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Fatso's Cheketos is your keto diet go-to on wheels

Craving a “chaco”? How about meats, cheeses and sandwich fixings on a “chaffle” instead of bread?

These come courtesy of Fatso’s Cheketos, a food truck marketed to ketogenic, gluten-free and low-carb dieters — or anyone hungry for filling dishes prepared from scratch with the goal that blood sugar levels won’t crash later in the day. The yellow Fatso’s truck took to Southern Oregon’s streets in April and recently has offered lunchtime service in the parking lot of Orley’s Stove & Spa Center on Medford’s Crater Lake Highway.

Fatso’s proprietor, a Texas transplant, says he’s a testimonial to the keto diet. The truck’s name is an obvious, tongue-in-cheek contrast to his physique.

Keto proponents demonize sugar, not fat. Restricting carbohydrates correctly, according to nutrition experts, can encourage the body to burn fat more quickly. Eating more fat helps to balance the overall dietary equation.

The approach has been linked to rapid weight loss but also the omission of some foods — namely fruits and starchy vegetables — widely regarded as healthy. However, keto champions zucchini noodles (“zoodles”) instead of pasta and cauliflower for pizza crust and potato dishes.

Fatso’s calling card is the chaffle, aka cheese waffle, made from egg and dairy, rather than grain-based flour, bound together with a bit of ground almond or coconut. I’ve made promising chaffles at home in recent months.

For starters, a chaffle isn’t as indulgent as one would assume. I checked the fat content in my home kitchen’s chaffle against Betty Crocker’s “Big Red Cookbook” waffle recipe made with eggs, milk and vegetable oil. When adjusted for the difference in serving size, a chaffle has about 20 percent less fat than a Betty Crocker waffle. A chaffle also has about 100 fewer calories, about twice the protein and about 15 percent of a waffle’s carbohydrates.

And trendy term aside, a chaffle isn’t as strange as it sounds, given its resemblance to “frico,” a classic Italian snack of crisped cheese, basically shredded Parmesan sprinkled on a hot cooking surface or clumped into little piles on a sheet pan and baked in a hot oven. Fatso’s takes the chaffle to another level by using it to cradle taco fillings for a “chaco” and to convey such sandwich classics as an Italian grinder ($12), grilled cheese ($5) and BLT. Actually, make that BLTT ($9), which incorporates turkey.

Much as I love a good grilled cheese, my stomach balked at the thought of melted dairy oozing from a waffle of essentially the same composition. That’s what I call too much of a good thing.

I could have been swayed if the tomato soup wasn’t so rich in its own right. The owner gave me a sample, explaining that he augmented it with cream cheese. While delicious, a cup would have been more than I could manage, particularly with a chaffle, instead of bread, for dipping.

My friend and I also sampled the Texas-style chili, which contains no beans, just tender cuts of beef in an impeccably seasoned, slightly spicy broth. I could have polished off a 12-ounce cup of the chili ($9), if only beef sat better with my digestion. It’s clearly popular enough with some customers that Fatso’s also offers it in pints and quarts for $15 and $25, respectively.

Heck, I’d even order the chili ladled over fried chicken skins and topped with scallions, sour cream and shredded cheese for “Frito pie” ($10). The hedonist in me wanted to order the chicken skins sans chili.

But I decided to keep my choice more mainstream and requested the turkey melt ($8), which comes with a side salad of greens or jicama. Unfortunately, the truck was out of the latter, so I asked if I could substitute the slaw that typically tops the chacos upon hearing it primarily contained kohlrabi and a bit of red cabbage for color.

The slaw seemed to sway my friend toward the pulled pork chaco ($12), although he carefully considered the day’s special chipped beef on a chaffle. Fatso’s other chaco, the “supreme” ($12) layers shredded chicken with jalapeno spread, special sauce, lettuce, pico de gallo and shredded cheese.

After sampling some of Fatso’s candied pecans, I tacked on the chef’s choice of keto-friendly desserts ($5), which included a pumpkin coffee cake and pecan cookie bar. These and other baked goods are keto-friendly for their reliance on nut and coconut flours and lack of wheat or other grain-based flour. While chaffles are denser than bread, keto-specific desserts are crumbly and lighter than mainstream counterparts.

