Dandy’s is as famous a burger institution in Bend as Pilot Butte Drive-In, both the final holdovers of the drive-in burger Americana epoch now long past. I’d been really excited about it, all of my burger senses telling me this would be as great a classic burger as Jody’s or Sno-Cap combined with a more convenient location and girls delivering burgers on roller skates. And fry sauce. Dandy’s has a reputation for the best fry sauce in town. I’d been saving this one to the end.
The original plan was to put on my roller skates and cruise over to order a burger, in solidarity with their burger skating traditions. There were two barriers to this that ended up being insurmountable. A) I am terrible on skates and was deathly afraid of crossing 3rd Street, and B) burger informant Ben “I meant I want to be mentioned as a contributor to all this and not just as the guy who thought your food was spat on” Holloway detailed the burger logistics. There are no tables. No places to dine-in. Barely even a counter to order at. These are pure drive-in, car-centric burgers. A bruised and bloody burger eater in roller skates sitting on the sidewalk would be laughable.
As I was pulling into a parking spot in my jeep I was reminded of somebody’s observation of all the contractors pulling in during the lunch hour, getting distracted by the skaters, and slamming into the parking spot curbs. I was mostly reminded of this as I slammed into one of these curbs. This is obviously a very common problem that, in true American ingenuity, was solved by replacing the concrete curbs with steel plate curbs. The steel on these parking bulkheads is worn and polished, but holding strong.
I received my Grandy Dandy and large order of fries in a paper sack with slowly growing grease stains. The skater server was having a touch of difficulty with the wind that was kicking up from the west. Dust in the eyes, she explained, made precise skating a touch more difficult.
I’d been informed to order the large fries since you’ll be eating these on the drive home. This is familiar practice for any drive-through situation, but I was glad for the reminder after these three months of dine-in burgers. I arrived home, cracked a beer, and unwrapped the prize.
The bun looked good. The rest… this is the Grand? It had the same style as Jody’s and Sno-Cap but fell quite a bit short in delivery. All just a bit sub par. I was let down. Also very glad I didn’t break an ankle skating for it.
I’ll commend the fry sauce and fries though. Heavy and hot in the fryer, fries staying warm and crisp well through the drive home. The fry sauce is heavier on the mayo with liberal use of buttermilk and pepper. True fry sauce, like that from the foothills of Idaho.
Score: 2.75 of 5
Price: $8.00 with fries
Beer: Deschutes Inversion IPA
SEVEN tries so hard to fill a vacant niche in Bend that it ends up bleeding over into several adjacent niches. It’s fundamentally an EDM dance club (EDM stands for Electronic Dance Music, which is what the cool kids are calling techno these days). But that scene is so small in Bend that SEVEN couldn’t stay afloat during their target audience’s rolling bouts of serotonin syndrome. So they end up offering salsa dancing lessons. Or, like tonight, live standup comedy.
We’d arrived in time to eat and escape before the comedy began, but we did get to enjoy the dance music and pulsing colored LED lights covering every surface. Especially the bar. It’s an attempt at those smoke-machine and lasers nightclub scenes in hip movies staged in Miami. Except replace the shoulder-to-shoulder mob with a few scattered groups of middle aged tourists and a guy at the bar a little too interested in hamburgers.
I’d been told by a local burger informant, who wishes to remain anonymous, to attempt to order a Flaming Dr Pepper. The bartender quickly indicated it was no longer available. Burger Informant had anticipated this and told me request a Black Opal as backup. This, the bartender grew a smile, she assured me she could handle. It went down easy and tasted like blue raz kool-aid.
Their burger menu is a good cross section of choices. I went with the Zesty Red which, thanks partly to the Black Opal, I can’t exactly recall what it involved. Peppers and such. Maybe bacon? But it was good. Really good. And it was the first place that had waffle fries as an option. Amazing.
Though naming these foods and drinks after colors in a bar that’s constantly strobing through the full color spectrum is a bit of a trick on the head.
