Bend is jam-packed with amazing eateries, and I could devote 248 blog posts to gushing over my favorites.
But maybe you’re looking for something beyond the typical dining experience. Something that allows you to eat great food in a cozy environment while supporting a worthy cause and coming together with people from different walks of life.
Sounds like a tall order for one restaurant, but that’s what Common Table ( closed ) is all about.
First things first – there have been some misunderstandings about this place since it opened a couple years ago. Common Table is not a soup kitchen or a food bank. It’s a non-profit organization that serves extraordinary food to everyone, regardless of ability to pay. Theoretically, someone could pull up in a Mercedes and sit down to dinner with a guy who lives in his Buick.
Sounds strange, but not the way Manager Damon Gautoma explains it. “This is the time we all come back together,” he said. “The human family can join together and enjoy a meal.”
It might seem like lip service from some, but not from a guy like Damon who stood before our assembled group with tears in his eyes and shared his struggles with poverty. When people drop by and request a “grace bowl” – a free meal – Damon understands what a humbling experience that can be.
“It makes you so vulnerable to have to say, ‘I can’t afford to feed myself,’” he explained.
If you’re thinking the free meal consists of a cheese sandwich on stale Wonderbread, think again. The food here is designed to be nourishing and delicious. Picture homestyle comfort food with a gourmet flair.
For paying customers, the prices are perfectly reasonable, with everything priced at $10 or less. I ordered the Gourmet Grilled Cheese sandwich, which was a concoction of fresh-baked local bread with a three cheese blend for $7. It was cooked to perfection, with a side of hearty chili that was the ideal balance of flavors and texture.
That was tons of food right there, but since my eyes are always bigger than my stomach, I also ordered the Roasted Vegetable Salad. It’s a mix of lettuces topped with roasted cauliflower, red onion, corn, and bell pepper, along with a sprinkling of mandarin oranges. The flavors were a lovely blend, and the salad large enough to share between two people for just $8.
Several others at the table ordered the burger, which consists of 1/2 pound of fresh, local ground beef, caramelized onions and garlic aioli on brioche bun for $9.50. A Visit Bend staffer described it as, “one of the best hamburgers in Bend,” which I can believe. The same volunteer added, “This is unlike any restaurant in Bend. The mission is so laudable that you can not only fill your stomach, you can fill your soul.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself.
I won’t lie, the service here isn’t speedy. The thing is, you hardly notice. You’re so busy chatting and sipping tasty craft beer from local breweries, that you almost forget you’re waiting to be fed. Common Table isn’t about stuffing your face as fast as you can – it’s about savoring the experience, and helping a good cause while you do it.
Besides supporting Common Table by dining there, people can help in other ways. There’s a chalkboard near the front counter that lists items they need for donation. You can opt to volunteer for a shift in the kitchen or dining room. You can donate money outright, or purchase meal tokens for others.