Planker Sandwiches
 

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Bend's Favorite Sandwich Shop
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Customers enjoy the casual interior of the restaurant during lunch at Planker Sandwiches in downtown Bend.

Restaurant review: Planker

Planker Sandwiches establishes a niche in downtown Bend

By John Gottberg Anderson / For The Bulletin
Published: August 12. 2011 4:00AM PST

It isn't often that a self-described “old skier” with a sterling pedigree in the restaurant business moves from a major urban center to open a sandwich shop in a smaller community.

But that's exactly what Joe Devencenzi did.

After 27 years with Seattle-based Restaurants Unlimited, the last 10 as vice president of operations, Devencenzi and his wife, Karin, bought the former Crepe Place in downtown Bend from Jill Byers, reopening as Planker Sandwiches in early May.

“We've had a home in Bend for seven or eight years, and with our kids older now (finishing high school or entering college), we decided that we wanted to settle here,” said Devencenzi, who is originally from Grants Pass.

“But I didn't want to get into a large-scale operation. I wanted something conducive with living here in Bend and enjoying the lifestyle.”

In his former position, Devencenzi oversaw operations at more than 20 restaurants, including such Northwest traditions as the Portland City Grill, the Newport Seafood Grill and Stanford's steakhouse. And Karin Devencenzi continues to commute between Bend and Portland, where she herself is in the corporate restaurant business.

But, according to Joe, they are putting that behind them.

“We're just two old skiers, opening a place in Bend,” he said. “We're just a couple of ‘plankers.'”

Planks and blackboards

A couple of the boss's own “planks” — perhaps the pair of skis he once learned upon, complete with early cable bindings — hang on the wall beside the counter where diners place their orders with an enthusiastic young staff. A trio of large blackboards displays the cafe's fare, which is also published on printed takeaway menus stacked on each table.

Otherwise, the new owners made few changes in the stylish little restaurant, which had been the Cafe Brasil before Byers purchased it in late 2006.

The menu features sandwiches, paninis and crepes, as well as a few breakfast items, soups and sweets. The sandwiches are my favorites.

I especially like the tuna club. Served upon a toasted Kaiser roll, it featured a thick layer of tuna salad: “It's wild-caught Northwest albacore,” Devencenzi emphasized. This is topped with thick-sliced, smoky bacon and half an avocado, also sliced, as well as green leaf lettuce and a wedge of heirloom tomato.

My companion enjoyed her chicken salad sandwich, although she commented that the ciabatta roll upon which it was served was a bit on the dry side. A generous amount of chicken was blended in tarragon mayonnaise with chopped toasted walnuts and Granny Smith apples; a little less mayo might have rendered it not as soupy. Red leaf lettuce topped off the sandwich.

The best thing about the meatball Parmesan sandwich that we brought home to my companion's son was the quality of the meatballs themselves. Moist and savory, a blend of beef and pork with herbs and spices, they were complemented by a house-made crushed tomato sauce, then topped with Parmesan and mozzarella cheeses and served on toasted sourdough.

Flavor and texture

The Planker — that is its name — is one of the best breakfast sandwiches served in Central Oregon. Two eggs, cooked over medium, are served with both bacon and ham, avocado and tomato, and cheddar cheese within halves of an oversized, toasted English muffin.

I didn't love the toasted vegan panini I sampled. Featuring a spread of chickpeas and kalamata olives in a lemon vinaigrette with roasted red peppers, I found it tart and insubstantial. Had the chickpeas been prepared like falafel, I think I would have liked this sandwich more.

But there are other paninis on the menu; on a future visit I'll opt for a comforting grilled cheddar with tomato soup.

There are numerous crepes, both savory and sweet. “The place has had crepes for a long time, and we wanted to honor that end of the business,” said Devencenzi.

I ordered a Nutella crepe, filled with the sweet chocolate-hazelnut spread manufactured in Italy and sold worldwide. The batter was a little thick and the paste was not evenly distributed, but in its thicker pockets, it burst with flavor.

