Craft beer, wine and plenty of bites at Tap & Vine at 559
The highly trafficked space across from Tinseltown could have hosted any number of chain eateries. Instead, Adam Benson — formerly of Caldera and Standing Stone brewing companies in Ashland — stepped in and developed Tap & Vine at 559 to showcase the breadth and depth of Oregon craft beers and the more recent trend of wines on tap.
That’s right: There’s a growing number of wineries who keg their vintages for restaurant service, citing reduced cost and packaging with a dispensing mechanism that maintains quality. At Tap & Vine, wines on tap hail almost exclusively from Southern Oregon — Kriselle Cellars, Pebblestone Cellars, Wooldridge Creek Vineyards and Weisinger Family Winery.
Complementing the extensive beverage selection is a menu inspired by global cuisines. Executive chef William Shine, a Medford native and industry veteran, mingles Asian, Latin, Middle Eastern and classic American influences in a thoughtful lineup of salads, soups, sandwiches and entrées, not to mention several decadent desserts.
The menu’s “shareable bites” are in keeping with an establishment that plays up its happy hour. And afternoon-into-evening diners also can order “happy bites” from 4 to 5:59 p.m., when house wines and pints of beer each are a dollar off, and the beer of the month and house cocktails each come with a $2 price reduction.
There’s plenty to enjoy at Tap & Vine, even as the restaurant, which opened in mid-January, refines its concept and works out a few kinks. My family liked our inaugural meal enough to return a week later with visiting relatives, enticed only partly by the kids’ menu. Specifically, dishes with Pacific Island and Pan-Asian flair put me in mind of my mom, who loves that genre.
So the coconut-crusted, tempura shrimp and pineapple ($14) was a mealtime must. When Mom knew I was game for the seafood, she selected the Hawaiian luau classic Kalua pig with coconut rice, charred cabbage and grilled pineapple ($16). Tap & Vine’s recipe slow-roasts pork from Oregon’s Carlton Farms.
Another preparation of Carlton Farms pork — pork belly ramen — piqued my mom’s interest. But I regrettably dissuaded her. On my previous visit, I eagerly ordered the ramen ($15) but found the soy sauce-seasoned broth, accented with kimchi and pickled jalapenos, much too salty. More traditional pork-bone or miso broths balanced with a higher ratio of noodles and additional fresh, rather than preserved, ingredients would find more favor among ramen aficionados.
My younger son couldn’t wait for a repeat of Tap & Vine’s kids-menu macaroni and cheese ($6), just without the sweet potato tots, which did not impress him the first time around. In defiance of his verdict, I packed the tots in a takeout container, and we enjoyed them with burgers several nights later at home.
Tap & Vine’s shoestring fries, by contrast, drew high praise, catching my mom’s eye on another party’s table when we entered the restaurant. And once the addictively crunchy fries arrived with my older son’s chicken strips ($6), it was practically a free-for-all of filching from his plate.
My mom and I exchanged plates back and forth, sharing a few critiques but otherwise heartily approving of each other’s choice. A longtime fan of coconut shrimp, my mom surprisingly was more complimentary of the accompanying tempura-fried pineapple.
While the shrimp were succulent, the pineapple offered even more contrast between the tender, juicy fruit and crisp but light batter. My mom has a newfound taste for jackfruit, and we were both disappointed that the salad described on the menu as a backdrop for the shrimp consisted of more julienned red and yellow bell peppers than jackfruit.
More pineapple alongside the pork underscored the sweetness of the coconut rice, perhaps my favorite item on the table. Prepared with just enough coconut milk to impart flavor to the rice without diminishing its texture, some grains also gained a bit of caramelization, resulting in a lovely, toasty flavor and slight chew.
The generously portioned pork was rich and tender, retaining its character in hearty strands, rather than shredded beyond recognition. My mom found the dish wanting only for soy sauce, absent from the tables’ condiment caddies, which do include ketchup and hot-pepper sauce. Our server sounded somewhat perplexed at the request but shortly returned with a respectably sized dish of soy sauce.
