Special Feature: Products Sally Recommends
where to eat and drink in southern oregon: great places for a meal, a snack, or a beverage
FOOD CO-OP: A Medford food co-op is in the works, but as of this writing the local established food co-op is in Ashland.
---Ashland Food Co-op, www.ashland.coop. I don’t think it’s asking too much. I just want to be able to set up a cot in a back room here. Really, I’ll be no trouble, and it would just be so much easier for me to revel in the astonishing choice of foods. As might be expected from a co-op in Ashland, there’s a strong leaning toward the natural/organic/biodynamic. There’s also an emphasis on local and regional foods, which gives some small-scale producers a chance to shine. You can’t imagine the variety of foods packed onto the shelves until you see it for yourself. I like the Bellwether Farms Sheep’s Milk Yogurt, Dave’s Killer Bread, OneLeaf Microgreens, cinnamon-and-sugar roasted almonds in plastic bag “cones” from We’re All Nuts (they’re in an unlabeled basket near the berries as you first come in), the nut butters, the hook-and-line caught canned tuna and salmon, and too many more to list. The Co-op has prepared foods to go in addition to a sandwich counter; they even sell wines (I didn’t try the Dandelion Wine from Wild Wines, but it looks interesting). In addition to all of this, the co-op stocks quite a range of body care products made locally or regionally. Anyone into food could happily spend an hour or two here, if not more.
---Lillie Belle Farms, www.lilliebellefarms.com.
In the interest of full disclosure, I must tell you that owner Jeff Shepherd is a friend. I volunteered in his small production facility for a couple of weeks, as I’ve done before. But if you’re in this neck of the woods, please do make an effort to get to his beautiful, albeit eccentric, boutique. You’ll see many chocolates he doesn’t ship (they’re too perishable), as well as those with which you may be familiar if you’ve perused his website. Fill a box with whatever you like, but you really need to try the Croquantines, with their chocolate and hazelnut base. If you enjoy alcohol, how about a Martini Cup, topped with a handmade marzipan “olive”? There’s even Chocolate-Covered Bacon (no, I’m not making that up, but be careful; it has a kick to it). And you must try one or two of the fruit buttercreams, available in flavors such as Lemon and Strawberry-Passionfruit. If you’re lucky, Jeff might even be manning the store, but you’ll get excellent guidance on choosing your chocolates even if he isn’t. The boutique is at 211 North Front Street in Central Point, almost next door to the Rogue Creamery. Some products can be ordered online.
---The Rogue Creamery, www.roguecreamery.com. Everyone said they were crazy to start a cheese making facility in a small town in southern Oregon, but the last laugh belongs to David and Cary, the President and CEO here, who have done very well for themselves. Rogue first became known for blue cheeses, but these days they also make a range of flavored Cheddars and cheese curds. You can find their products in a good number of supermarkets and boutiques, especially in the western US, but their store is a great place for a foodie. It isn’t large, but it’s absolutely jam-packed with everything from buffalo hot dogs to locally-roasted coffee to pasta sauce (including, of course, their cheeses). Better still, all of the food items have been carefully and thoughtfully chosen. The store is located at 311 North Front Street in Central Point, practically next door to the chocolates of Lillie Belle Farms (a wine tasting room and an as-yet-unopened coffee shop are in between). Full disclosure: I know both the President and the CEO here. Some online ordering available.
---Gary West Meats, www.garywest.com.
Aside from their multiple varieties of smoked meats (including several different kinds of jerky, such as Buffalo, Elk, and Certified Angus Beef), this store is another of the area’s foodie mini-paradises. Wines, cheeses (most locally produced), chocolates, condiments, salsa, cookies, preserves, syrups…well, let’s just say I went in for one package of the Silver Fork Natural Steak Strips and came out with many more items. If you see a basket of individually wrapped caramels, ask if they’re Sarah Jo’s (I’m not sure about that spelling). If they are, grab a few; they’re more than worth the calories. The shop is located at 690 North 5th Street in Jacksonville. Some online ordering available.
FARMERS’ MARKETS: Weekly Farmers’ Markets are held in Medford, Ashland, and Grants Pass; some smaller communities have their own versions, or are starting them up. Medford, Ashland, and Grants Pass share some vendors, but there are often vendors unique to each market, as well. Not all vendors show up absolutely every week, which can be confusing, but most are around most of the time. Ashland and Grants Pass have additional, summertime-only Farmers Markets on other days of the week.
