Our Restaurant of the Year for 2020 is a vibrant downtown gem and a cornerstone of the small-business community in Bend. Our readers voted Zydeco Kitchen & Cocktails both Best Dinner and Best Food Service in our Best of Central Oregon readers' poll in 2019. For our staff-selected Restaurant of the Year award in this year's Restaurant Guide, we are honoring Zydeco not only for its inspired dishes and caring waitstaff, but because of a new community meals program, “Our Kitchen, Your Table." During the pandemic, Zydeco has provided thousands of high-quality dinners to people hit hardest.
“This helps people with the cost of groceries and not having to cook, but we really wanted to do something to make them feel special, to provide them more than just a regular meal they would cook for themselves at home,” said Cheri Helt who co-owns Zydeco with her husband and Executive Chef Steve Helt. “They can take a moment and have a celebration for themselves during this time of crisis… relax and feel cared for by someone else.” Right now, customers can order takeout, or enjoy a highly coveted sidewalk table at Zydeco Kitchen & Cocktails on Bond Street in downtown Bend. The restaurant blends upscale Northwest casual with a Cajun flair through signature dishes like the shrimp andouille and crawfish jambalaya and grilled or blackened redfish. Local farmers provide the fresh veggies for the roasted beet salad and the vegetable risotto with butternut squash, leeks and mushrooms.
Getting the ingredients has been a daily challenge since the pandemic began, explained Steve Helt.
“We’re reinventing every day,” he said. “Shortages in the supply chain, trouble getting food, fluctuating prices… we’re accommodating these as fast as we possibly can. The challenges have been a lot more than I expected. It's controlled chaos. I have to take it day by day.”
This spring, the Helts created the Our Kitchen, Your Table meal donation program to offer a memorable dinner to dozens of underserved communities. In the process of creating the program, they’ve saved some of their employees' jobs and transformed federal assistance they were granted through the Paycheck Protection Program into a valuable community service.
So far they've delivered over 2,000 meals to veterans, unemployed teachers, foster care families and many more. Prizing quality over quantity, Zydeco’s chefs produce 50 free meals a night served Monday through Friday for pickup or delivery. The first week of July, the program fed 250 volunteers with Court Appointed Special Advocates for Central Oregon. It's a community-supported program; this week, Advanced Northwest Welding bought the groceries and Sunrise Micro Farm donated the greens. Congrats to Zydeco for going above and beyond this year, and for earning the award as the Source Weekly's Restaurant of the Year!