I spent more than a decade living in the Sunriver area, watching my babies grow into kids amidst a sea of seasonal tourists. It became a family pastime to watch and laugh as these visitors tried to navigate the roundabouts, pedaled their way around the bike paths or slicing it into the water on the par three. With wallets as open as their gaping mouths, they’d wine, dine and shop till they dropped. But then the real estate bubble burst. The once-thriving Village Mall of shops and restaurants became a ghost town with sparse tenancy. And the steady stream of tourists was reduced to a trickle.
A few years later now, the recent opening of Sunriver Brewing Company is a sight for sore eyes, and the throngs of tourists inside are nothing to laugh about anymore. After a multi-million dollar renovation of the mall, the July 4 opening of the Sunriver Brewhouse seems to be right on time—a real sign of revival for Sunriver.
Tourists are flocking in, but it’s the locals who are most pleased. In an area where nearly every place in town shuts the doors by 8 p.m., locals can now grab a beer or a bite until 11 p.m. at the brewhouse, which is pouring local guest taps and their own brews under the label Sunriver Brewing Company.
Large wooden beams support vaulted ceilings and cement floors anchor the room filled with short and tall pub tables. In one corner, we could see what owner Carol Cameron described as the “brewing development center,” where test batches of beer will be sampled for future brewing variations. The actual brewing is happening at Phat Matt’s in Redmond for now.
Carol Cameron’s son, brewing manager Brian Cameron, just happened to be behind the bar on a recent visit. Hungry and thirsty, my friends and I ordered a sampler tray of the four flagship Sunriver Brewing Company beers.
Opinions were split as we tasted the rainbow from the light-bodied stout, to the slightly sweet amber, to the pale and the IPA. But we all agreed they were easy-drinking and better than we had expected for a new startup.
Compared to other top Central Oregon breweries, and the growing trend of increasingly hoppier and higher alcohol IPA’s, I found Sunriver’s IPA at 6.4% ABV and 64 IBU’s to be mild, pleasantly balanced and approachable. This was intentional, according to Brian Cameron.
“We wanted to start out with four easy-drinking beers that would appeal to everyone,” he said. Future plans include bolder IPA’s, a blonde ale, more complex ambers and stouts, and maybe even a summer beer made with marionberries.
But for now, they are pleased with the way their beer has been received, and excited with the way chef Justin Hansen is incorporating their beer into the menu, sneaking the amber ale into a fondue, and the stout into a zingy barbecue sauce.
At first glance, the menu offers typical pub food—burgers and fries, mac’ and cheese, salads, soups and steak or seafood entrees. But with closer inspection, you’ll find street tacos—with pork, pan-seared cod or blackened chicken—spa bowls of greens or rice topped with a steelhead filet or grilled chicken, and unique sandwiches like a crab and artichoke melt, a turkey dip and a reuben on marbled rye made with smoked steelhead. Starters are priced between $5 and $14. Sandwiches and entrees are between $7 and $24.
The real surprises for me were the thoughtful accompaniments. Every salad dressing, dipping sauce, chutney and remoulade popped with unique and congruous flavors— perfect complements to the dishes they adorned.
The house-smoked steelhead was as salty and sweet as I’d hoped, both on the appetizer plate and in the river reuben. They also make a steelhead bisque which is rumored to be excellent.
On my next visit, we ordered a burger, pulled pork sandwich, the fish ‘n’ chips and the crab and artichoke melt. But the standout for me was the portabella fries—a sliced portabella that was beer battered, fried until crispy and served with a horseradish dip. The crispy batter clung tightly to the moist and meaty mushroom, and each “fry” was firm enough for double dipping into the creamy but hot-with-horseradish dipping sauce.
Aside from minor criticisms, like the crostini on the steelhead plate being too hard to bite into, the reuben falling apart, or the pork sandwich needing more sauce, we were pleased with everything we ordered. And the service was timely and enthusiastic. Open for less than a month, I took this as a sign of competent management and effective training.
With a fresh facelift, Sunriver is back in action, and the Sunriver Brewhouse is proof of this. With their capable management, ample and knowledgeable staff, inspired chef and approachable beer, I have a feeling they will be here for the long-haul.
Sunriver Village Mall Building 4
Open 7 days a week from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.