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Hearsay's 'happy hour' is indulgent and priced right

Its patio a hidden oasis above downtown Ashland, Hearsay Restaurant, Lounge & Garden is even more alluring when “happy hour” is the order of the day.

Sunday affords special prices on dishes and beverages for the duration of Hearsay’s service. From the menu of $6 cocktails, $5 wines and small plates priced from $6 to $15, my partner and I enjoyed an indulgent meal, from appetizer to dessert courses, for a cost that can hardly be beat anywhere in the region.

We weren’t confined to the restaurant’s lounge, either. The Sunday happy hour deal is touted anywhere guests pull up a chair. Hearsay’s main dining room — with its colorful, abstract murals of cosmopolitan clientele — suggests both opulent jazz club and shadowy speakeasy while its lush, walled garden could double for a secluded corner of The Great Gatsby’s estate.

In keeping with the theme, Hearsay’s cocktail list recalls a bygone era when vermouth, bourbon, gin and rye reigned over vodka and rum. Classics such as the Manhattan and Old-Fashioned are prominently featured alongside “modern classic” and “craft” cocktails, as well as house-made shrubs that can be ordered as mocktails.

The gin shrub and lemon drop from the $6 cocktail menu sounded just right to us. Other happy hour options are a Margarita, old fashioned or gimlet. Regular cocktail prices run from $9 to $14.

Aspiring to both timelessness and trendiness, Hearsay’s cuisine doesn’t go far in either direction but rather treads the more mainstream middle ground. The French bistro classic steak frites ($12) has its counterpoint in the gravy-laden, cheese curd-topped poutine ($9). A straightforward preparation of mussels ($13) contrasts with Szechuan-spiced calamari ($9). Other options are pork belly sliders and a burger with fries for $10 and $12, respectively.

Perhaps most successful in updating the original is Hearsay’s sweet gem wedge ($6), a salad that retains the best of that concept and improves immensely on iceberg lettuce with velvety butterhead. It’s one of the better restaurant salads I’ve ordered this year, nearly perfect in its proportions with a few extra large chunks of Rogue Creamery’s Crater Lake blue cheese mingling with crisp bacon bits, cherry tomatoes and buttermilk green goddess dressing.

The calamari similarly was strong on flavor and conveyed commendable texture, given that this mollusk infamously overcooks in mere seconds. The breading adhered nicely to the squid, enhancing it rather than detracting as some do. And the sauce was just spicy enough to tingle on the tongue and spur sipping something cool and sweet. My only quibble with the sauce was its drizzle on one side of the plate that seemed imprecise and not entirely intentional.

The mussels, I hoped, would this time redeem the dish ordered on my previous visit, when they missed the mark. Regrettably, the shellfish again were overdone, perhaps sacrificing their moisture to a broth that tasted neither of lemon nor dill, although the menu listed both.

My experience with ordering mussels at just about every restaurant that offers them is of briny bivalves steamed just long enough to split open, revealing plump, succulent flesh. The small size in relation to their shells, in addition to subpar flavor and texture, caused me to theorize Hearsay’s mussels may come frozen, rather than live.

Selected to soak in the mussel broth, the truffle Parmesan fries ($6) made more impact on their own. The generous portion of house-cut potatoes seasoned with roasted garlic, fresh parsley, white truffle oil and shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano was more than we could finish, although every time I thought I’d had plenty, the fries’ savor compelled me to take another nibble while polishing off my $5 glass of white wine. The bartender’s choice that evening was pinot gris.

We’d eaten well, but not in such quantities to pass up dessert, particularly when we heard that figs composed the seasonal fruit galette ($8). While I’m usually ambivalent to chocolate desserts, the dark-chocolate crème brulee with sea salt asserted itself. Not included on the happy hour menu, desserts are priced from $5 for house-made sorbet or ice cream to $10 for the house-made limoncello-vanilla bean ice cream with dried cherry-pistachio biscotti.

