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Gluten-free For All 

Eco Bistro is wine heavy and (mostly) wheat free

Eco Bistro might be located a bit out of the way, anchoring a curve in south Highway 97 by the Porsche dealership, but inside the doors you'll find a cozy restaurant that could be found along any winding road in the wine country.

One side of Bend's newest restaurant is a boutique that sells an eclectic mix of repurposed and consignment clothing, gifts, hand-made jewelry and specialty foods. The other half of the business is food, wine and a generally comfortable place to spend some time.

On my recent visit, I chatted with Paulina Hopkins, co-owner and charming hostess. She shared with me that her background in marketing told her Bend needed a place like this.

After hatching the idea, Hopkins and husband Mark teamed up some culinary talent. Co-owner Florence Vincent, who met the Hopkins' when she worked as a food buyer in Washington, is the brains behind the menu. Vincent ran an organic restaurant in London in the mid-'80s, "before people even knew what organic meant," said Vincent.

Vincent, who can't tolerate glute because she has celiac disease, created a menu with plenty of gluten-free options. Eco Bistro's kitchen even has a gluten-free zone with its own toaster and panini press.

Chef Michael Rabban ended up in Bend by way of San Francisco, Taos and most recently Los Angeles. He is a graduate of the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, where he worked under Michael Skibitki, who went on to become an executive chef at the Culinary Institute of America. Rabban came here to ski and fell in love with the place. He specializes in everything from wild game and pizza to authentic Mexican fare.

His make-it-up-as-you-go style is a perfect marriage with the local and artisanal products Eco Bistro is attempting to incorporate into its dishes. As the restaurant grows, the goal is to include many more local products. I started with a bowl of creamy tomato basil soup, which, while not made in house, was piping hot with a background of sweet basil and tender bits of tomato. It was garnished with finely grated parmesan cheese melying on top.

I also had the BLT sandwich on toasted gluten-free challah bread served with multigrain chips, organic pickles and crisp celery sticks. Eco Bistro offers a kids menu, too. Here, the hot dog is all-natural and gluten-free from Applegate farms and served with organic pickles and black olives. The local boys at Baked provide the peasant bread for the sandwiches, and lemon bars and cookies for dessert.

The gluten-free challah is so delicious you wont even know you are not eating the real thing. It's made by Katz bakery in Monroe, N.Y.; and you can even pick up a loaf to go on your way out. Beverages are all-natural, including stevia-sweetened Zevia colas and Kombucha Mama on tap.

Beyond the interesting food options, the restaurant space is just a pleasant place to be. Several cozy tables make up the main area, and a faux fireplace warms the room with flickering light. The long wine bar at the far end of the main room made me want to belly up and do some wine tasting.

Down a few stairs into a sunken space is an area with comfortable couches and soft lighting perfect for sipping wine and maybe a book club meeting. A few spaces in the restaurant, like this one, can be reserved. Out back a charming patio is made from recycled barn wood and flanked with a beautiful natural ivy wall. It's destined to be one of Bend's favorite patios come summertime.

Eco Bistro

905 SE 3rd St.

541-306-6697

11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mon. to Thurs.

11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fri. to Sat.

Closed Sunday.

MORE THAN FOOD AND WINE

Eco Bistro hosts a variety of events each week. Here's a snapshot of what's coming up.

7 p.m., Jan. 26

Live Acoustic Music by Chris Novak

All day, Jan. 29

Discounted wines by the glass and a $5 menu all day

5 p.m., Jan. 29

Live Blues Music by Bobby Lindstrom

5:30 p.m., Jan. 30

Wine 101

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