Score: 3.75 of 5
Price: $10.25 with waffle fries
Drink: Black Opal
Bonus: Black Opal recipe:
1/2 oz vodka
1/2 oz gin
1/2 oz rum
1/2 oz triple sec
1/2 oz blackberry liqueur
1/2 oz Blue Curacao liqueur
1 oz 7-Up soda
1 1/2 oz sweet and sour mix
Tucked atop the Bend Municipal Airport “terminal” sits The Pickled Pig, the latest incarnation of the airport cafe out on the far edge of town. It’s a bit of a drive to cater to a regular lunch crowd, relying mostly on pilots I’m assuming. Which is funny, because they sell beer and wine.
The balcony offers views of planes landing and taking off and refueling, with most landing on this Friday as visitors were cruising in for the weekend. Between planes the bright green training helicopters of the Central Oregon Community College putter around practicing slow low altitude maneuvers. Except for the most avid airplane enthusiast, this gets boring after about 20 minutes.
The Pickled Pig portrays itself primarily as a breakfast and BBQ joint, two distinctions notorious for poor quality burgers. And it was. The beef once frozen and now overcooked, the bun a bit weak, the bacon thin and limp. Dave had ordered a BLT which was really just an LT with two bits of paper thin B on top. I’d been wondering what Pickled Pig could refer to (pulled pork? cured bacon? literal pickled pigs feet?) and this rather disheartening bacon only made the name of the place more confusing.
The fries were great though, those giant greasy hot numbers you can’t stop eating. I ate at least three potatoes worth. Dave had the self control to stop at one.
Score: 2.75 of 5
It was a year ago to the day that I had first stumbled through Bend. Just another thrill seeking wanderer exploring the Pacific Northwest. Taking a brief detour inland to escape the rainy coasts and investigate this little central Oregon town I’d heard mentioned as “neat.” I’d planned to just spend a night. It was five days later that I finally packed up my little tiny house trailer out of a Couchsurfer host’s driveway and continued on. Seven weeks later I’d be moving everything I owned into my Bend apartment. A few weeks after that starting my job at Deschutes Brewery.
On my first full day in town I had two burgers: Bend Burger Company to start, Deschutes Pub to finish off the night. I justified this double header under the guise of calorie loading before the hike up South Sister I was planning the following day. I would have never guessed I was establishing a lifestyle that day. It just felt like goofing off. It still does.
ANYWAY, here I am. I’ve had every burger on the pub menu at least once. They do a damn good job and certainly respect the burger art. They even celebrated burger month by offering a unique burger every day. That might have even fueled this current insanity of mine.
The burgers are good. The fries are good. The beer is good. I can’t say too much without sounding like I’m sucking up to the people that sign my check. But it should suffice to say that the people that made one of the first burgers I had in this town would be the people I’d seek out to work for.
Score: 4.25 of 5
Price: $14.50 with fries
Beer: Deschutes Pacific Wonderland
As new burger options dwindle the lunch hour creeps longer. Unconfirmed burger sightings must be verified, many falling short. The stories of St Charles Hospitals double patty burgers might be true, but apparently requires getting there when burgers are being served. I’m not about to swing by the hospital daily to try my luck at burger roulette. That’d just be weird.
I left the crowded parking lot of St Charles and aimed for another unknown. A small, barely marked diner with chipped exterior paint and the anticipation of a “FOR LEASE” sign in a window. The Breakfast Club. I’d heard nothing of the place, which is surprising in this small town. I’d seen they were open for lunch, assumed a burger option, and took the chance.
For having missed out on a hospital cafeteria dining experience, the Breakfast Club did its best to fill the void. Formica counters and pastel walls and an almost hyper sanitary smell, not to mention the hobbling retirement crowd filling the booths, made it feel like the cafeteria of some small town healthcare facility.
The menu had a healthy half page of burger options. But after the recent run of non-traditionals, I went for the classic bacon and cheese burger. It was classic diner fare, a mix of cheap parts put together well and balancing out to the textbook roadside burger.
Score: 2.75 of 5
Moose Sisters is a fairly new restaurant tucked in the back alleys of the Cascade Village Shopping Center. I wouldn’t have known about it if a friend hadn’t sent me some rather ecstatic messages about the burger he’d had there. The place is aiming for upscale with a shiny interior, sweeping views of the mountains, and a tagline of “True Cuisine and Spirit.” The slight jest of being a place of “spirit” rather than “food and spirits” follows the overall style of the place. Purple accents, menu categories like “Moose Magic,” options like “Explosive Elk Burger,” old commercials on their website of families wearing moose antler hats. It feels like the product of a duo of strong independent female divorcees from Idaho who spent their formative years in the 80’s. Which is exactly what it is.