The dessert’s delivery represented the evening’s only lag. Service had been friendly and efficient as our plates came out of the kitchen much more quickly than expected. Awaiting our dessert, we assumed the galette needed time to bake. When it arrived, we ventured that a few more minutes in the oven would have heightened its appeal.

The rustic presentation of pastry folded free-form around the filling rewarded us with a plethora of Mission figs. Just slightly sweetened, the fruits oozed natural juices, an excellent foil for the accompanying scoop of vanilla ice cream.

All told, our bill came to just over $65, including Ashland meals tax. If ordering from the regular menu, we could have spent nearly that on two entrees. Among Hearsay’s highlights are a 10-ounce ribeye served with potatoes and asparagus for $32 and wild Alaskan halibut with roasted sweet corn, bacon, cherry tomatoes and bell pepper for $28. Halibut fish ’n’ chips can be had on the other end of the price range for $21 or pesto penne pasta with mozzarella, toasted pine nuts and balsamic vinegar reduction for $14.

Located under Oregon Cabaret Theatre, at 40 S. First St., Hearsay is open from 4:30 to 9 p.m. Thursday through Monday. Reserve at hearsayashland.com or call 541-625-0505.

Tempo Tidbits

A Hawaiian barbecue food truck impacted by Southern Oregon’s September wildfires is seeking new digs.

Island Time Grindz announced its closure to assist family and friends in the wake of devastating wildfires sparked Sept. 8. The food truck is unable to occupy a location it had secured prior to the fires, according to its social media posts.

An expansion of Island Time Coffee Co. in Medford, the truck serves such Hawaiian specialties as kalua pork, teriyaki chicken and “loco moco.” Proprietors rolled out their mobile operation over the summer at East Jackson and Hawthorne streets in Medford.

Soliciting customers’ suggestions for a new location, Island Time Grindz can be contacted on Instagram @islandtimegrindz

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A Phoenix pizzeria announced plans to reopen this week.

Clyde’s Corner narrowly escaped the Almeda fire, which destroyed hundreds of businesses and homes Sept. 8 in Phoenix and Talent. The new establishment had been open for just a few weeks before the fire stalled operations until Wednesday.

Named for the owners’ German shorthair pointer, Clyde’s Corner specializes in wood-fired pizzas, draft beers, cocktails and wines with a canine-friendly outdoor dining area. Look for red umbrellas outside suite 580, 4495 S. Pacific Highway. Pass the sign for Phoenix Industrial Studios and keep going toward the restaurant tucked into the back corner.

Clyde’s Corner is open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday, until 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

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Topping combinations created by the public will join the pizza lineup this month at Medford’s DANCIN Vineyards.

Blue cheese, bacon and fall fruits are prominent on pies that placed highest in DANCIN’s pizza special contest, hosted on its social media platforms. Each recipe will be featured for one week in October, and contestants each received a $20 DANCIN gift card.

Customers can taste pies with caramelized apple, bacon and blue cheese, submitted by Linda Kay; pear, prosciutto, pine nut, blue cheese and arugula, submitted by Ashley Snowden; fig, pancetta and Gorgonzola, submitted by Kristin Bria; and roast chicken, bacon and bell peppers, pesto Alfredo and basil chiffonade, submitted by T.J. Hull.

DANCIN is at 4477 S. Stage Road. Hours are 4 to 8 p.m. Wednesday and noon to 8 p.m. Thursday through Sunday, through Oct. 14. Beginning Oct. 15, hours are noon to 7 p.m. Thursday through Sunday. See dancin.com. Call 541-245-1133.

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Have a Tempo tidbit to share? Email news about the local dining, food and beverage scene to: thewholedish@gmail.com

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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 @the.whole.dish on Instagram, @thewholedish on Twitter or see facebook.com/thewholedish.

Fried calamari has a Szechuan-style sauce at Hearsay in Ashland.{ }Photos by Sarah Lemon
Steamed mussels come with grilled bread at Hearsay in Ashland.