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Common Block passes the outdoor dining test

’Tis the season for dining outdoors?! That’s what the governor tells us, at least.

So claim your seat at a table in the open air strategically spaced for social distancing. With any luck, it’s positioned under a portable heater.

Restaurants with enough real estate are erecting canopies and awnings to keep winter weather at bay and, hopefully, to entice customers craving meals outside their own homes since the latest takeout-only mandate. How low temperatures will plunge before eateries decommission their decks, patios, terraces and sidewalks is anyone’s guess.

Almost a month had passed since my last sit-down restaurant meal. Missing the company of my sister from whom I’d been social distancing for about as long, I crossed my fingers for Medford’s fog to clear enough for lunch downtown at Common Block Brewing Company.

Occupying the historical Monarch Building, a showpiece of The Commons, the restaurant also boasts an expansive patio delineated around its perimeter with bar seating. There’s artificial turf underfoot and Edison-style string lights overhead, as well as a fire pit in one corner. Order at the counter outside and pick from dozens of nearby tables.

Customers also have their pick over the past year from at least a half-dozen Common Block brews. Although the pub opened to much fanfare in December 2016, it didn’t start brewing on site for about three years. There also are ciders, red, white and rose wines on tap, by the glass or liter, as well as “blocktails.”

A cold one doesn’t seem quite so cold when it’s got a bit more body. The darkest beer in Common Block’s lineup is Block & Mortar Porter. I ordered a 10-ounce glass ($4).

My sister, who favors ciders, was drawn to Legend Cider Company’s peach flavor. A 10-ouncer cost $5. Common Block keeps four ciders on tap and also offered pineapple, prickly pear and raspberry-rose.

While my sister and I don’t agree on beer, we share a nostalgic fondness for soft pretzels with cheese sauce and have sampled more than our fair share together. Common Block’s version is a cut above most, with a deliciously chewy crust studded in just the right amount of salt and portioned against spoiling one’s appetite for an actual meal. The five-cheese sauce accompanying it puts the processed stuff dispensed at concession stands to shame.

Quality is a theme that carries through Common Block’s menu, one of the more diverse and fine-tuned of the brew pub genre I’ve encountered. Chef David Georgeson, who previously worked at Larks Home Kitchen Cuisine in Ashland, developed a menu of brewery favorites that appeal to modern dietary trends and more sophisticated palates. Sourcing locally grown produce in season lends credibility.

Instead of de rigueur clam chowder, Common Block prepares its recipe with crawfish and bay shrimp. Quesadillas are stuffed with sweet potato. A chicken breast entrée gets a boost from truffle salt. And chicken tacos are spiked with cold-brew coffee. Prices top out at $18 for ale-marinated flank steak. Pizzas, burgers, sandwiches and entrée salads average $12.

Ales and beers, appropriately, are incorporated in numerous dishes, from the house vinaigrette to beer-braised pork topping Common Block’s nachos. I was curious how the stout-battered fish ’n’ chips would stack up, but I was more curious about the chowder and decided to order a bowl ($6), along with the Brussels sprouts, bacon, kale and pear salad ($12).

After securing her share of the salad, my sister agreed to try the cumin-paprika chicken wrap ($13), which piqued my interest for its corn, black beans and chipotle cabbage in lieu of lettuce. For an additional $2, she substituted her own portion of chowder for the french fries.

The food came out fairly speedily, soups with the rest of the order, rather than constituting a first course. We both dove into the chowder while it was at peak temperature and praised the prominent crawfish tails, although I detected less in the way of bay shrimp. Perhaps owing to our coastal upbringing, bacon is extraneous in both my sister’s and my ideal chowder. We did diverge on our preferences for potato skins: I don’t care for them while she appreciated their inclusion.

Bacon, however, was a key flavor in the salad, along with a generous quantity of blue cheese. The finely julienned brassicas were very lightly dressed with “caramel-apple” vinaigrette. The crisp pear was confined to slices atop the homogenous but hearty melange.

Also hearty, the wrap was packed full of seasoned chicken in a pleasant ratio with the corn, black beans and cabbage. My sister and I opined that wraps rarely deserve our consideration, but this one we’d order again. Common Block also prepares a “ranch” wrap with turkey, bacon and Swiss and a “double blue” Buffalo chicken that combines blue cheese sauce and blue cheese crumbles.

We were perfectly comfortable under a propane umbrella heater. And judging from the 20 or so other diners choosing Common Block’s outdoor accommodation, it looks to have some staying power this season. To be on the safe side, I’ll probably pack a lap blanket for my next restaurant foray. But the extra layers are worth a change of pace from home-cooked fare.

Located at 315 E. Fifth St., Common Block is open from v11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. Takeout and delivery also are available with online ordering at commonblockbrewing.com. Call 541-326-2277.

Tempo Tidbits

The Cafe at Medford Food Co-op has reopened for takeout with a new look, new menu and special discounts.

About two months of remodeling wrapped up last week at the cafe. The Co-op embarked on the project to improve acoustics, expand menu options and reduce customer wait times and lines. Diners can get a glimpse of the changes inside while carrying out their orders.

Several salads, chicken kebabs, a daily frittata and more sandwich selections, including the “A+BLT,” headline the updated menu. Sandwiches are discounted to $3 every Wednesday this month for veterans, bartenders and employees of dispensaries and nonprofit organizations who furnish identification, business cards or pay stubs. See the menu at https://medfordfood.coop/cafe and call 541-646-3686.

Fresh, house-made, grab-and-go sandwiches, salads, baked goods, desserts and heat-and-eat entrees are available daily inside the cafe at 945 S. Riverside Ave., Medford. Hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays.

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Christmas Eve cioppino comes as a kit from Larks Home Kitchen Cuisine.

The restaurant inside Ashland Springs Hotel is packaging all the ingredients to prepare this classic seafood stew at home. Oregon coast Dungeness crab and rockfish are ready to cook with wild Gulf prawns in Chef Franco Console’s made-from-scratch cioppino base. The meal, priced at $32 per person, also includes Caesar salad and Rise Up! rosemary bread baked in the Applegate. Pre-order at larksashland.com/christmas-eve-dinner/ for pickup Dec. 24.

Diners also can pre-order Christmas dinner for carrying out warm and ready to serve at home Dec. 25. The four-course menu of Cornish game hen with a vegetarian option costs $38 per person, including Ashland meals tax and gratuity. View the menu and pre-order at larksashland.com/christmas-dinner/

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A new drive-thru Mexican restaurant on Medford’s East Barnett Road is the southernmost outpost of Victorico’s.

The Salem-based chain has six locations in the Portland metro area, as well as Longview, Wash. Victorico’s was founded last year by cousins Ivan Orozco and Victor Sanchez, whose family operates Muchas Gracias eateries throughout Oregon and Washington, including two stores in Medford.

Efficiency and authenticity are at the heart of Victorico’s, according to an October 2019 article by the Statesman Journal. Headlining the menu are tortas, tamales and chiles rellenos, along with tacos, burritos, fajitas, enchiladas and vegetarian and vegan options. Beyond chicken, beef, shrimp and fish, customers can order carnitas, chorizo, beef tongue and beef cheek.

Online ordering and delivery through DoorDash are available at victoricos.com. The drive-thru is at 308 E. Barnett Road, formerly KFC.

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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.

Chowder is made with crawfish and bay shrimp at Common Block.
Four ciders and 13 beers regularly are on tap at Common Block.