It was 1868 when Barney Prine first settled on the banks of the Crooked River, building a blacksmith shop nearby, and a post office a few years later. Soon after, the entire area bore his name— Prineville.
Still under 10,000 people, Prineville has retained its small-town roots, while at the same time embracing opportunities for growth—as evident by the addition of the Facebook data center in 2010. But despite their eye toward the community's eye future, the dining scene in Prineville has remained seriously stuck in the past.
So I was excited to see the sign for Solstice Brewing Company this summer as we passed through. A brewery in Prineville?! I was awestruck, but still too giddy from winning at the Prineville Horse Races to stop in.
The restaurant has been open for a year and a half, with its first flagship beer hitting the tap just two weeks ago after the completion of its long awaited five-barrel brewhouse. But while its beer may be new on the block, Solstice has been carving out a niche since opening day—and upping the ante for other Prineville restaurants.
The menu is basic, but it showcases local Prineville providers: Breese grass-fed beef, Cada Dia cheese, Dancing Cow and Last Stand farms. From chicken wings and onion rings, to burgers, fish 'n' chips and pastas—the menu sounds like typical bar food, but with the local focus and an in-house chef, this place is doing something different out here.
Chef Jeff Batty was kind, but quiet—coming out from the kitchen to name the Cada Dia cheeses on my charcuterie plate: Caraway cheddar, cow's milk feta and a Christmas cheddar, speckled with red peppers and green jalapenos. Just $11, I found it a great starter with salami, sliced pear and dried fruit. I didn't care for the nut brittle, however, or the sliced baguette—saturated with butter and neither crispy nor soft.
I also ordered the chicken bacon sandwich: juicy chicken breast with Swiss cheese melted onto thick-cut bacon and just the right amount of mayo spread on a cornmeal-dusted Kaiser roll. The sweet potato tots were hot, seasoned and crispy. (Warning: Tots may be habit-forming.)
The beers on draft to wash all this down were pretty top notch. The brewery's own first offering is a nicely balanced pale ale—easy drinking and approachable. I found the appropriately carbonated, medium-bodied beer a great intro brew. An IPA and stout will follow soon.
Solstice also has several rotating guest taps like 10 Barrel, Boneyard, Ninkasi, and Full Sail and Lost Coast's tangerine wheat ale (amazing, by the way). It's the only place in Prineville to have a cider on tap. Solstice also has a full liquor license, although a pretty limited selection of booze. Happy hour (Monday to Friday from 4-6 p.m.) is a great time to go: Pints are a buck off, all house wine is $3.35, and nibbles are $2 to $3.50.
The brain behind the beers is self-trained brewmaster and owner Joseph Barker. While he spends a lot of time in the new Solstice brewhouse located onsite, he hasn't always been elbow-deep in hops and malt. He earned an English degree from Portland State, but switched gears after graduation, taking a position in a local woodshop until the housing boom allowed him and his wife to refinance their house. That equity allowed for either the purchase of a rental property or a business. After calculating the risk, Solstice Brewing Company was conceived in July of 2011, opening as a pub while awaiting the acquisition of the five-barrel brewing system last spring.
With two young kids of his own, Barker makes a point to cater to families, even adding a carpeted kids' zone complete with toys. The main dining areas have an open floor plan and face the cozy bar, which is made of the same smooth, lacquered pine as the tables and chairs. Barker made them himself. The brewing room, enclosed in glass, is visible from the barstools.
I'd like to see a more original menu evolve, but the service was excellent, the food was prepared perfectly, and the newly released pale ale exceeded expectations. I will definitely go back when the IPA and stout are released. Floors, furniture and bathrooms were immaculately clean (yes!) but I found the sparsely decorated expanse of walls boring for a brew pub. My advice? Ask those beer reps for some shwag, man! Bottom line, Solstice Brewing is a great boon to the burgeoning Prineville community.
234 N Main St., Prineville
11:30 a.m.- 9 p.m. everyday