I tend to avoid any burger describing itself as “Explosive” and opted for the Kobe burger. At half a pound the thing is a bit of a monster, especially when piled up with onion rings. The onion rings are thin and sweet, combining with the “bacon jam” in what could almost be described as a dessert burger. A little more butter in the brioche bun and that’s exactly what it would be.
Score: 3.5 of 5
Beer: Boneyard RPM
You can’t argue that Pilot Butte Drive-In is a bit of a local legend. Everybody knows of it. Everybody’s been there. It draws a certain mythos. A “Pilot Butte Challenge” means one of two things, depending on who you associate with:
- An unsanctioned race event where you eat a bacon cheeseburger, fries, and a milkshake, then sprint the mile up Pilot Butte. You have to hold it all down for 30 seconds once at the top to qualify your time.
- Eat a double patty version of the Pilot Butte Burger. A single patty is 18 oz of beef, putting you up over two pounds of meat plus all the fixings and what must be a loaf of bread for a bun. Nobody seems too clear on the rules or rewards. Nobody really knows first hand anybody that’s done it, or for that matter even actually attempted it. (For the record, a reporter at The Source asked me to take this challenge and she’d right the story. I explained that 100 Burgers is the Arctic science expedition of eating endeavours and a 36 oz burger is some perverse crossfit competition. I declined).
I’ve held the establishment in awe, never having set foot in the place and saving it towards the end of my expedition. It and Dandy’s are considered rival spots for best local traditional burger experience in Bend.
But Ben Holloway (who requested to be specifically named in this blog, not just mentioned as “the guy that said the bartender probably spit in your burger” that time) told me to relax on my expectations. Don’t do the drive-in, actually walk into the tiny diner setting with the gas fire pit and plates too small for ketchup and awkward booth arrangement. It’s about all the place has to talk about, the uncomfortable dine-in experience.
And right he was. It was a late lunch and the place had only a few scattered elderly folks in it. I took my seat on the inner elevated ring of booths, all arranged radially around the fire pit, such that you’re always facing at least two other tables at askew angles. The burger (a 6oz roasted garlic burger, not a 36oz compensation-for-failed-dreams burger) took near 15 minutes to deliver. I picked it up at the counter where she offered me fry sauce or ketchup, the ketchup temporarily missing and the fry sauce having to be poured directly amongst the fries on the small plate just as Ben Holloway had described. The bread was starting to stale and barely held the ingredients together, which were haphazardly arranged anyway. The overcooked patty wasn’t a true circle, deceptively leaving me in the end with a lump of cheese, garlic, and crumbling bread. I looked around for a fork and failed to find one, ultimately just using fries to shovel the remaining mess in my mouth (I’ve eaten 100% of every burger so far, and I wasn’t about to stop now).
Somebody had explained Pilot Butte as the start of the $10 knife-in-the-bun burger style so prevalent in Bend. My burger was definitely over $10, but didn’t even come with the knife out the top.
Next time I’ll just get a shake and run up the butte.
Score: 2.25 of 5
Approaching at night, Maverick’s parking lot is dark and unlit. No exterior lighting accents the large building. But the parking lot is large and crowded with cars. It has the feeling of the guilt flooded parking lots of upscale strip clubs on the outskirts of Dallas. Dark enough to hide your car from being noticed by passing family or coworkers. Dim enough doorways to feel anonymous and thereby inviting to those craving an experience not totally condoned by their peers. At least not publicly. At least not talked about openly.
Inside is a large bar set up higher than the rest of the space. Above it a gigantic ornamental wagon wheel adorned with cow skulls. Photos of John Wayne peer down from the walls. There is the encroaching scent of leather conditioner like the smell of walking through a cowboy boot store. But I counted exactly zero boots in the establishment.
The beer menu is a laminated menu that hasn’t been changed for a couple seasons, requiring the bartender to clarify which of the local craft seasonal varieties they were actually serving. Not that it mattered. I was sticking with Coors Light.
