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Howiee's on Front

Howiee's on Front is a regular in downtown Medford.

The business that started out in the mid '90s as a convenience store has spent the past decade as a funky pub known for an extensive collection of music posters and album covers, a serious selection of beers, and big-screen TVs to keep patrons connected to the world. Sure, you can watch the big game at Howiee's, but more than one Mail Tribune reporter has headed to the bar just down the street to chat up bar stool pundits for commentary on election results, presidential addresses and other matters of socio-political import. (It's called the local-reaction story.)

For an off-duty reporter, Howiee's is also a pretty good place to grab a meal and a beer.

Recent work by kitchen manager and chef Justin Summerhays to streamline the menu has made it even better.

As Howiee's has evolved over the years, it's tried plenty of tricks in the kitchen. For a while, it even outsourced the cooking to a restaurant next door.

That strategy left the pub with a muddled menu of scattered survivors — some sandwiches, fried snacks, salads, pasta.

Summerhays, who has worked in restaurants in Ashland and Medford, gradually dumped items that didn't fit and focused on a dining style he calls "Southern bistro."

He set up a smoker and smokes brisket on Saturdays for dinner. The smoked meat then shows up in sandwiches offered as lunch specials through the week. Popular pulled pork sandwiches also get their start in the smoker, he said.

Other recent additions with Southern flair include a catfish po' boy and muffaletta as sandwich selections, and Cajun seared catfish and bourbon prawns on the dinner menu.

Plenty of old favorites remain, too — sub sandwiches, fried chicken, fish and chips, and burgers, including some with interesting toppings.

When my husband and I stopped by for a late lunch after a marathon of pre-holiday shopping, those burger toppings sounded tempting. However, I jumped at the chance to try a new option at Howiee's — swapping out the all-beef patty for a grilled chicken breast for just 50 cents more.

With a suitably sturdy but still-tender bun, the juicy grilled chicken was the perfect vehicle for the mounds of sliced jalapeños and cheese. A stack of hearty seasoned fries provided the perfect side, and the whole meal was just $9.

My husband selected one of the specials, a cheesesteak for $8.95, and chose onion rings as his accompaniment. The thick slices of deep-fried onion encased in golden-brown batter looked like doughnuts as the waitress approached our table with heaping plates. They were cooked perfectly so the mild onion inside was easy to bite and didn't pull out, leaving behind a greasy husk of batter. (I hate that.)

For people who love greasy snacks, Howiee's still offers corn dogs, mozzarella sticks and other freezer-to-fryer treats on a happy-hour-all-the-time menu on each table.

Also look there for a list of beers, on tap and in bottles. Howiee's stocks lots of regional beers, as well as imports. Local beer aficionados can find offerings from Deschutes Brewery in Bend, Walkabout Brewing in Central Point, Ninkasi Brewing Co. in Eugene and Rogue Ales in Newport, while fans of brews from farther afield can sip Czech pilsners, British bitters and Belgian lambics.

Howiee's also touts its daily specials on Facebook and Twitter, continuing a tradition of innovation and adaptation in downtown.

—Anita Burke