There always seems to be one tavern in every town that's the favorite of the locals, has great "tavern food," where you're comfortable as an old shoe and you're sure to find not only your favorite micro-brew, but your favorite friends waiting for you.

There always seems to be one tavern in every town that's the favorite of the locals, has great "tavern food," where you're comfortable as an old shoe and you're sure to find not only your favorite micro-brew, but your favorite friends waiting for you.

In Ashland it's that tavern with the deck, on the creek, on Water Street under the overpass, the one that's gone through a lot of name changes in the past several years and is now known as the Caldera Tap House (erase these old names from your head: Siskiyou and Rogue brew pub).

It used to be a brewpub but that came to an end with the New Year's Day Flood of 1997. Now it's the outlet of Caldera Brewing Co., which brews its tasty ales and lagers near the south Ashland interchange and serves them up in pints at this creekside setting.

Caldera's menu is exactly what you want to see at your favorite, relaxed pub — burgers, salads and sandwiches. The good, old-fashioned burger is great, as a burger should be. Smothered in onions and hot sauce, it cozies right into one hand, while the other grasps a pint, and somehow, you feel you're in the best place in the world.

Caldera, following in the footsteps of its predecessors at the site, has more than just burgers and beer. There are plenty of wines as well as the time-honored Asian burger, with vegetarian black bean and jasmine rice patty served with green cabbage, tomatoes and peanut sauce, at only $6.95.

The salmon burger is $8.95 and the mahi-mahi burger and blue cheese burger are $9.95 and all come with a side of fries. There's a simple green salad or Caprese salad, full of mozzarella, heirloom tomatoes, basil, and spinach with a balsamic reduction.

Sandwiches include the club, with chicken, bacon and blue cheese, the "Under the Bridge," with salami, chevre, spinach and tomatoes on sourdough, the Porter Porker, with (what else?) porter pulled pork and the basic grilled cheese.

Among its snacks are chicken satay, "Black and Blues," (baguettes with toasted blue cheese), almonds and grapes, hummus with roasted garlic and red peppers; spicy hot wings, tostada, nachos (big pile), fries and garlic bread.

Caldera is most proud of its beers, of course, and, year around, offers pilsner, pale ale, IPA, dry hop orange, Ashland Amber and Pilot Rock Porter. Seasonal brews include Helles Lager, Lawnmower Lager, Ginger Beer, Cauldron Brew, Oatmeal Stout and Old Growth Imperial Stout.

Caldera offers a sample tray for $6, quart jars to go — or bring your own pint for filling at 17 cents an ounce. They have six-packs and kegs, too, along with lots of other beers.

We enjoyed the satisfying mahi-mahi burger and a thick, yummy porter along with a rose petal imperial golden ale, a definitely acquired taste that seemed to be favored by the female side of the table.

Caldera owner Jim Mills confesses he always wanted to own "the pub by the creek" and to have a well-located outlet for his tasty brews. He calls it "old school meets fusion," which means new alternative foods, such as Black and Blues, side by side with standards like garlic bread and nachos.

"I used to work here when it was the Rogue and Siskiyou brew pubs," he says, "and I always wanted to own the place. It's a perfect place. And now it's come full circle.

"People say it's casual and comfortable and has a good quality staff. It's not pretentious. Both locals and tourists like it. You see all classes of folks talking, like a real estate broker talking with a traveling hippie. It's always been that way."

— John Darling