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Dining: Heaven on Earth a must stop on Interstate 5

I’ve heard lots of Interstate 5 drivers mention Heaven on Earth with wonder and desire, but I’d never stopped to see what the fuss was about. Those huge, age-scarred, beam buildings pique my interest every time I drive the mother road from Ashland to points north, and one day last week, I gave in to curiosity.

Heaven on Earth is at Exit 86 in Azalea, an easy-on, easy-off stop. I could smell sweet sugar cinnamon as soon as I stepped out of the car, and the restaurant is everything I was promised and more.

Heaven on Earth has served food and baked sweets for 43 years. Christine Jackson opened the restaurant in what might have been an old feed store, and expanded the dining area in the ‘80s. The cash register divides a sit-down area from counter seating, and adjacent is the old griddle, about 4-by-3-feet, seasoned black and smooth from use. Nowadays that griddle holds a tower of cinnamon buns, baked fresh daily in the stone oven in front of the kitchen.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served, eat in or take out. But I was there for the bakery.

The small cinnamon bun at $6.99, said to be a single, was big enough for three or maybe even four diners. The sweet, tender dough was folded and turned to bake the cinnamon into pull-apart pieces, each with a good amount of white sugar glaze or topped with caramel and dense with pecan pieces. The macaroons are tender and perfectly baked, with either a thumb of raspberry jam or striped with chocolate. A dozen cookies — snickerdoodles, double chocolate, chocolate chip — are $12.95. There are plates of sample-sized cookies everywhere so you get to try before you buy. Cakes — pineapple upside down, red velvet, lemon, chocolate and more — may weigh as much as 30 pounds, and the pies at $21.99 look luscious.

The family-sized cinnamon roll weighs in at 2 to 2 1/2 pounds and is big enough for a crowd, with plenty of sugar glaze dripped over its yeasty folds. Take your pick from corner buns — with that corner darker, sweeter and almost crisp — or choose a center bun, all four sides fresh and flaky. As many as 100 of these babies come out of the oven at noon daily and stay fragrant and warm throughout the day. Even at 6 p.m., I could see scented steam clouding the case. For Southern Oregon’s most iconic sweet roll, a pièce de résistance as big as a soccer ball, Heaven on Earth’s family-sized cinnamon roll at $12.95 was impossible to resist. The next day, that big, sweet roll, still fresh and now rewarmed, went to work with my husband, where it was torn apart by hungry English department faculty and students at Southern Oregon University.

Next time I stop at Heaven on Earth, I’m going to make time for breakfast, lunch or dinner. For breakfast, maybe it will be biscuits and gravy or home fries, eggs and sausage. If it’s lunch, Tammy (who ices the cinnamon rolls every day) says the turkey is roasted in house and used for turkey salad, turkey sandwiches and hot browns. If it’s dinner, she tells me the meatloaf is Christine Jackson’s own special recipe and not to be missed. And, of course, there’s pies and cakes and cookies and macaroons and cinnamon rolls and apple butter and Marionberry jam and books of scripture and religious art everywhere. Alcoholic beverages are not available, but coffee, tea and milk are plentiful.

Heaven on Earth will be a regular I-5 stop for me from now on. Afterward, I’ll take a nap in my car out in the parking lot before getting back on the road. Please do not disturb.

Heaven on Earth is open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily, longer during summer months. Call ahead at 541-837-3700, or stop in to order and stretch your legs while your food is prepared.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Maureen Flanagan Battistella at mbattistellaor@gmail.com.

Heaven on Earth’s family-sized cinnamon roll with sugar glaze, more glaze available for the asking. Photo by Maureen Flanagan Battistella