You won't find a meat-lover's pizza at Mystic Treats in Talent. Instead, less conventional ingredients, including an abundance of vegetables, fruits and spices, set the restaurant apart from the area's other, innovative pizzerias.
"It's as healthy as pizza can be," says co-owner Michael Lowe.
"We have broccoli and cauliflower and everything," says his wife, Erika Lowe.
"You have to tell (customers) they're all vegetarian," he adds.
Two exceptions to the vegetarian philosophy are house-smoked salmon and Dungeness crab.
Salmon has been on the menu since Mystic Treats opened in November 2011 on North Pacific Highway. Their "Hawaiian" pizza boasts wild Pacific salmon, house-smoked over apple and alder woods; the sundried-tomato-pesto pizza with salmon has smoked Gouda.
"We've been smoking salmon and putting it on pizza for years," says Erika, explaining it's a mainstream method on Oregon's central coast, where the couple previously lived.
Two coastal commodities — Dungeness crab and cranberries — mingle with artichoke hearts and horseradish for one of Mystic Treats' newest pies, rolled out this fall with seven others, including barbecue, sweet-and-sour, curry-spiced, potato and the "spaghetti pie."
"They're all completely unique," says Erika, adding that eight house-made sauces contribute to the singular flavors.
Fig puree anchors the Southern Oregon pizza, appropriately topped with sliced pears, blue cheese and hazelnuts. The Lowes say they created it after learning about the significance of pears to the region.
"West Coast" pizzas like these, the Lowes say, rely on fresh produce. Much of theirs comes from the nearby Farmers Market in Phoenix, and most is organic. Their most popular pizza — the Mediterranean-style Zorba — predictably features spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, olives and feta. But other pizzas are topped with corn, black beans, eggplant, baby carrots and mandarin oranges.
Three of Mystic Treats' 20 pizzas highlight soy-based meat substitutes: "soysage," "soyrizo" and "chik'n." And any pizza can be ordered with Daiya, a vegan "cheese" replacement free of dairy, casein, soy and nuts.
Gluten-free crust is available for 8-inch pizzas. The couple say they hadn't planned to bake gluten-free pizzas, but diners started requesting gluten-free pies as soon as the Lowes moved to Ashland in 2010.
"Every third person said "… 'You're going to have gluten-free options, right?' " says Erika.
"The commercial crusts we found were all crackery," she says, so the couple set out to perfect their own.
After six months of "arguing with" different flours, the Lowes combined white rice, garbanzo and coconut in a ratio that met their standards. Containing a blend of herbs and spices, the dough rises twice, the last time in its deep-dish baking pan. But lest anyone dub it Chicago-style pizza, the Lowes quickly clarify that they're from Detroit, which has its own, distinct pizza tradition.
"Detroit is kind of in the middle," says Erika of debates over the merits of thick crust versus thin.
Another technique they learned in Detroit is finishing pizzas with infused olive oils. Flavored with garlic, basil, dill, cilantro and smoked paprika, each oil imparts a sheen of sophistication to other ingredients — even macaroni and cheese, a Wisconsin favorite, says Erika.
"The kids love the mac-and-cheese," says Michael, adding that most of his pizzas are too "weird" for young palates.
The 43-year-old learned the pizza trade in his early 20s in Portland, where his wife, now 39, worked as a pastry chef. During a "thoroughly unfulfilling," 15-year career in technology consulting, the Lowes nurtured their vision of a "quirky" culinary business.
Relocating to the Rogue Valley, Erika planned to operate a food-truck for baked goods, but after finding a reasonably priced restaurant space to rent, they added pizza to the mix.
Mystic Treats' pies cost between $6 for the 6-inch and $20 for the 18-inch.
"Pizza's the money-maker," she admits.
Hot dogs, priced from $2 to $4 apiece, joined pizza this summer as a "seasonal" specialty. Sold from an umbrella-topped cart in Mystic Treats' parking lot, the tofu dogs — prepared with toppings common in Chicago, New York and Detroit, as well as ballparks everywhere — were "wildly popular," says Erika.
"These are just the weird things that we missed as vegetarians."
Wintertime sees daily soup specials to complement the menu's four salads — Greek, Caesar, Asian and "Inn Season" — which come in three sizes from $3.50 to $9.50. The Greek, says Erika, is authentic, just like immigrant families prepare in Detroit.
Also the real deal, she says, is her New York-style cheesecake. Other popular desserts are creme brulee and chocolate truffles. At least one gluten-free dessert is available daily, and Mystic Treats is filling more and more special orders for whole cakes, particularly gluten-free and vegan, she says.
Sweet-toothed patrons can skip at least some measure of guilt with Mystic Treats' house-made sodas: cola, ginger ale, root beer, cream ale, orange, cherry and strawberry. To simple syrups of water and cane sugar, they add flavoring extracts. This concentrate, topped off with soda water, can be adjusted to customers' preference for sweetness because each is made to order, says Erika. There's even a stevia-sweetened "diet" version.
"It gives us complete control over the flavor," she says. "There are no other chemicals or preservatives.
"We literally make everything (here) except the beer."