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Eastside Bakeshop

I'm always tempted by a bakery case full of plump cinnamon rolls, quick breads studded with dried fruit, ganache-draped chocolate cakes, crisp cookies or pretty much anything else that comes out of the ovens at the hands of a skilled baker.

I'm a regular at Medford's Artisan Bakery Cafe and, as the Apple Cellar opens new outlets in Jacksonville and downtown Ashland, I pop into each one.

When I saw Eastside Bakeshop, a new bakery in a small strip mall on Highland Drive right next to the roundabout, I had to try it.

Squeezed into a shopping center with a convenience store and lottery outlet, the little shop has only a half dozen tables arrayed along walls covered with weathered shutters. Since the shop's January opening, owner Annette McGrew has developed a friendly rapport with regular customers.

The menu, written daily on a chalkboard just inside the door, also sports regular favorites — sandwiches on baguettes or bagels baked there and quiches for lunchtime, and cinnamon rolls and other sweets for anytime.

The bagels might not have an authentic chewy crust, but they are loaded with tasty add-ins such as garlic and Monterrey jack cheese, cheddar and jalapeño, or sun-dried tomatoes. One version even has bits of bacon baked inside for the most non-traditional bagel possible.

The savory bagels are perfect for a flavorful, not-too-big sandwich. (You'll want to save room for dessert at a place like this.)

For $4.50 I had a veggie sandwich loaded with hummus, avocado, tomato, cucumber and red onion on a garlic and Monterrey jack bagel. It was accompanied by a pesto pasta salad with sun-dried tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and lots of basil. Bright flavors of quality ingredients lifted the pasta salad above the soggy standard offered on the side at some places.

The chalkboard menu clears the way for plenty of variety based on what's fresh or inspiring at the local growers market, where some ingredients originate.

Amidst the occasional clatter of pans and the whir of a food processor, snippets of conversations about bundt cakes and strawberry tarts drifted from the kitchen as the crew behind the scenes poured over a recipe collection reminiscent of a favorite home kitchen. As I ate, the overheard discussions already had me scheming a return visit.

I couldn't leave without a cinnamon roll — one of the bakeshop's specialties. The rich, tender dough was swirled with cinnamon, sugar and nuts for a treat that was not too gooey or sweet.

In addition to the cinnamon rolls, customers can count on finding something in chocolate, quick breads (a citrus and cranberry version when I visited, but look for banana bread, too), cake — either by the slice or in cupcakes — and lots of cookies — both the supersized bakery cookies that are common and sampler packs of regular-sized drop cookies like you might remember grandma baking.

While a bakeshop should always be busy baking, sometimes the selection is a little slimmer on Tuesday, when Eastside Bakeshop opens for the week. Bargain hunters might like to explore the day-old basket for $1 items of all sorts.

Get there early for baguettes and check out the challah on Friday. Whole cakes, pies, quiches and even roasted game hens can be ordered for special occasions.

— Anita Burke