The bar was 80% men, most awkwardly buried in their phones and ignoring the people around them and the football games on TV. The few women there were deep in conversation and expressing delight at having somebody feigning interest in their lives. The closest to me spent a solid 40 minutes talking about agricultural soil additions. She was probably the closest to a real cowboy in the entire place. Especially when she deftly moved from soil amendments to 2nd Amendment, talking about the constitution she always carries with her along with her revolver, eternally loaded with hollow points.
Maverick’s is a theme bar for those wanting to play cowboy. The place I grew up would apply the phrase “all hat and no cattle” to such a joint.
That shouldn’t interfere with their burgers. But it does. They’ve got a wide selection of carefully thought out burger options and give the presence of knowing what a hearty burger is all about. Instead, it’s overcooked frozen meat, lumpy greasy cheese, pickled jalapenos, and a weak and crumbling bun. The exception are the fries, which are the beer battered crunchy wonderfulness of a particular style I haven’t seen since a place in Texas actually called “Posse East.”
So they got at least that much cowboy correct.
Score: 2 of 5
Price: $10 with fries
Beer: Coors Light
Bonus: another Hong Kong Restaurant recommendation
Bonus bonus: try to go there and not be thinking this the entire time:
There is a claim of Southern Hospitality. That the southern states have the market cornered on friendliness while the rest of the country remains cold, isolated, and indifferent. I used to agree with this observation. Until I spent some time in Oregon.
Oregonians are nice folk. Sure. But where they differ from The South is in sincerity. A southern gentleman might ask how you’re doing, even open his door to the unfortunate stranger. But always under the forced smile of some temporary obligation. Up here a random acquaintance could ask “how’s it going” and genuinely want to know. They’ll drop what they’re doing. Go buy you a coffee and sit down and really get to understand “how it’s going.”
It can be daunting at first. When I announced my 100 Burger quest I did so expecting to be in a vacuum. To maybe get the occasional “that’s neat.” Instead I received endless support. Genuine interest and a strong desire to help out in any way they could. Recommendations flooded in. Advice, tactics, connections. Brave burger companions to the farther corners. Vegetarians bending their rules to accompany me on my diet restrictions. And more than a few offering me shelter from the endless stream of bars and burger shacks for a warm, home cooked burger.
But under my vague rules requiring a different venue each time I could only count one such dedicated burger. And while there were many lovely backyard BBQ’s and wonderfully crafted recipes, one stood out above all else and exemplified that Oregon over-the-top friendliness.
Victoria and Dave have “dinner in the woods” down to a smooth science The location is variable but generally off some dusty side shoot from China Hat Road. The best spots are nestled along the edge of trees above a barren ridge looking out towards the mountains and setting sun. I was given GPS coordinates and a time to be there. I wouldn’t miss it.
The back of Dave’s Land Cruiser rapidly deploys folding tables, chairs, stoves, fuel, coolers, and baskets of food. The kids have assigned tasks which rightly transform into disappearing to find trees to climb. Victoria has individually packaged patties tucked in a giant thermos where they’ve been finishing off their low temp sous vide cooking. The garlic and jalapeno stuffed patties are technically fully cooked, but not yet complete. A small wood fueled stove is heated up to a charring temp and each patty is briefly seared on a grill over the flames. Brioche buns have been toasting on a cast iron pan over a kerosene stove. Lettuce, tomato, condiments, cheese, bacon. All carefully measured and packaged and rapidly applied to the one-at-a-time burgers.
These fine folks have followed every burger on my journey, learning from my own experiences and bringing in their own style and skill to deploy a perfect burger out here on the fringe of civilization just 20 minutes from town. Not only a dedication to the burger itself but to the higher burger purpose. Combination of backyard BBQ, wandering adventure, unique gourmet style, brazen practicality. Basically having fun.
The slowing embers of the wood stove are used to seamlessly transfer to roasting smores, the sticky eating of which immediately prompts the setting sun and the rapid collapse of this mobile diner. Dusty tail lights find the paved road just as dusk completely disappears.
Thanks, Vic and Dave, for the most amazing gypsy burger experience I could ever hope to have.
