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Wild River Brewing & Pizza Company

Ale might be the one thing that the Wild River Brewing & Pizza Co. does best.

Wild River has four establishments in Southern Oregon. The original brewing facility is in Cave Junction, and there are two restaurants in Grants Pass — one that houses a second brewery — and one in Medford.

The list of handcrafted brews on the menu offers nut brown, honey wheat, extra special bitter, double stout, hefeweizen and India pale ales, a pilsner and a Kolsch-style ale called "Harbor Lights" that is brewed from yeast from the Paffgen Brewery in Cologne, Germany.

The Kolsch-style, pilsner, nut brown and E.S.B. have collectively taken silver and bronze medals at the Great American Beer Festival, a national beer competition held annually in Denver.

Tasters of the beers are available, and I sampled the honey wheat, the nut brown and the Kolsch.

Interesting descriptions of the ales and the grains and ingredients used to make them are included on the menu — along with the percentage of alcohol content.

The honey wheat claimed a distinctively mild warming honey flavor with a full palate. After a taste of it, I'd say it was right on the mark.

The nut brown was my favorite, touting aromas of chocolate and roasted grain with a semi-sweet malty palate. Again, right on the mark.

The Kolsch was described as sweet and spicy with hoppy flavors and a dry finish. It was indeed, but my draft was a bit flat.

One or two seasonal ales also are available at Wild River, and the servers are happy to make suggestions.

Encouraged by the friendly wait staff and our great-tasting quaffs, my spousal equivalent and I set out to enjoy the fare at Wild River.

We ordered the Ploughman Platter ($7.20) to start. There it was at the top of the menu, along with the Sausage Boat and the Pub Fries, suggesting a hearty tray of assorted cold cuts, cheeses, fresh vegetable garnish, whole grain mustard and house baked bread. Fresh, it was, with a few thick, roughly cut sticks of carrot and celery, a small pile of shredded red cabbage, two olives and one pepperoncini. The rest of the platter included some pedestrian slices of ham, salami and cheese, and it was sans the mustard.

Okay, just a slight deviation from the menu. And our server did bring us some ranch dressing.

We moved on the pizzas and chose one of the restaurant's classics — a 10-inch European-style (hand-tossed) crust baked in a wood-fired oven, topped with barbecue chicken, cilantro pesto, red onions, mozzarella and smoked Gouda and drizzled with barbecue sauce ($11.20).

The pizza was flavorful enough, but the toppings were scant and dry. The menu had enticed us with its description of distinctive herbs, cheeses and ingredients, but the food just didn't measure up. Perhaps next time we'll try a more traditional pizza and opt for extra cheese.

The salads, soups, pastas, calzones and sandwiches also sound delicious, and there's burgers and fries to choose from.

Though no brewing is done at the Medford location, there seems to be plenty of space to do so. The restaurant is housed in a new building with high, vaulted ceilings, concrete floors and large windows.

There's plenty of room for family-sized gatherings or sports team parties, but overall the space is drafty and noisy. Part of the establishment is walled off to create a full-service bar that includes booths along the walls for dining. But there's nothing to rid the lounge of the same ambience. Street lights shining through bare windows and fluorescent light from the pendant lamps over the tables don't help.

Dessert was another disappointment. The blackberry cobbler, traditionally a hearty dessert with dumplings of soft pastry, turned out to be a dish of scalding hot jam topped with a small piece of hard crust. I found a piece of plastic in my spoonful.

I've been twice — once in January and another visit in February, and both times the food didn't live up to its promise. It's great that customers can enjoy Wild River's ales without making a trip to Cave Junction or Grants Pass, but perhaps the restaurant in Medford could offer fare that lives up to its menu.

Wild River Brewing & Pizza Co.is at 3684 N. Pacific Highway, Medford. Hours are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday through Sunday. Call 773-7487.

— Laurie Heuston