Still not sated on coconut, my mom and I both craved the coconut flan, served with macadamia nut brittle, candied lime and yet more grilled pineapple. It’s easily the most appealing of Tap & Vine’s desserts, which also include a banana split, chocolate torte and deep-fried Oreos.
We decided, however, to save dessert for another time, when my mom could try the pork belly sandwich, served on a sweet bun, or the Nashville hot chicken sandwich, which my husband had so enjoyed. I’d return for the ahi poke with shrimp chips or the clams steamed in amber ale.
Located at 559 Medford Center, Tap & Vine is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, until midnight Friday and Saturday. Make reservations and view menus at www.tapandvine559.com or call 541-500-1632.
-- Diners who favor a cheese course can savor cheese in every course at the annual Oregon Cheese Festival’s Cheesemaker Dinner, from 6 to 9 p.m. March 13. The event shines the spotlight on Rogue Creamery’s Rogue River Blue, World Champion at the 2019/2020 World Cheese Awards. The organic cheese is wrapped in pear brandy-soaked syrah grape leaves and aged for nine to 11 months. The feast also features Tillamook Maker’s Reserve white cheddar, By George Farm’s Buncom in Bloom with beef tenderloin and Face Rock Creamery’s clothbound cheddar, each paired with a regional craft beverage. Tickets are $130 per person, inclusive of drinks and gratuity. For the 16th annual festival, organizers doubled the number of tables at Medford’s Larks Restaurant, Inn at the Commons, making the typically sold-out Cheesemaker Dinner more widely accessible. Purchase at oregoncheesefestival.com/cheese-wine-makers-dinner.
-- Spring is in the air, and so is the smell of food cooking at local, outdoor farmers markets. Rogue Valley Growers & Crafters markets commenced Tuesday and Thursday in Ashland and Medford, respectively, with food trucks serving up diverse cuisines from tacos to Thai food, falafel to ramen, arepas to empanadas. Taste locally grown ingredients prepared by chefs at Truffle Pig Craft Kitchen or grab a grilled cheese sandwich or a smoothie from The Melt or Juego Smoothies. Markets run from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Tuesdays at the Ashland National Guard Armory, 1420 E. Main St., and Thursdays at Medford’s Hawthorne Park through late November. More than a dozen mealtime choices are available at each market, which USA Today touted among the country’s top 10 farmers markets last fall. For more information, see rvgrowersmarket.com
-- The following Medford restaurants in January received perfect scores of 100 on their semiannual inspections by Jackson County Environmental Public Health: R and D’s Sandwich Factory, Red Robin, Rogue Eats, Rogue Organic Cafe, Rosario’s Italian Restaurant, Roxy Ann Lanes, The Rrrink, Salvation Army Multi-Service Center, Sky House Bar & Grill, Skyline Plaza/ Rogue Valley Manor Dining, Spoons, Squeeze Inn Sandwich Shop, Starbucks Coffee Co. (East Barnett Road and Rossanley Drive), Subway Sandwiches (North Phoenix Road and Rogue Valley Mall), Sweet Satisfaction, Taco Bell (East Jackson Street and West Main Street), Tap City Beverage, Time Out, Trophy Club, Villa Pizza Fresh Italian Kitchen, Wetzel’s Pretzels, Wild River, Yogurt Hut (Center Drive).
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Sarah Lemon has relished the Rogue Valley’s dining scene for nearly two decades as one of the original contributors to Tempo’s dining column. Her palate has helped to judge some of the region’s culinary competitions and festivals. The former editor of A la Carte, the Mail Tribune’s weekly food section, she writes a biweekly column, The Whole Dish, and blogs and podcasts under the same name. Listen at mailtribune.com/podcasts and read more at mailtribune.com/lifestyle/the-whole-dish. Follow thewholedishblog on Instagram, @thewholedish on Twitter or see facebook.com/thewholedish.