Score: 4.5 of 5
Beer: Black Butte Anniversary XXVI
In an industrial complex off a north end road sits Northside Bar & Grill (no relation to Southside Pub. In any form). I’d never heard of it until the bartender at Hong Kong Restaurant recommended it during my recent visit there. The Bamboo Room is good for insight. That bartender wasn’t lying.
Further investigation and a midday drive-by confirmed it was a biker bar. Blue collar folk. My usual sources for intel gave off hints of anxiety at the thought of me wandering in there. But I had spent the morning prepping steel and smelled of acetone and spray paint. My Carhartt pants were a mess of stains. This seemed worthy camouflage. I mounted my trusty motorcycle, currently leaking a sufficient amount of coolant to look dirty and mean, and headed to Northside.
I parked next to a Harley at least three times the size of my bike. With my busted engine stop switch I had to stall the bike out to kill the motor. There were a few leather jacketed folks smoking cigarettes on the small sidewalk outside the front door, barely glancing my way. I did the required hop and stumble to dismount a bike far too tall for me, then took off my helmet with a slow confidence and hung it from one of my mirrors. I headed out of the sun and into the cool of the bar. I ordered a Coors Light.
Just after ordering a burger I remembered that I’d forgotten to shut off the fuel petcock. This was important. The float is busted on my carburetor and tends to leak gas profusely wherever it sits. I headed back outside.
After standing upright from shutting off the valve a voice asks “what size motor is that?” I answer the factually correct “it’s a 400.” This begins a motorcycle conversation with the 60 year old trucker sitting out front. His stories are long and involve motosport legends I’ve never heard of, bikes I know nothing about, and technical riding details I can’t pretend to follow. My acumen for smiling and nodding is pushed to the limit. I’m sweating both from the bright sun reflected off this concrete patio and the fact that I’m moments away from getting found out as just another weekend warrior rube on a dirt bike. The bartender sticks her head out with my burger, “you eating this inside or out?” Grabbing at the salvation I say “inside!” and dart in after her.
Trucker Biker follows. He continues his tales.
Trails near Sisters. Trails near Mt Hood. Snowmobile routes in the winter that become bike trails in summer. Know how to figure you’re on a wrong path on a snowmobile? The trees close in. Most snowmobiles don’t do wheelies, but the ones he knows to rent, well, they sure as hell do. At least when he’s driving them. It’s called “cow trailing” when you follow cow trails on your bike and when they don’t go straight you just connect the zig zags. He was up east side of Hood with his son who was afraid of big foot. But Trucker Biker wasn’t. He was carrying. Licensed to do so. There’s a dirt bike rider celebrity who developed this technique where right before you slam sideways into a tree you pull the tree-ward leg up outta the way. Trucker Biker had invented that, before it was made popular by that other celebrity kid. Mind you, this technique bends the frame, but when Trucker Biker was perfecting this stunt he was sponsored by Yamaha who had a full laser guided frame alignment system in a trailer they’d follow him around with.
Trucker Biker returned his focus to the immediate surroundings. He told me how the heavy guy on the Harley had been there last night. Drunken himself a bit stupid right up till close. Trucker Biker had seen him come back today to declare “shit, 15 hours of sleep and I still feel it.” Trucker Biker had an opinion on this level of excess. I wanted to remark that Trucker Biker had been here long enough to see Harley Rider both leave and return, but I figured it best to trust that detail was relevant to Trucker Biker being stuck in town waiting on a haul. I was not one to question Tucker Biker’s reality.
This is Northside Bar on a Saturday afternoon. The place is a bit too clean and well maintained to be a full on biker carnage bar, but certain details do lend itself to the occasional drunken frenzy. The bar is well stocked, not with variety, but with the same bottles lined several deep and at arm’s reach, a layout that knows about a rush on Jameson shots and Malibu shooters. The curb just outside the door has the stenciled lettering “NO DRINKS BEYOND THIS LINE” repeated every few feet, obviously addressing an established problem with impromptu parking lot parties.
While I didn’t get Trucker Biker’s thoughts on the burger, I’ll concende that Hong Kong Bartender’s assessment was correct. They know what they’re doing and are dedicated to a good burger. Just be sure to show up when the place is really hoppin. That’d be Thursday, Friday, or Saturday night. According to Trucker Biker.
Score: 3.75 of 5
Price: $9.25 with fries
Beer: Coors Light