While I was planning for a mid-summer break in Bend, Oregon I became jittery about the food scene there. Everyone I mentioned my trip to asked, “ Why not Portland? Isn’t that where the cool food scene is?”
I began to worry about finding innovative, vegetarian eats in this little sister of a city (80,000) in the high desert along the snow-capped Cascade mountains. But I was yearning for clear, dry days and cool nights so we set aside 10 days to explore the landscape, both natural and culinary.
Sometimes it takes just one link to a like-minded eater who can plug a visitor into her community’s highlights. You can imagine my relief when I found a resource in Chef Bette Fraser who hooked me up with the highly creative and entrepreneurial food scene in Bend. Once I found Bette and her fantastic company, The Well Traveled Fork, I knew I would be all set. WHEW!
Fraser’s company offers chef’s services, catering and a choice of walking tours. This transplant from L. A. loves her Bend, and wants to share backstories and resources with natives and visitors alike. I signed up to explore the “Westside” of Bend, hoping that it would take me off the beaten path.
Our guide, Aliza Rosenstein, met me and my BFF (always game for an adventure) and another couple who had recently bought a summer cottage in Bend, midmorning at Back Porch (coffee) Roasters. I had communicated in advance about my vegetarian leanings, and M’s gluten and dairy free diet. Aliza steered our visits to places that suited our needs. With noshes and sips being served along our route of 8-10 stops, she assured us that we would be able to eat and drink most of the treats.
At Back Porch Roasters, Dave Beach, owner, explained that he travels regularly to his farm sources in Costa Rica and El Slavador, staying with the growers’ families and seeing the farmers’ practises up close. Always ready for a mid-morning jolt, I sipped Finca El Pilar, a Guatemalan bean with brisk notes of papaya and lime. Now that I know the ethics and concern that Beach maintains for communities he sources from, I gladly recommend that you consider ordering any of Back Porch Roasters’ coffees online.
We stopped at Mother’s Juice, where I tasted and fell hard for Kombucha, a fermented probiotic tonic. All juices at Mother’s are pressed daily using greens and fruits from local farms.
Ida’s Cupcakes has a wide range of cake flavors and frostings, including gluten- free choices. They do a big special events business and bake challah on Fridays. M said the gluten-free red velvet was as good as any she’s tasted. I was not able to discern the difference between gluten-free and traditional version.
Growler Phil’s was next, with owner Aaron Roskowski guiding us through many tastes of local brews, wine, sangria, cider and even Kombucha, all on tap. Local beer is big business in Bend and a huge part of the social scene here. Competition is stiff and most locals fill up their growlers to bring home or enjoy by the banks of the Deschutes River, which runs right through town.
On the way to my favorite stops, we paused to nibble on juicy peaches at Paradise Produce, a roadside stand open May- October. We were at the height of berry season and oogled and tasted marionberries, a plumper, longer, sweeter sister to blackberries. Kale, spinach, and other greens all come from Good Earth Farm right in Bend. We stopped back later to pick up crisp, sweet bok choy and more marionberries for our dinner.
Aliza surprised me by leading us into her very own “Herban” garden on the way to Baked, her boyfriend’s bakery. On a small urban lot, she plants and harvests a load of greens, broccoli, burdock, and sunchokes. She proudly told us that this green space supplied 20 pounds of rhubarb in June, which inspired a load of strawberry rhubarb pies at Baked.
This “Herban” garden is an important model for composting, collecting rain water, growing and eating local. The harvest contributes to feeding employees and friends of Baked. It also supplies a stationary food truck, Real Food, located just beyond the perimeter of this garden.
We passed through a path which lead us to our final stops, and my favorites.
Baked is a bakery owned by Gordon Benzer, a heavily bearded and determined locavore. The bakery workstations are in full view of the counter where goods are sold.
A map on the wall highlights origins of local ingredients including wheat, eggs and goat cheese. While other bakeries open early and close by 3:00, Benzer’s bakery opens at noon and stays open until 9 PM. It makes so much sense to stay open for folks heading home to dinner after work.
Peasant loaf, 7 grain, challah rolls are baked on designated days and fill the racks by 4:00. The now familiar local marionberry made for jammy bites as we noshed on whole wheat scones and chatted. We stopped back later for challah rolls and peach pie to enjoy with dinner.
Last stop was a stationary food truck, Real Food, next door to Baked. Real Food has a full kitchen set up within, where all stocks and sauces are made from scratch. Ingredients are local, seasonal and creative juices are flowing here. Remember Aliza’s “Herban” Garden behind Baked? It supplies Real Food, too. I’m talking just a few steps between farm to table here. And there were plenty of vegetarian options.
At Real Food, I opted for fish tacos and was rewarded by the crispiest panko coated morsels of line caught fish smothered in pickled onions. A side of black beans and rice sent me over the moon.
Culinary walking tours are a great way to gain insight into local food ways. If you have dietary restrictions, always mention them before signing on. Meeting and eating with local producers, creatives and business owners is a great way to connect with the local food scene. I suggest finding schedules of farmers’ markets and culinary walks before you arrive at your destination so you’re not disappointed by having scheduled some other bit of fun at the same time.
Here are the links to all stops on this walking tour:
Other Bend area highlights mentioned during tour:
Have you taken any culinary walks in your travels? Where were you? What was the highlight of your walking tour?
Check back tomorrow for recipes of some of my fave eats in Bend.