Ashland, Oregon: The finest in foraging

First Published in California Fly Fisher Magazine, June 2010

There was a time when a campground with running water and flush toilets on a fishing trip represented the lap of luxury to me.  Toss in a stove to heat the beans and hot running water, and dare I say, a luke warm shower and life seemed downright decadent.  As my luck in life improved I’d even occasionally splurge on a burger and a beer.

I still prefer camping to hotels on extended fly fishing road trips, but as I’ve aged a weekend escape where fly fishing is just a part of the experience has become an occasional indulgence, particularly if the trip is with my favorite fishing partner and wife,  Jerri.   I know of no better place than Ashland, Oregon to experience the finer things while enjoying a fly fishing getaway.

Ashland has it all, fine food and wine, charming lodging and world class entertainment.  Ashland is home to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the largest repertory theater in the country with over 780 performances a year. Plays for the 2010 season include Hamlet, Twelfth Night, Henry IV, The Merchant of Venice, Pride and Prejudice and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.  If live music better suits your tastes, the Britt Festival provides an opportunity to enjoy intimate performances from some incredible artists.  The Britt is just a short drive over the hill from Ashland, in Jacksonville.  Featured artists this season include Steve Martin, Bela Fleck, Pink Martini, Jewel, Taj Mahal, Barenaked Ladies, STYX, Garrison Keillor and our pic for this year, Jackson Browne with David Lindley.

We often stay in one of the numerous bed and breakfasts in Ashland before or after a show and of course take advantage of the dining available at one of the many fine establishments available just a short walk from the theaters.  We’ve also enjoyed elegant lodging at the Plaza Inn & Suites as well as the Historic Ashland Springs Hotel.  There are over 100 dining options in Ashland, far too extensive to catalog here. I’ll review a few of our favorites beginning with the least pretentious and concluding with the most urbane.

Ashland Food Co-op

The Ashland Food Co-op is a supermarket with an incredible deli featuring fabulous baked goods, delicious hot breakfast choices, fresh fruit, deli sandwiches and wraps, and our favorite, the deli hot bar and salad bar. The deli and salad bars are self-serve and everything is priced at $7.95 per pound, so we’ll just mix and match items for a complete picnic lunch. We’ll grab a bakery item, an espresso drink made to order and perhaps something chocolate for dessert before we head out for the day to play.  Wine and beer are available for off sight consumption.

237 North First Steeet, 541-482-2237. www.ashlandfood.coop Deli Hours: 7am to 8pm, 7 days a week.

Tabu

Tabu is my wife’s favorite restaurant in Ashland because it is so fun and festive.  They feature Nuevo Latino cuisine and a Martini bar. Their service is always exceptionally friendly and attentive.  We’ve enjoyed most everything on the menu we’ve sampled but my wife insists you try the Ceviche and Polenta Fries which are different and delightful.  Friday evenings feature live local musicians while Saturday nights are reserved for Salsa Dancing with free lessons from 9:45 until 10:30.

Lunch & Latenight: $2 Taco – $11 Entrée, Dinner: Tapas $4 – $16,  Sopa y Ensalada $6 – $8, Platos $12 – $18,  Desserts $5 – $8.  Full bar.

76 North Pioneer, 541-482-3900 www.taburestaurant.com Hours: Every day 11:30 to 9pm.  Salsa Dancing Saturday night starting 9:30pm, live entertainment Fridays.

Thai Pepper

My wife Jerri and I have enjoyed dining at Thai Pepper for nearly twenty years now and have visited them as frequently as most other restaurants in Ashland combined.  We are particularly fond of the setting, a garden patio with Lithia Creek gurgling past. Our typical order begins with an appetizer and cucumber salad, followed by two or three entrees which we share.  They have excellent wine offerings and we’ll select a Sauvignon Blanc or on special occasions Champagne, to compliment our meal.  It is always a challenge to choose dishes as we have so many favorites on their menu.  The appetizers we most enjoy include their light and crispy spring rolls but the Thai Lime Beef Salad with Mango Chutney is unbelievable so sometimes we’ll each order one to enjoy on our own.  I usually select a curry (no easy task), while Jerri opts for a fish dish or one of their Tiger Prawn specialties. Thai Pepper is located just a short walk from the theater and their impeccable service makes them the perfect choice for a meal prior to a show with no worries of missing the bell.

