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Dinner That Floats

The water laps gently at the dock as a breeze ruffles the surface of Elk Lake. The cool air contrasts with the warm, late afternoon sun, which will soon set over the mountains visible in the distance, letting loose a stunning array of reds and oranges over the water. The scent of pinesap wafts through the air mixed with the stronger aroma of gourmet barbecue, and the bird songs from the nearby forest mix with the carefree laughter of fun at a lake in summer. Afloat on a dock, surrounded by pristine water and a forest, with gourmet food cooking nearby: this is a night at Elk Lake Resort’s Dining Dock.

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The Dining Dock first appeared at Elk Lake as the summer dwelling of Curt Adams, a retired hardware designer and software developer with a passion for projects that combine art and engineering—anything from tree houses to computer-designed architectural sundials. “My original intention eight years ago was to build a 60s-style houseboat that would be artistic and fun, made from materials like cedar and Douglas-fir rather than aluminum and plastic,” says Adams. He spent a couple of summers at Prineville Reservoir after completing the project before a friend suggested he try his barge at Elk Lake.

Mollie Hogan, who has vacationed at Elk Lake since she was born, says people quickly took note of the new contraption on the water. “We lovingly referred to it as ‘water world,’” she says. “He had a bunch of docks and even a kitchen and a bathroom. It looked like a great setup!”

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It didn’t take long for Adams to realize he wanted to share his dock with other visitors. He suggested to Wendy Prieve, who owns and operates Elk Lake Resort, that the double-decker vessel might work for dining. “We were excited about the idea,” says Prieve. She had hired an expert, French-trained chef Asa Kenney, to create gourmet food. The Dining Dock could become a perfect platform for the fusion she was going for at the resort: a little rustic and quirky on the outside, with fine dining inside. Says Prieve, “It had what I call ‘the element of surprise.’”

The next year, Hogan, who is a realtor, was looking for a venue to host a client appreciation day. Since most of her clients were new to the area, she wanted to show them a unique side of Central Oregon, and the Dock seemed perfect. A customized meal was created for the event. “We had a gourmet BBQ theme with corn on the cob and some strawberry shortcake for dessert.” Hogan arranged for Bend Tours to pick up her clients so they could have some champagne on the way to the lake, but kept the Dining Dock itself a surprise. Everyone was thrilled, and Hogan says it was “a special experience.”

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The Dining Dock has expanded this year. It now accommodates up to thirty-two guests for brunches or dinners on Sundays and special events Monday through Saturday during the summer (a minimum of eight people and reservations are required). Although the menu varies, says Kenney, “Brunches feature fruit displays, various made-to-order egg specialties and rotating French toast and waffle selections, and dinners will include three-course weekly creations that source local ingredients and are prepared on board.” Making the experience more festive are bottomless mimosas for brunch and wine, beer and champagne options available for dinner.

On board the Dining Dock, bright paintings of suns and waves bedazzle the deck, giving the scene a sense of whimsy, while the fine linen and classy table settings, complemented by gourmet cuisine, create the atmosphere of an elegant restaurant. The solid construction of the dock and its awnings make the space feel sheltered and intimate, and yet the Dining Dock’s positioning in the water allows for open views of the surrounding snow-capped peaks and sprawling forests. It is these contrasts that make the Dining Dock what it is: a dining experience caught between worlds, blurring the usual boundary between quirky and elegant, land and water, wild and tame.

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