On a recent summer afternoon, it was a busy scene outside the Ashland Food Co-op, where the lunch menu is the biggest draw.
Inside it was so crowded at the certified organic Food Co-op (ashlandfood.coop), a grocery store and popular restaurant that reopened its lunch deli in July after a major renovation, that it was hard to enter
. “We have a charisma, a magnetic field that pulls people down to the vortex that is the Food Co-op at lunchtime,” Annie Hoy, communications manager, said. She encouraged out-of-town visitors to try the new carnitas tacos ($2.50) and Paleo bowl ($7.99) at the co-op’s deli.
In this last year and a half, at least 10 food spots have opened or undergone renovations in Ashland, a southern Oregon town of just 20,000, boosting its reputation as an emerging culinary destination.
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Nearly half of these restaurants are focusing on lunch. The new lunch craze is a hyper-local healthful food trend that allows both budget travelers and well-heeled tourists to enjoy the produce and artisanal products this region has to offer. At least 300,000 visitors come to Ashland each year for the 10-month-long Oregon Shakespeare Festival (which ends on Nov. 2), outdoor recreation like white-water rafting, hiking and mountain biking, and the wineries.
The Lunch Show (thelunchshowashland.com) opened in downtown Ashland in April. The goal is to “keep it simple and make everything from scratch, because that’s what people want,” said Elisa Boulton, owner and manager, who trained at the Cordon Bleu in Paris.
The Lunch Show is a foodie favorite, with a high-end menu of dishes like house-cured ham with sautéed pears, pickled onions and cheddar ($8.50) and organic greens with pickled beets, Oregon blue cheese, shaved onion, baby tomatoes and buttermilk dressing ($8) that changes daily based on what is seasonally available.
At Sammich(sammichashland.com), even the soft drinks — turmeric, birch beer and bee pollen (Wylie’s Honey Sodas), and sauerkraut (Pickled Planet) — are made within biking distance of Ashland. It’s a noisy Chicago-style sandwich place with picnic tables in the back, run by the owner, Melissa McMillan. But beware what you ask for. Expect the slow-roasted Chicago Italian beef sandwich ($10) to be wet and the pastrami hot, with crunchy slaw inside ($12).
“The No. 1 reason why people come here?” McMillan said. “We roast our beef every day, we roast our turkey every day, poach the tuna, make our own bacon, we smoke our pastrami on site, which takes six days to make. We’re doing Old World food with no shortcuts. It’s a real-deal city deli.”
Another lunchtime addition appealing to outdoor enthusiasts and healthy eaters is NW Raw (nwraw.com). It serves elaborate salads with names like “east,” “south” and “west”; organic juices; cucumber smoothies; kombucha (a fermented black tea drink containing live bacteria and fungi); kale chips; and vegan cheesecake made with house-sprouted raw nuts. The locally sourced organic menu appeals to outdoorsy tourists and locals alike, said the general manager, Trevor Downing. “You can totally gorge on our stuff and then go run up in the mountains and feel great,” he said.