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A healthy fast food alternative

Life & Time, the new free-range, fast food restaurant on Century Drive, wants to “change the face of fast food forever.”

I think that’s more than a little overzealous. But it reflects the goals of partners Garrett Wales and Mike Moor, formerly of the 10 Barrel Brewing group, and executive chef Luke Mason, who see themselves at the vanguard of what they call the Real Food Revolution.

The restaurant has published a manifesto that guarantees all of its products are organically and sustainably raised and grown, and that its beef, from Oregon Country Natural, will “never ever” contain antibiotics or growth hormones. All food is made from scratch and without processed sugar. “No longer do you have to sacrifice healthy, real food for speed and convenience,” the declaration concludes.

All well and good. It’s wonderful that Bend has an eat-in or drive-thru restaurant with a commitment to delivering quality for the price.

No doubt, there’s value here. Nothing on the menu is priced above $12, and most of those are for salads and bowls with meat added. A children’s menu is offered at a mere $3 and under.

But does it taste good? In three recent visits with my dining companion, I’ve found that to be a mixed bag.

Breakfast fare

Our first visit was for breakfast, served from 7 to 10:30 every morning. (The kitchen then closes for a half-hour while the line is switched to afternoon service.)

I enjoyed a breakfast burrito ($6) with mild Italian sausage (bacon was another meat option) in a whole-wheat wrap. It was filled with finely chopped and lightly crisped potatoes, along with green onions and cheddar cheese. I was surprised that a fried egg was added rather than scrambled, which might have distributed more evenly through the burrito. A tangy house sauce added flavor.

The egg was originally overlooked in the preparation of my companion’s sweet potato bowl ($7). The restaurant manager was so apologetic that he gave her a gift card when he returned with a replacement bowl — which she thoroughly enjoyed. Coarsely chopped sweet potatoes were mixed with black beans, corn salsa, green onions and Mexican cotija cheese, then topped with that fried egg.

We also shared an order of delicious avocado toast ($6). Seasoned avocado and cream cheese were spread on 24-grain bread, topped with slices of cucumber and fresh dill. Gluten-free and dairy-free options were available for those with dietary restrictions.

Burgers and fries

Life & Time might not be considered a real fast-food restaurant if it didn’t serve hamburgers. My friend’s double burger had two patties topped with Tillamook cheddar, garnished with lettuce, tomato and onion, dressed with the house super sauce and served on a whole wheat bun. It wasn’t the best we’ve had in Bend, but it was good, and the $7 price was certainly right.

My free-range chicken sando ($7) had a gluten-free breading that was supposed to make it “crispy,” but it was topped with so many grilled onions (my request, in lieu of raw onion) that the breading turned soggy. Also garnished with lettuce and tomato, it was no better than so-so.

We ordered both types of fries ($3), and agreed that the shoestring-style sweet-potato fries were more flavorful than the thickly hand-cut Kennebec potatoes.

One of my favorite bites at Life & Time was its thick and peppery elk chili ($5). Lean ground elk meat was stewed with kidney beans, black beans and tomato, spiced with cumin and topped with diced white onions and shredded cheddar.

Salads and bowls

Salads and bowls are largely prepared as vegetarian dishes, with options of adding proteins (steak, chicken, rockfish, ahi tuna or tofu).

We agreed that the ginger miso salad ($8), to which we added marinated cubes of poke-style ahi, was our favorite. Mixed lettuces and baby spinach were dressed in a ginger-miso vinaigrette with edamame, shredded carrot, cucumber and crispy glass noodles, then sprinkled with sesame seeds. The only thing that didn’t work were larger chunks of less-than-ripe mango.

The harvest zoodle bowl ($8) was intriguing. Zoodles, for the uninitiated, is a pasta replacement popular among gluten-free diners. They were tossed with grilled broccolini, mushrooms, walnuts and diced sweet potatoes in a pistou (cold sauce) of garlic, basil and olive oil, then sprinkled with Parmesan. The addition of grilled chicken, however, did not enhance the meal. Next time, I would keep it vegan or add tofu.

Custom-designed and constructed facing the west-side Safeway store, at the corner of Simpson Avenue, Life & Time has a spacious feel augmented by large windows and an elevated ceiling. A patio with a carpet of artificial turf awaits warmer weather.

Service, except for the omission of the egg from my companion’s breakfast bowl, was enthusiastic and knowledgeable. Orders placed at the counter are promptly brought to tables — and even the drive-through is speedy, with bowls assembled and delivered in less than five minutes.

— John Gottberg Anderson can be reached .


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