An extensive drink menu ranges from espresso coffee to craft beers and includes a variety of cane-sugar sodas and fruit smoothies. I sipped a marionberry-banana smoothie and found it a refreshing beverage for a hot summer's day.

“The food we serve represents the way we like to eat,” Joe Devencenzi said. “It's good, honest food, with flavor and texture. That is really important to us.”

Scorecard

OVERALL: A-
Food: B+. Tasty, hearty sandwiches require a little more consistency in preparation.
Service: A. Counter orders are taken by an enthusiastic young staff and delivered to tables.
Atmosphere: A-. Blackboard menus represent the major decor change from the preceding creperie
Value: A. Good value for ample sandwiches, with nothing priced over $9

Planker Sandwiches

Location: 824 N.W. Wall St., Bend
Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day
Price range: Breakfast $5 and $6; lunch $4 to $9
Credit cards: American Express, Discover, MasterCard, Visa
Kids' menu: Includes peanut butter-honey and Nutella-banana paninis
Vegetarian menu: Chickpea-and-olive panini, spinach-and-feta crepe
Alcoholic beverages: Beer only
Outdoor seating: Sidewalk tables
Reservations: No
Contact: www.plankersandwiches.com


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Filling a Void: Planker Sandwiches puts a distinctive twist on the traditional sandwich shop

Plankers Sandwiches

Joe Devencenzi had a simple idea. After years in the restaurant business he wanted to make and serve fresh products while avoiding the late hours.

After visiting Bend for most of his life and owning a home in town for the past eight years, the Grants Pass native decided to open up a place of his own. And where better to open a local food joint then downtown Bend? Although to the dismay of many thin-pancake-loving locals, Devencenzi entered the former Crepe Place location and opened Planker Sandwiches. Named for the term snowboarders use to describe skiers, Planker has become a local favorite despite the slight change in menu offerings from the previous occupant.

“People have been pretty supportive,” said Devencenzi, “We still offer crepes. We just went from a build-your-own-crepe menu to a set menu. But anything you want inside we can still do our best to accommodate.”

But as a former Crepe Place fan, I can safely say that after tasting the sandwiches at Plankers, crepes were the last thing on my mind. At first glance, I would say that the menu is one of the best I’ve encountered downtown, not necessarily due to its array of options and unique titles, but because it literally has every comfort sandwich you would want. Options range from a tuna club to a meatball parm, and that doesn’t include the panini menu. And although the menu is quite basic, the sandwiches themselves have surprise ingredients that put a unique spin on these classic foods.

The chicken salad sandwich had granny Smith apples, adding a sweetness to the already rich flavor, while the roasted turkey had huge strips of thick bacon that contributed a necessary salty addition to the avocado and pickled onion. Even the tomato and basil panini had enough melted cheese to satisfy my love of such dairy delights.

Each sandwich was served with a bag of kettle potato chips, which was a nice palate cleanser, making each bite feel like it was my first. My only suggestion was that for the $8 price tag, a half-sandwich option would be perfect since I had to take a huge portion to go. But for those with more spacious stomachs, finishing the large ration shouldn’t be a problem.

Having visited on a Tuesday afternoon, I was not surprised by the steady flow of customers. I was even less surprised when a customer entered from his table outside to introduce himself to Devencenzi (working behind the counter that day) mentioning that he would definitely be back again.

It was this genuine and friendly vibe that persisted throughout my experience and impressed me more than anything else. Sometimes it takes years for new eateries to gain regulars and make a lasting come-again impression. But in such a short amount of time, it feels as though Planker has already been accepted into the downtown family. This could, of course, be attributed to the vintage Mt. Bachelor artwork affixed on the wall and the old skis that border the Planker sign opposite the counter. It could also be because the void in downtown for a quick, fresh sandwich has now been filled.

It wouldn’t surprise me if Planker became the newest downtown lunch hotspot. And as long as Devencenzi continues to live by his oath to serve fresh comfort food, Planker will be the best place for lunch on the go or to have relaxing afternoon with a beer and a sandwich.



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