Washington is a neighborhood spot: a place where brunch, cocktails, and dinner meet to talk about their day. It feels like a place you can go into a few times a week and they'll remember your favorite drink and recommend a new menu item you haven't tried. Washington comes from the same team that brought Drake to downtown Bend, and they learned some valuable lessons from that first location.
Owner Ted Swigert talks about coming at Washington from a different place than Drake.
First off, finding the balance of a stable yet exciting menu was important. "We wanted to take ideas of what we did with Drake and do it in a neighborhood," says Swigert. "When you're in a neighborhood, the same people are coming in two or three times a week and they don't want to guess what the menu's going to look like. Even if it's a revolving door of fun things, it's got to have some stability to it."
Swigert goes on to say "a lot of what we did at Washington is bouncing off of what we've done downtown at Drake," he reflects. "When we opened Drake, three and a half years ago, it was to put a big city, urban feel into the space. With that, our culinary team was going to roll out a menu that you would find in a large city. Our menus would change certainly seasonally if not more often... more at the whims of the chef. Certainly sourcing everything locally and regionally if we could. We kept people on their toes. It was a menu that changed a lot and we gained a lot of traction and found a big niche."
When I dined at Washington, they had just rolled out the brunch menu a few days earlier. I figured I should day drink like a true professional and tried the House Bloody Mary, which modulated between spicy and boozy perfectly. There was an effortless simplicity to the drink that made me excited to try as much on the menu as I could.
The crispy mozzarella with cherry tomatoes and caper relish was a little too good. The crust was nicely browned, and the melted cheese combined with the lightly-tart tomatoes and the complex caper relish made for an app which we could have easily ordered two or three more portions of. The highlight of the entire meal, however, was the Cast Iron Roasted Broccoli. The roasted onion puree never overwhelmed the dish and the black garlic aioli sealed everything perfectly together.
Carrying that casual vibe over from Drake was important to Swigert. "If we put white table cloths on the tables at Drake it would be fine dining, but that's not what we do," says Swigert. "We're a casual, fun, high energy place to go eat. The service is outstanding, the food is outstanding...everything we do there is to try and run it at a higher level."
After trying the Zombie fries (house cut french fries smothered in melted cheese and brisket), the goat cheese, avocado, cherry tomato and fresh crab omelet and the double cheeseburger (with a strong In-N-Out vibe to it), we were too full to live. Everything we tried on the menu was approached in an unpredictable way, but not a pretentious one.
"We decided to go with something that's very approachable," says Swigert. "We would have the components change seasonally and however the chef felt like the direction should go. We can try for fun things that you would find in bigger cities. People like to go with the comfortable recognizable things that are on the menu."
They chose not to go with a soft open at Washington, instead coming out of the gate swinging. Swigert says: "People have been watching that building going up for a year and a half. There's no quiet anything. As soon as we turned the lights on we were doing 400 people a day right away." Don't expect it to slow down any time soon.
900 NW Mt. Washington Dr., Bend
Brunch: Saturday-Sunday, 10am-5pm
Lunch: Monday-Friday, 10am-5pm
Dinner: Sunday-Thursday, 5-9pm