It took years of rave reviews from friends before I finally discovered Jackalope Grill for myself. With a name like Jackalope, and a challenging Scandia Plaza strip mall location on Third Street, I was skeptical. But once inside, white linen tablecloths and a professional staff erased all apprehension. Even the name itself, I now find endearing. Now in a more fitting downtown location on Lava Avenue, Jackalope Grill continues to earn its reputation for great service, an extensive but approachable wine list, and familiar Northwest cuisine prepared in unexpected ways. Until recently they’ve remained somewhat undiscovered, but I expect Jackalope Grill’s new location will put them on the radar of downtown diners.
With the new location comes additional space, street-side tables and a bar area with bistro tables. But the best part is the enclosed patio—a secret garden shielded from the pace of the outside world. When the sun sets, twilight sparkles with flickering flames from lanterns above potted trees and herbs.
After a successful 15-year stint owning a restaurant in Utah, Chef Garling and his wife Kathy, who runs the front of the house, came to Bend in 2005. That December, they struck a deal to take over the Jackalope from the former owners, Ramsey and Juli Hamdan, who now own downtown’s Joolz.
Kathy Garling was the cocktail curator, always giving the same attention to detail when preparing our martinis, which have been right on the mark in the new location as well, despite our picky preferences. She’s also due credit for one of Bend’s most diverse, but affordable, wine lists. Wine Spectator happeto agree. In 2008, Jackalope received the magazines “award of excellence.”
Chef Garling’s French culinary background is evident in his cooking. So too is his affection for German food. But despite menu items like duck leg confit, specials like monkfish, which is known as “poor man’s lobster” for its similar texture, or French classics like coq au vin--—it’s the soups, sides and sauces that sometimes steal the show.
The chilled magenta soup I lapped up on a recent 92 degree day was pureed and presumably strained, but with enough body to keep tiny crumbles of blue cheese afloat on a smooth beet sea.
The paired-down menu offers just six entrees and eight starters. But with choices from steak, duck and salmon to cioppino-style seafood pasta and Jaeger Schnitzel, there is not a weak link among them.
Streamlined menus with limited protein options ensure food is always fresh, but I recognize how restrictive the menu can be for vegetarians, vegans or those with dietary restrictions. After settling in I hope they expand their menu to include a vegetarian option or two.
Small plate options change frequently and include vegetarian options, like the recent addition of a caprese with house-made mozzarella, and an eggplant dish with local honey and rosemary. A favorite of mine is a mainstay—the Dungeness crab-stuffed mushroom caps served piping hot from the oven in a shallow dish of shallots, garlic and melted butter.
While the food excels, Jackalope’s consistent service is actually the number one reason I go back. And while a newly expanded staff means fresh faces, I was happy to experience the same, casual-but-knowledgeable service.
Long-time lead server Chris Knight embodies Jackalope’s esprit de corps. Exuding both passion and restraint, he smirks ever-so-slightly when he builds to the crescendo of the daily specials. And you can always tell he’s had at least one spoonful of the soup du jour by the way he describes it.
Start in the bar with a cocktail. Move to the patio for an intimate meal. Or call ahead and come with friends—their new dining room can accommodate larger parties easily.
Either way, when the last bites of dinner have disappeared, you’ll find it hard to resist daily dessert specials or, my stand-by, the crème brulee. But if you can, reward yourself for skipping dessert by sipping it. My favorite finish to any meal at Jackalope is a dessert wine. Try a tawny port in winter. But in this heat? A cool and honey-sweet ice wine.
Photo taken by Laura Kessinger
750 NW Lava Rd.
Bar 4 p.m.; Dining room 5 p.m.–close