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Far Off Places: Café 3456 

I have always loved airports. Even now, when the experience means throwing away expensive perfume and padding through security barefoot, airports still represent the possibilities

I have always loved airports. Even now, when the experience means throwing away expensive perfume and padding through security barefoot, airports still represent the possibilities of distant locales and reunions with loved ones. It is the hope of travel, whether near or far, big plane or small, that evokes a palpable human electricity in all airports. From the tactile experience of walking across the tarmac at Redmond to the sci-fi glass tubes of Charles De Gaulle, airports are about adventure.

For some of us, air travel for business is a must - and anticipated with dread. But for those of us that may want to travel a bit more, or just miss those vagabond days of hopping on a plane once a year to spend all our minimum-wage earnings on sojourns in far-off lands, we welcome any opportunity to have a pleasant airport experience.

Recently, I roped a good natured and Northeast-living friend into accompanying me to Café 3456, the little restaurant that services the Bend Municipal Airport and takes its name from the runway's elevation. While watching the little private planes take off and land against the picturesque backdrop of snow-topped hills, we acknowledged we could've been in Butte, Mont., or some small landing strip in the Spanish countryside.

The atmosphere is no muss, no fuss with a bit of an aeronautical theme. Floor-to-ceiling windows make up the east-facing wall with a clear view of all the activities of this small aerodrome. The clientele is mainly drawn from the 1,000-plus people that work and use the airport - mechanics, pilots and suits working for the many airport-based businesses.

We started our breakfast meal with the special corned beef hash and eggs. The hash was excellent, meaty and lean, and the eggs well cooked. We also got a Dutch Baby - the decedent soufflé-like oven baked pancake. The gooseberry apple compote was unique and a nice accompaniment, but the baby itself was less than impressive. Stuck to the bottom of the skillet, it was dry and lacked that eggy texture and flavor.

But all was forgotten when the fritters arrived. Light, fluffy, perfectly sweetened, not-greasy - these alone are well worth the trip and should be a part of every meal at 3456.

Service at 3456 is spotty, but friendly and casual. Owned by the couple that created Muscle Culinaire Catering, Chef Dave wears a sleeveless chef's coat showing off his huge biceps, while his partner Sarah waits tables with their new baby strapped to the front of her. It's a family operation with a good heart, but some of the details of good service are neglected. On our first visit we were told to seat ourselves, but all the tables were dirty, so we sat at a dirty table. It was cleaned right away, but when we ordered a side of elk sausage it never appeared. My teapot went cold for want of more hot water, but when the bill came we were not charged for any of our beverages. Our next visit was about the same, with friendly, smiling faces but a lack of attentive service.

It's a pretty easy fix, and since the food is good and healthy it is barely a deterrent. Where else are you going to get a Tibetan yak burger, or a real Croque Madame with lots of smoked boar bacon, melted cheese and a lusciousy runny egg to top it all off?

Heading east out of town there are few choices for a good meal, short of picking up fried jalapeño dog in Powell Butte. Café 3456 has created a nice little niche for itself by offering well-prepared food in an underserved area. Once the service issues are worked out, Café 3456 may even become a spot that diners will opt for not because they are in the area, but because they just can't live without one of those fritters.

Café 3456 - $

63136 Powell Butte Hwy, 318-8989. Fri 7am - 2pm; Sat -Sun, 8am - 3 p.m.


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