The food court at the mall isn't necessarily the first place people go for fresh local meals, but Basil & Berries brought that option to the Rogue Valley Mall this spring.
In the former Extreme Fresh location, Basil & Berries serves salads, sandwiches, wraps, rice bowls and smoothies, many featuring local produce.
Basil & Berries also focuses on supporting local farmers and specialty food producers, while working to eliminate childhood hunger. The restaurant was developed by Gilded Rogue Enterprises, a B corporation that has social responsibility and community involvement written into its bylaws.
Most Basil & Berries menu items are priced from $6.99 to $8.99 and from each regular entree sold, the restaurant donates 24 cents to ACCESS to provide a meal for a child. ACCESS calculates it can buy a child's meal for that amount, thanks to grants and other resources.
In its first quarter of operation, the restaurant raised $1,310.64 for ACCESS, said Ariel Pavlak, the restaurant's general manager, who was set to present a check to the nonprofit this week at a Medford/Jackson County Chamber event.
"Beyond being socially conscious, it's the fresh, healthy food that really draws a crowd," Pavlak said.
A portion of mall diners will always be there for the guilty pleasure of cheap Chinese noodles and egg rolls, pizza by the slice, pretzels and frozen yogurt, but if you're looking for a healthier alternative, Basil & Berries is a good one.
I zeroed in on the menu's signature dishes — a handful of specialty sandwiches, salads and wraps — and picked a Caprese wrap for $7.99. It started with the choice of a spinach or garlic wrap; I went with spinach. The tortilla was wrapped around a nice mix of greens and a chunks of fresh mozzarella and diced tomato, bathed in a mild, creamy pesto-accented dressing. While I wished the tomatoes were a little riper and more flavorful (August generally brings the best tomatoes of the year), the wrap was tasty and filling.
Diners can add a side dish — coleslaw, applesauce, a fruit cup or carrots and hummus — for $3. While I didn't know it on my first visit, the housemade hummus comes highly recommended.
The summer heat dictated that instead of a side, I needed a smoothie and one featuring basil and berries seemed like a perfect test of this restaurant. Lemon juice, a splash of basil syrup and frozen strawberries blended up into a cool and delicious treat. I wished the herbal notes from the basil could have been even more pronounced. The small smoothie costs $4.75 for 9 ounces, a just-right size for me. Medium and large cost $6.75 and $7.75 respectively.
While this is significantly more costly than Orange Julius right next door, the freshness and flavor is superior. I'm willing to pay a little more for a top quality treat.
If you want to eat well and do good at the same time while you're at the mall, Basil & Berries might be worth a visit.
It's open 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday inside the Rogue Valley Mall, 1600 N. Riverside Ave., Medford. See www.basilberries.com.
— Anita Burke