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Fresh approach

In three little words, the sign out front says so much about The Station's bill of fare: "Quality, fresh cuisine."

Owner and chef Terry Fimbres thought classic dishes prepared in the style of decades past would appeal to Rogue River's older residents. But the Southern California native couldn't resist transplanting her favorite dishes north of the border.

Her menu contrasts the all-American pot roast, Salisbury steak, club sandwich and tuna, egg and Waldorf salads with Mexico's taco, taquito, tostada, burrito, quesadilla and chili relleno. Mingling teriyaki and wontons with California cuisine's essential Chinese chicken salad, The Station has a dish for almost any palate and, increasingly, any diet.

"My approach is fresh," says Fimbres, 57. "It's all about sneaking healthy food into people."

A former vegetarian and employee of Harmony Natural Foods in Rogue River, Fimbres didn't want to convert customers to her way of eating. But since she installed The Station 16 years ago in an erstwhile antiques store, patrons' preferences gradually aligned with the way Fimbres wanted to cook.

"More people are coming around," she says. "Everybody in the town would know how we've struggled."

Because the old house that Fimbres rented for her restaurant lacked a kitchen, she took "everything" from her home, including an electric, four-burner range with only three working elements. A good Samaritan left a food processor on her doorstep. An artist painted her sign free of charge, and a builder did some remodeling in trade.

Buoyed by generosity, Fimbres then confronted the misconception that her business — christened "Soup Station" — operated as a charity. Whereas she thought the name spoke well of her soup, it had a way of discouraging clientele.

"I realized, boy, that limited me," says Fimbres.

The restaurateur limited The Station's hours to lunchtime after dinner failed to draw enough business. Once lunch really took off, Fimbres reinstated dinner, along with steaks, seafood and other entrees served with soup or salad, potatoes and vegetables for $14 to $22. Fimbres remains the primary cook, with 25-year-old niece, Shannon Ford, as sous chef.

"I cook everything that moment," says Fimbres. "People have to be patient here."

There's a disclaimer on the menu to that effect, for which Fimbres makes no apologies. It's her from-scratch approach that allows adjustments to just about any dish for dietary requirements, be they vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free or raw.

"My focus is salads," says Fimbres, explaining that even her basic side salad is anything but with toppings of cheese, soy "bacon" bits, raw cashews and honey-roasted seeds accented by one of a dozen house-made dressings.

Vegetarian dishes are prominently featured, from Fimbres' vegetable-stuffed sandwich and portobello mushroom and black-bean burgers to the towering tostada or plump chili relleno. Customers "go crazy" for her Mexican food, says Fimbres, because it's "clean and not greasy."

Frying does factor into several dishes, but Fimbres says she uses individual pans — instead of a deep-fryer — and fresh oil every time. The method ensures that flavors don't mingle in the oil between orders or leave behind trace bits of food that could render a dish unsuitable for strict vegetarians or gluten-free diners.

Fimbres stocks her "expansive pantry" with numerous substitutions for mainstream ingredients, including gluten-free soy sauce, breads and buns, as well as potato flour and cornmeal for breading. Behind the kitchen, Fimbres grows a bounty of herbs and a seasonal garden of summer squash, Armenian cucumbers and tomatoes.

Over the years, Fimbres cultivated just about every vegetable for the restaurant, with enough surplus for her children to sell on the front porch. But as The Station got busier, she's relied more on local farms, such as Rogue River's Runnymede, which supplies several area restaurants. The Station, however, is the only Rogue Valley restaurant that seasonally serves an entire platter of award-winning Pholia Farm cheeses, produced at an off-the-grid goat dairy in nearby Evans Valley.

"This valley is incredible for the food production," says Fimbres. "I'd like to be their showcase for it."

The Station purchased more of her handmade cheeses last summer than any local retailer, says Pholia co-owner Gianaclis Caldwell, adding that she often recommends the restaurant to tourists and locals, alike.

"(We're) just so fortunate to have a place like that in a little town like Rogue River," says Caldwell. "I think it's a gem of a place."

With a website and online reviews convincing more visitors to stop at The Station, the debut of dinner theater last summer billed the restaurant as a destination. Fimbres says she plans to host local theater troupe Exit 48 again this year, along with more live music in The Station's spacious backyard, which can seat about 50 people. Her venue, notes Fimbres, is a family-oriented atmosphere for entertainment.

Epitomizing a family business, The Station has employed by turns Fimbres' husband, daughter, three sons, nephew and three nieces who worked for "little or no pay." Their reward, Fimbres figures, is the ability to cook foods that have nourished relatives, friends, neighbors and travelers in this small town.

"My legacy will live."

The Station's specialty vegetarian sandwich is stuffed with avocado, sharp cheddar, cucumber, red onion, soy bacon bits, tomato and sprouts on wheat bread. Julia Moore photo - Julia Moore