Medford: The Farmer’s Market here is held in the parking lot of the Medford National Guard Armory on Thursdays, 8:30 am to 1:30 pm, mid-March to mid-November. Look for Kurth Family Farms Free Range eggs here, also Berry Berry Good Produce and Pennington Farms (the latter two offer fruit preserves so good I like to give them as gifts). You can find everything from pastries to freshly-made tamales to perfectly ripe tomatoes at this market.
Ashland: Held in the parking lot of the Ashland National Guard Armory on Tuesdays, 8:30 am to 1:30 pm, mid-March to mid-November. Look for Rogue Valley Brambles (northern CA olive oil and Oregon pastured eggs), Horse Creek biodynamic microgreens, Bickle Pig Farm (go for the pulled pork sandwich!), and many others.
Grants Pass: Held Saturday mornings, 9 am to 1 pm, at 4th and F streets, behind the Post Office, March to November. You’ll find Blackwood Farms (llama loam and wool), Lawrence Farms (nut butters and produce), Busy Bees Bakery (made-to-order omelets and quesadillas), and much more.
COFFEE: If you haven’t been to Oregon, you might not know about the coffee “drive-thru”. These small huts are everywhere, in parking lots or just on patches of otherwise empty land. Usually staffed by a young lady or two, they offer coffee and fancier coffee-based drinks. Most also sell hot chocolate, lemonade, fruit smoothies, etc. It’s very common to see lines several cars deep on either side of these huts in the mornings, as people pick up coffees on their way to work. The biggest name is Dutch Brothers, but they have many competitors. There are also innumerable coffee houses.
---The Organic Grind Espresso Drive-Thru. No website. In the community of Talent, located at exit 21 of I-5, near the Wal-Mart. All coffee used here is Fair Trade™ and organically grown. The fruit smoothies are disappointing, but the Double Chocolate Mocha is excellent.
---The Human Bean Drive Thru, http://thehumanbeandrivethru.com. This is a multiple-state chain. They work under a program they call “Farm Friendly Direct”, which “promotes conservation and sustainable coffee growing practices”. Go for the Granita (frozen, blended espresso) and get some chocolate syrup added.
---Key of C Coffee House. No website. 116 Lithia Way, Ashland, OR, (541) 488-5012. A tiny, low-key, friendly place, with handmade bagels. They make a decent chocolate chip macaroon and a very good blueberry-orange zest cake.
WINERIES AND VINEYARDS: I have to admit I don’t drink alcohol, which means I can’t give you an opinion on any of these wines. But even if you are similarly restricted, many of these wineries and vineyards are fun to visit. For starters, most are located in beautiful settings (special events, such as wedding receptions, are often held at these wineries). The people are invariably welcoming. And many of the wineries feature specialty foods to go with their wines. A useful website for beginning your winery search is www.southernoregon.com/wineries/index.html. There’s also the Southern Oregon Winery Association (SORWA) at www.sorwa.org, but their website is a work in progress. I can give you information on three of the wineries I particularly liked. No matter what you see in a printed brochure, make sure you call the winery before you go to double-check that they’re open! Wineries frequently have tastings, concerts, or other events during the summer and early fall, and they can get crowded on the weekends.
---Paschal Winery & Vineyard, www.paschalwinery.com.
I decided to follow the sign to this winery on a whim. I’m notorious for getting lost, but the signs were frequent and clear enough that even I couldn’t manage that. A pretty setting, and an open, airy tasting room. The most remarkable discovery I made at Paschal was an imported apricot sipping vinegar, from Doktorenhof. It’s quite expensive, but, I think, worth it.
---RoxyAnn Winery, www.roxyann.com. RoxyAnn practices sustainable vineyard management, which earns them my respect. But beyond that, their facility is in a lovely locale, and their tasting room is at once congenial and sophisticated. In addition to wines, they offer pates, cheeses, breads, chocolates, and preserves, so you won’t go away hungry.
---Rising Sun Farms, www.risingsunfarms.com. Sure, Rising Sun is a winery with a pleasant tasting room, but they offer more than just alcohol. Make sure you try their cheese tortas (effectively, these are cheesecakes, in both sweet and savory flavors; the Chocolate Mocha is quite good). If you’d like a smaller version of a torta, Rising Sun also makes miniature tortas, called tortettes. In addition, you’ll find pesto (in six flavors), flavored cream cheeses (DipNSpreads), a plum-ginger teriyaki sauce from Southern Oregon Sauce & Spice, Red Wing mustards, and more. They’re always sampling something interesting when I show up.
RESTAURANTS: I never get to eat out often enough when I’m in southern Oregon, but I did visit two places (both in Medford) I want to tell you about, as well as a “gourmet marketplace” in Ashland . Note that I wasn’t allowed to pay for my food at either Medford establishment (thanks again, Sue).
