Nestled in the Deschutes National Forest along Highway 20 just east of the Cascade Range crest lies one of Central Oregon’s most popular outdoor recreation sites: Suttle Lake. Located northwest of Sisters and just 45 minutes from Bend, Suttle Lake features three large campgrounds and two day-use areas, including a lodge that dates back to the 1920s.
The original lodge burned down — as did the next two, most recently in 1974. The fourth iteration offers rooms and cabins, dining along with a marina, and in 2016 it was extensively renovated and re-opened under new ownership as The Suttle Lodge, with a refurbished restaurant in the Boathouse and beer garden looking out over the lake.
The company behind the Ace Hotel in Portland, The Mighty Union, handled the upgrades as well the new restaurant menu. The goal was to bring some Portland culture to the Lodge while still maintaining a rustic lakeside ambiance.
Chef Jacob Rodriguez oversees the dining side of the operation, a position held since the reopening. Originally from Los Angeles, Rodriguez is a veteran of the southern California culinary scene and helped open Milkfarm, an artisanal cheese shop. There he worked closely with nearby Eagle Rock Brewery to develop beer and cheese pairings and curated the brewery menu’s cheese plate.
The Boathouse features “elevated camp food” as the overall theme, in keeping with the upscale rustic motif. For the second summer in a row, the Lodge is hosting its weekly lakeside brewer cookout each Wednesday, inviting breweries from around the state to pour select beers while Rodriguez fires up the Traeger Grill and prepares a meal to pair with them. He typically plans to serve a protein, such as ribs, chicken or sausages, as well as two sides, with dishes utilizing locally sourced ingredients when possible.
“We’re trying to keep that casual environment, but offer nicer amenities,” he said.
I attended the first cookout of the season just after Memorial Day, and ironically, this was my first visit to the Lodge proper, though growing up, we camped at Suttle Lake each summer for our annual family reunion. Camping (and camp food) and beer go hand-in-hand, but all too often that means ice-cold cans of light American lager. There was lager at the cookout, but it wasn’t of the macro variety; Portland’s Laurelwood Brewing was on hand with two of its beers: The Wood Lager and Kids These Daze, a hazy IPA.
When it comes to pairing beers with the meal, Rodriguez tailors the menu more to the style of the brewery rather than the specific beers, saying, “It really just depends on the brewery itself.” With Laurelwood, he explained that the brewery is all about American pub fare and thought, what’s more American at a cookout that hot dogs and potato salad? With that in mind, he took it to the next level with grilled bratwurst from Zenner’s Sausage Company in Portland, a roasted potato and Romanesco broccoli salad, along with a 24-hour salad that included cabbage, cauliflower and red onions.
I grabbed a plate and each of Laurelwood’s two beers, served appropriately enough in plastic Traeger-branded cups, and dug in. I imagine it’s a bit perplexing to pair food with a New England-style hazy IPA, as the beer often defies “traditional” IPA conventions with the juice-forward, cloudy mouthfeel that defines it. But, it worked well with the potato salad. More in the German style than the creamy mayo-based version, it included pickled turnip greens for a pleasant tangy component as well as a hefty dose of pepper and spice. The Kids These Daze cut through the spiciness and the hops offered a savory rather than juicy counterpoint to the lightly smoky toothiness of the potatoes and broccoli.
The 24-hour salad provided the creamy complement to the roasted potato, with a delicious tangy-creamy dressing and a nice crunch to the vegetables. The Wood Lager was a great match here, cutting right through the fat to bring a refreshing crisp snap to highlight the greens.
The Wood Lager, in particular, is a great choice to pair with outdoor grilled fare, replacing the classic domestic light lager with body and zesty flavor from the American hop profile. Laurelwood’s director of sales and marketing, James Buxman, was there to talk about the beer. “With Kids These Daze and The Wood, I wanted to bring some beers that maybe people aren’t as familiar with outside of Portland,” he said.
Both complemented the bratwurst nicely — but let’s be honest, it’s tough to go wrong with a good brat. Zenner’s bills its bratwurst as a “traditional German favorite with 100 percent pork, perfectly seasoned with pepper, garlic and other seasonings,” and it was a great cookout choice. Deliciously meaty with the right amount of umami and unctuousness, boosted with Portland Mustard, it was a terrific foil for the sides and the beers. Paired with the hazy IPA, the brat brought out the fruit character and reminded me of mango salsa. With The Wood it highlighted the graininess of the malt, and both beers washed down the meat with a refreshing finish.
Suttle Lake is an outstanding setting for the Lodge’s summer cookouts, well worth checking out (perhaps accompanied by an overnight cabin stay). Upcoming events will feature breweries such as Double Mountain, GoodLife and Crux. Plan your summer evenings accordingly. •