My sandwich’s overarching richness was slightly offset by sliced tomato. More acid from mustard or even pickled vegetables would have helped to balance the flavors. I was confident that the vinegary slaw was the right choice as a side over the green salad with tomato and cucumber. The slaw also drew compliments from my friend, who appreciated the slight tang of hickory barbecue sauce accenting his chaco’s pork.

For palates geared toward sweet, Fatso’s desserts likely will be too subtle. But I’m often averse to sweets and homed in on the spice in this pumpkin coffee cake. The cookie’s nuts, however, were a rich finish to a meal that doesn’t skimp on — but rather, celebrates — fat.

Open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, Fatso’s Cheketos posts its locations and specials to Facebook, facebook.com/FatsosCheketos, and Instagram, @fatsoscheketos. Or see fatsosketotruckmedford.com.

Tempo Tidbits

Italian and steakhouse favorites have been retired in favor of a “fresher, cleaner” menu at Callahan’s Mountain Lodge.

“Drunken lamb,” “crabby corn” and Pacific Northwest staples, such as salmon and mussels, are prominent on the lodge’s new menu. Gone are Italian comfort foods, including lasagna and chicken parmesan, instituted under founders Don and Nilde Callahan, who opened the lodge just off Interstate 5 south of Ashland in 1947. Among the few remaining Callahan’s favorites are its burger and prime rib dinner with mashed potatoes.

The revamped format reflects Executive Chef Kevin Broadie’s experience in Seattle and San Francisco after studying in Europe. An Ashland native, Broadie took over Callahan’s kitchen July 1 under new owners Mark and Lisa Cleaner, of Bar-C Properties. Previous owners Ron and Donna Bergquist resurrected the lodge after a catastrophic fire in 2006.

Broadie and wife Andi operated Eleven on the Creek in Ashland for just six weeks before the coronavirus shuttered restaurants statewide. The Calle Guanajuato restaurant never reopened for dine-in service, and deciding that the pandemic was “lingering too long,” the Broadies closed it. Eleven took off faster than any of the other six restaurants he owned, said Broadie.

“It was heart-breaking.”

Broadie said he intends to boost Callahan’s appeal as a destination restaurant. Open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., Callahan’s serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. See callahanslodge.com. Reserve online or call 541-482-1299.

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Talent’s newest restaurant, Gather Cafe Bistro Bar, builds on the proprietors’ other local establishments.

Sumesh and Dimple Bakshi also own Flavor Restaurant and Bar in Medford and Masala Bistro and Bar in Ashland. They acquired the building at 200 Talent Ave., formerly Downtowne Coffee House, about two weeks before the catastrophic Almeda fire on Sept. 8 swept through Ashland, Talent and Phoenix.

The couple said they hesitated in the fire’s aftermath to proceed with their plans, but the community strongly encouraged them. Gather opened Oct. 8 with a breakfast and lunch menu of “everyday food,” including deli selections and baked goods, featuring Rise Up! bread and Griffin Creek Coffee Roasters.

“It’s more or less a normal American breakfast,” said Dimple Bakshi.

The Bakshis said they plan to offer dinner soon. Hours are 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, excepting closure on Wednesdays. See gathercafebistrobar.com

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The following restaurants in September received perfect scores of 100 on their semiannual inspections by Jackson County Environmental Public Health:

Laurel Hills Golf Course, Gold Hill; Roxy Ann Lanes, Medford; Starbucks Coffee Co. No. 448, Ashland; Sweet Tea Express, Medford; Taco Bell No. 1683, Ashland; Taco Delite No. 2, Central Point; Tosu Ramen & Sushi, Medford.

The county’s searchable database of restaurant and food service inspections is at healthspace.com/Clients/Oregon/jackson/Web.nsf/home.xsp

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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 thewholedishblog on Instagram, @thewholedish on Twitter or see facebook.com/thewholedish.

Pumpkin coffee cake from the Fatso’s Cheketos truck contains no flour.
A turkey melt comes on a “chaffle,” which stands in for bread at Fatso’s Cheketos food truck.{ }Photos by Sarah Lemon