ordered this sandwich, I thought, "Well, it looks good. It costs $8.25, but I'll order it just this once." Wrong. I get this thing at least once a week. I don't even want to do the math, but I'm pretty sure someone's kid has gone to college because of my addiction. Truthfully, the farm-fresh ingredients are worth every penny. The sandoh consists of a poached farm egg, arugula aioli, avocado and thick house-cured bacon inside a beautiful croissant from Bread LaVoy. It's amazing. Don't say I didn't warn you.
4. BROTHER JON'S RUEBEN
The Rueben is a sandwich that defies time. My grandfather ate it when menus more often than not featured creamed spinach and cherries jubilee. Yet somehow, the Rueben has remained a staple in restaurants. Brother Jon's has perfected the combination of sauerkraut, Thousand Island dressing, pastrami, Swiss and marbled rye into this melty, meaty mess of a sandwich. My grandfather would be proud.
5. TYPHOON'S LEMONGRASS CLAM CHOWDER
I love a good clam chowder - the creamy base, potatoes, onions and chewy clams are intoxicating. Somehow, Bo Kline found a way to improve upon this dish by using coconut milk and lemongrass to flavor the broth. What emerges is something a bit lighter, brighter and more complex than what you'd expect. One of the best soups in town.
6. TAYLOR'S SAUSAGES RIBS
When I walked into Taylor's Sausage on 3rd Street for the first time, I wasn't anticipating the gluttonous experience that ensued. Instead of trying some sausages and calling it a day, I decided to try a $6 plate of ribs. What I was given were three of the biggest ribs I'd ever seen - like foot-long ribs. Ten minutes later, I woke up in a haze and realized I had eaten everything and my face and hands were covered completely in sauce. Weird experience, but the ribs were good.
7. LONE PINE COFFEE'S FRENCH BAGUETTE SANDWICHES
This year, one of my favorite coffee shops, Lone Pine Coffee, began making perfect French-style sandwiches. These sandwiches are deceptively simple, proving that quality ingredients are king. Every morning, Lone Pine whips up three-ingredient sandwiches using Bread LaVoy baguettes. My favorite is the prosciutto, basil and brie, but all the combinations are irresistible.
8. BOURBON STREET'S GUMBO
One thing I love nearly as much as bacon is soup. There's something almost other-worldly about a perfect broth - one that's a bit oily, savory and a lot spicy. It has an almost emotional component, eliciting a feeling of contentment. Bourbon Street has created the perfect broth in their Chicken Ya Ya gumbo and eating it is like getting a hug from your grandma - the one you like - not the one who smells like mothballs.
9. EL SANCHO'S CHOCOLATE TAMALE
For my money, El Sancho, the street cart outside the Blacksmith (next to Soupcon - also awesome), is the best Mexican in town. You're guaranteed to be stoked when chef Joel Cordes hands you any one of his dishes, be it a mouth-watering taco, tamale or enchilada. But if he's making chocolate tamales, you must get one. Actually, get at least two, because if you offer someone a bite, he or she might not give it back. This happens more than you'd think.
10. JACKALOPE SUPPER CLUB'S CHOUCROUTE
As is most appropriate, I'd like to end this list with bacon. Specifically, a three-inch wide, half-inch thick slice of Carleton Farms bacon. Part of chef Tim Garling's October supper club - this theme being Alsace, France - was this preparation of bacon, part of a choucroute (cured meat) plate. It was like a bacon steak. I have literally dreamed of this interpretation of bacon. Everyone has a culinary Mecca, and this dish made me wonder if mine is Carleton Farms.
So on that note, I'd like to make a toast to meat lovers everywhere. May I suggest that we all take the time to slow down and smell the bacon. Bon appetit.