---38 on Central, www.38oncentral.com. 38 North Central Ave. , Medford, (541) 776-0038. This restaurant likes to bill itself as home to “the fine art of casual dining”, but to me the atmosphere seems distinctly upscale, though not stuffy. An open, airy feeling results from the use of wood and exposed brick (a second story doesn’t hurt, either). This would be a fine place to take a date, but while there I also saw a single diner reading a book while eating and looking perfectly at home. The double mustard vinaigrette on the Farmers’ Market Chopped Salad had a piquancy that rendered this dish more interesting than many others of this ilk. A Quesadilla with Duck Carnitas (and smoked Fontina) benefited greatly from the addition of a house-made plum barbecue sauce, which provided a lot of sparkle. But the evening’s clear winner was “All Grown Up” Macaroni & Cheese. With excellent Fiscalini Farms Cheddar, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Dijon mustard, and hardwood smoked bacon, I couldn’t stop eating it. If you sneer at the idea of mac and cheese being served in a real restaurant, or if your idea of this classic involves a blue box and a lengthy list of artificial ingredients, this is one mac and cheese you need to try.
---Elements Tapas Bar & Lounge, www.elementsmedford.com. 101 East Main St. (corner of Front and Main), Medford, (541) 779-0135.
Tapas are about sharing food with friends and family, and Elements encourages you to do just that. It’s cozy and comfortable. There are both smaller plates and larger dishes; you can get a cup of the sopa del dia (soup of the day), a ceviche shooter, or Mussels au Gratin for a lesser portion, but then again the paellas are designed for two or more. You must try the Cinnamon Cherry Duck if it’s available. This is a pan-seared duck breast (served medium rare so that it isn’t overdone) with a cherry-thyme-port gastrique and braised greens. The gastrique is a flavorful, sticky syrup with the aforementioned cherries, and it complements the duck perfectly. The greens add just a hint of bitterness and cut through the richness of the dish. A lot of items are made in-house here, such as the gravlax and pancetta, and there’s constant experimentation; when I was in, they were smoking salt over pear wood to see what would result. Chris, the owner, is an out-and-out foodie, who wants to be as true as possible to the gastronomic history of Spain but with a focus on the bounty of southern Oregon. Who could ask for more?
---Allyson’s Kitchen, www.allysonskitchen.com. 115 East Main St., Ashland, (541) 482-2884. I’m not sure this qualifies as a restaurant, but you’ll find cookware, cookbooks, wine and beer, “Gourmet to Go” favorites like lasagna and chicken pot pie, and a nifty little counter where they’ll prepare a sandwich or one of their panini just the way you like it.
---Turtle’s Beejie Hut. No website. 46 E. Main Street in Ashland, next to Red’s Threads. This place is hard to spot; look for the hanging “Organic Kettle Corn” sign. Organic kettle corn (sweet as well as salty), organic buttered popcorn, organic frozen treats (fruit bars and yogurt bars). Bottled water and soft drinks, too. A great place to stop for a snack and/or drink while you’re strolling around Ashland.
---True Leaf Microgreens/OneLeaf Microgreens, No website. If you’re wondering what microgreens might be, they’re simply very young greens, at an intermediate stage between sprouts and baby greens. Although some people grow microgreens hydroponically, this business grows them in soil, believing that trace nutrients in the soil find their way into the greens. Note that the business is in owner transition as of this writing, hence the two names (OneLeaf is the new name). If you find greens boring, you haven’t tried these. They’re multi-colored, thanks to the use of many types of plants, and they are anything but flavorless. Microgreens are often used as a garnish, but take it from me; they’re ideal as salad greens. Some higher-end restaurants in southern Oregon use these microgreens, but you can buy them for your table at the Ashland Food Co-op (they may also be available at Ashland’s Market of Choice). You won’t find fresher greens unless you grow them yourself.
---Farmers’ Market. No website. 4480 South Pacific Highway, Phoenix, (541) 535-1322. Contrary to the name, this isn’t a Farmers’ Market. It is a market, though, and they generally have a very nice selection of produce on display. In fact, their other offerings tend to play second fiddle to the produce. Worth stopping by if you’re in the general vicinity.
WHERE TO STAY: If you’ll be in the area for some time, I can recommend the TownePlace Suites, 1395 Center Drive, in Medford (www.marriott.com/towneplace-suites/travel.mi). The one-bedroom suites are comfortable and include a kitchen with a full-size fridge, a microwave, a dishwasher, and an oven/stovetop. The hotel also has a fitness room and laundry facilities, and it offers a nice continental breakfast in the mornings. For shorter stays, there’s a SpringHill Suites just across the way (those suites include a microwave and a minifridge).