Roughly a year after expanding its downtown Medford location, Bricktowne Barrel House returned to remodeling mode, this time working behind the scenes.

Roughly a year after expanding its downtown Medford location, Bricktowne Barrel House returned to remodeling mode, this time working behind the scenes.

In November, the brewery and restaurant at 44 S. Central Ave. upgraded its small kitchen, adding a big grill, fryer and hood.

Cook Hilary Dempsey has put the new equipment to work, churning out burgers, hand-cut fries, wings and other things that go so well with fresh, local beer. New dishes show up as specials first, then work their way onto a growing menu.

While I've heard good things about the beer-battered fish and chips and the super-size wings bathed in Thai peanut or honey chipotle sauce, the parade of burgers leaving the kitchen caught my eye.

The Central burger, topped with caramelized onions, blue cheese, lettuce and tomato, sounded like the perfect combination for $9.95. Indeed, the toppings were rich and savory and the handmade beef patty was cooked just the way I ordered it. I enjoyed the lightly battered fries on the side, although soup, salad or tater tots are all fine options, too.

It was all delicious enough to get me thinking about returning to gradually work my way through the rest of that burger parade: the Bricktowne Burger with mushrooms and onions, a basic burger, a Hella Gouda special with smoked Gouda, bacon, mushrooms and onions.

My husband opted for an old favorite — the Red Brick Reuben — which features Dempsey's barrel-aged red cabbage sauerkraut. The kraut adds tang to the tender pastrami, melted Swiss and caraway-studded rye bread, which all come together to make a top-notch sandwich priced at $9.95. He also praised the pickle spear for bringing a better-than-average snap and flavor to an accompaniment that tastes like an afterthought at so many places.

On the side, he selected Bricktowne's Louisiana beer cheese soup. I believe every brewpub should serve a beer cheese soup, and this is an admirable version. A generous addition of Cajun sausage brings smoke and spice, along with a meaty heft, to the sumptuously creamy soup.

The bar food here just keeps getting better, and the beers are always good.

Bricktowne's menu isn't the only place customers can turn for food to pair with their beer, though.

The barrel house opens its doors to diners who have grabbed any of the decadent hot dog creations from Victory Dogs across the street. Bring over a decked-out dog and get happy-hour pricing on pints ($4 for most) anytime.

Victory Dogs' owner Charles Reeder grew up in the area and cooked in Rogue Valley restaurants for 15 years, dreaming of having his own place. He set up his stand stacking more meat on basic street-food hot dogs in the summer of 2012 and quickly attracted a loyal following for his bacon dog, pastrami dog and other innovative toppings.

He takes obvious joy in preparing simple food in a way that will put a smile on meat-lovers' faces.

"I don't consider myself a great cook," he says. "It's just the way I combine ingredients into a unique thing."

I started with the simplest of Reeder's roughly 30 hot dogs — the bacon dog for $3 — dressed up with a little spicy brown mustard and onions. The premium beef dog is split and griddled with a strip of bacon for crunch and flavor, then loaded on a bulky bun that is tender, but sturdy enough to hold up to the onslaught of flavorful additions that Victory Dogs is known for.

My husband tried the pizza dog, loaded with pepperoni, sausage, mozzarella, pepperoncinis, olives, onions, mushrooms, marinara and just a hint of ranch dressing for a true Medford pizzeria experience for just $5. It really tasted like having a combo slice at the ball park.

Piling familiar flavors — pizza, Italian sub, meatball sandwich, a Philly cheesesteak, pulled pork, teriyaki or a Reuben — on a hot dog might seem like an incongruous innovation, but the combinations tickle your tastebuds and trigger every pleasure center in the brain that can be hit by fat or salt. Reeder promises his stand is the perfect place to cheat on your diet, and when it comes to processed meat, he is a man to trust.

Victory Dogs, at the corner of Eighth Street and Central Avenue, is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday, unless the wind plays havoc with the stand's canopy. Call 541-414-3346.

Bricktowne is open from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from noon to 6 p.m. Sunday. Call 541-973-2377.

— Anita Burke