Lunch $6 – $10, Appetizers, Soups & Salads:  $5 – $11, Curries $13 – $17, Entrees:  $13 – $17.  Extensive wine selection, full bar.

84 North Main Street, 541-482-8058.  www.thaipepperkobe.com Hours:  Lunch: Wednesday-Saturday 11:30 to 2 pm, Dinner: Monday-Saturday 5-9:30 pm.  Reservations recommended.

Lela’s Café

For a special occasion or just to splurge we’ll make reservations at Lela’s. A small quiet bistro a few blocks from the bustle of downtown provides the perfect setting for dishes that are not only delicious but tastefully presented.  The service is all you might expect and more, on every occasion recommended wine parings have both surprised and pleased.  Since the plan is to feast we’ll start with an appetizer, perhaps the Wild Pacific Salmon Lox Bruschettas, followed by Soup Du Jour, and a salad, their Lemon Caesar is sensational.  Our favorite entrees include Tuscan Eggplant Napoleon, Duck Confit and Braised Lamb.  Jerri will almost always order a fish special when it is available in season.

Appetizers & Salads $7 – $12, Pizzas, $12 – $14, Entrees $19 – $29. Extensive wine selection.

258 A Street, #3 541-482-1702 www.lelascafe.com Hours: Tuesday – Saturday, Lunch: 11:30 – 2pm, Dinner: 5:30 – 8:30 pm. Reservations recommended.

Larks Restaurant at the Ashland Springs Hotel

On occasions we have dined at Larks it has always been a part of a package stay at the historic Ashland Springs Hotel in the center of downtown Ashland.  The hotel has been beautifully renovated and is an historic landmark. The packages most often include a $30 dinner voucher at Larks, which serves as their in house restaurant. The voucher represents an exceptional value, and is ideal for couples on a getaway.  Lark’s offers seasonal specials and they feature fresh organic local produce, Oregon wines and a full bar including specialty drinks. We will most always start wth the Dungeness Crab Fondue appetizer and then I’ll order either the Pan-Seared Muscovy Duck Breast or something from the grill while Jerri will opt for grilled fish or on cold evenings, their Homestyle Meatloaf with Gold Potatoes and Gravy.SAA

Brunch $8 -$14, Lunch $8 – $14.  Appetizer and Salads $8 – $15, Suppers $20 -$36, Desserts $7 – $ 8.50.

212 East Main Street, 541-488-5558 www.larksrestaurant.com Hours: Brunch Saturday & Sunday 11 am to 2 pm, Lunch Monday – Friday 11:30 – 2pm, Supper:  Sunday – Thursday 5:30 – 8 pm, Friday & Saturday 5:30 – 9pm.

All of the restaurants reviewed are located in downtown Ashland which offers great window shopping with fun and friendly boutiques and specialty shops.  All of the restaurants are also within convenient walking distance of the Shakespeare Theater. Jacksonville, the home of the Britt Festival also has some downtown boutiques along with some nearby winery tours. There is also a small ski resort south of Ashaldn to round out your visit or an option if the local winter Steelhead fishing isn’t the perfect choice for your entire party.

A Foraging piece would not be complete without mention of the fishing.  Not only does Ashland have outstanding amenities but it provides an exceptional base for fine fishing.  In this issue there is an article on fly fishing in spring on the Klamath River just twenty minutes south of Ashland.  The Klamath also offers perhaps the best Steelhead fishing in the state with California’s strongest remaining runs of fall and winter Steelhead (see CAFF April 2010 for an article on Klamath River winter Steelhead).

Just minutes north and east of Ashland is it’s signature river the Rogue, rightfully famous for it’s fall and winter Steelhead fishing along with the Applegate, a tributary to the Rogue offering phenomenal winter walk and wade Steelhead opportunities nearby in Jacksonville.  The best access on the Rogue is by boat but there are some wading options during average and lower flows as well.  Check with the friendly owner of the downtown Ashland Flyshop, Will Johnson for details.  Please tell him we sent you.  He’ll probably even be able to direct you to a nearby campground should you so desire!

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