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Why Spork is the new Cheers

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Remember when Brother Jon's first opened on Galveston Avenue? It was awesome (and remains so).

Nearby residents finally had a comfortable neighborhood spot that serves everything from mac and cheese, to RPM IPA, Rainier and Bulleit Rye on the rocks. Now, Newport Avenue neighbors have something similar in what is the second food cart-turned-brick-and-mortar success story (the first being Barrio, via combining El Sancho and Soupcon).

Spork, a global street food joint that opened in June, focuses more on food than drink, although it offers great cocktails and plenty of solid beers. Worldly dishes are mostly $10 or under. On weekends, Spork is open until midnight, serving carnitas tacos and yucca chips while providing that one last cool-down beer.

I live a five-minute walk from Spork and have been inside its bright orange and green walls at least once a week since Erica Reilly and her partner, Jeff Hunt, opened the restaurant a little over a month ago. While new to Newport Avenue, Spork, the former godfather of Bend's food cart scene, is a familiar name to those who long frequented the silver Airstream trailer during lunch or at festivals. When Reilly and Hunt closed their trailer doors late last summer, some feared it might be for good. But they bounced back and are now here to stay. And in my neighborhood, thank you very much!

In my five or so visits, I've yet to discover a dish or a drink that I, or anyone at my table, didn't like. There is no going wrong here. That said, here are recommended places to start:

1. Spicy Fried Chicken, with sweet and sour sauce, toasted sesame seeds, rice and choice of kimchi or cucumber salad (a little of both is a great option). Also, because its batter is rice-based, it's gluten-free.

2. Thai Steak Salad, over greens with bean sprouts, fried shallots, toasted rice powder and salty dressing of fish sauce and lime juice. In a word: Amazing.

3. Grilled Vegetable Coconut Green Curry, with seasonal veggies and rice. Spicy! As creamy and rich as it sounds.

4. Hoisin Pork Belly Sando, with kimchi and veggies on an enormous roll; recommended only for the really hungry.

Many of the dishes are favorites holdovers from their food cart days.

"A lot of the dishes are ones we've been perfecting over the last four years," Reilly said. One of those is the grilled sweet corn with chili mayo and cotija cheese. Spork recently returned it to the menu after hearing from fans who missed the popular side.

Thanks in part to Reilly and Hunt's loyal following (years back the pair owned The Grove, may it rest in peace, a popular bar and dance spot), Spork hasn't struggled to get people in the door of the restaurant at 937 NW Newport Ave. It's been busy, but not obnoxiously so, every time I've been. Orders come out within 15 minutes or less, and it is easy to get a drink and sidle up to the bar, with its well-curated six rotating taps, as well as a smart selection of wines and house cocktails. Reilly and company are focusing on classic cocktails done right (Old Fashioned; daiquiri, sans blender) and inventing thoughtful new ones, like the Shambhala made with raspberries and yerba maté.

Food comes served in simple but proud silver-plated bowls and plates not unlike what might be used at a neighborhood eatery in Bangalore, India. Soon, Reilly said, Spork will have six or so small sidewalk tables for outside eating.

Last week, after polishing off another plate of Thai Beef Salad and a Boneyard Armored Fist (80 IBUs/10% ABV) for dessert, we walked home full and content and happy to have our own Cheers—a neighborhood spot that is open late and knows our names.

Spork

937 NW Newport AVe.

11 am-10 pm, later on fri. and sat.

541-390-0946, sporkbend.com

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