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Sammich delivers good food and warmth outdoors

When the week’s forecast calls for rain, brief stints of sunshine are golden opportunities for restaurant dining.

More and more restaurants are creating incentives for customers amid the outdoor-dining-only edict statewide. Ashland’s Sammich jumped on the bandwagon early, installing a covered seating area off the side of its cramped Bridge Street building late last spring.

Sammich soon added an adjacent growler station and, as the weather cooled, portable heaters arrived to extend the spot’s appeal. It may not be as warm as eating inside, but the outdoor ambiance tops the bare-bones tables and chairs that Sammich previously offered indoors.

My partner and I stopped in for a late lunch after catching an unexpected window for hiking the Greensprings Mountain Loop Trail. Although not as beguiling as an open fire, Sammich’s tube-style heaters emit beacons of flame visible to passersby. It’s a welcome sight to everyone craving a restaurant meal that doesn’t go tepid in takeout transit.

Although wintry gusts grabbed at our napkins and sandwich wrappings, the chill couldn’t nudge down the temperature of Sammich’s scorching hot tomato soup ($5). I often say I prefer the first sip of any soup to slightly singe the tip of my tongue. But Sammich’s ruddy puree burned like lava if I didn’t exercise caution with every spoonful. That’s my kind of soup, particularly under the circumstances.

The soup boasted a thick, silky texture and straightforward flavor of little other than tomato. When soup and grilled cheese are paired for a single price ($7), diners expect the quintessential companions, not fanciful versions with gourmet cheeses and fresh herbs. Sammich’s soup delivers the nostalgia of childhood.

I skipped the grilled cheese, despite its siren song, for my standby sandwich. Sammich dubs its Italian sub ($10) the “tre” — as in three meats. The sandwich’s typical salami and mortadella get a boost at Sammich from prosciutto. The de rigueur provolone melds the meats together on a baguette.

Purists may quibble over which garnishes are authentic: onion, lettuce, pickle or tomato. Because Sammich doesn’t offer the latter two, and I don’t care for the former duo, I simply omit all the fresh produce on my sub and request giardiniera, the spicy relish of cauliflower, carrot, celery, pickles and peppers.

My partner was drawn to the albacore tuna salad ($14), served with avocado and sprouts on an Italian bun. Sandwiches number 10 others on the regular menu, in addition to weekly specials and “da burg” ($10), which recently landed Sammich’s Rose City outlet on the cover of Portland Monthly. Its basic cheeseburger topped with lettuce, onion and special sauce is one of the city’s best examples of burgers done right without “weird toppings” at independently owned eateries, according to the magazine feature.

It’s not the first time that culinary creations of owner Melissa McMillan have been in the spotlight. The native Chicagoan competed this year on Food Network’s “Chopped” and “Guy’s Grocery Games” in 2018, just after Sammich expanded to downtown Portland. She also operates Milwaukie’s Pastrami Zombie food truck whose namesake sandwich is a best-seller at the original location, which opened in Ashland in 2013.

For all of Sammich’s acclaim, I have to confess that its “tre” doesn’t measure up to my favorite Italian sub. Maybe everyone needs a hometown hero (pun intended!). But 25 years after its inception in Coos Bay, my beloved City Subs still torpedoes its competitors.

Various components play a role, but City Subs’ homemade bread clearly gives it the edge. While the crumb of Sammich’s baguette may be designed to hold up to wet sandwiches, like the Chicago Italian beef and cheesesteak, it doesn’t quite convey the “tre” as well as fans of the Italian sub might expect.

I do appreciate Sammich’s Italian bun as the bookend for a generous scoop of tuna salad. Avocado slices enrich the mild fish, prepared with very minimal seasoning. Lettuce leaves and alfalfa sprouts provide just the right crunchy contrast to the creamy filling and tender bun.

The albacore also can be ordered as the “Wrigley salad” ($12) comprising mixed greens, pickled carrot, red onion, croutons and sprouts with vinaigrette. There’s also the “Cubbie Cobb” ($13), featuring bacon, turkey, ham, red pepper and feta on organic mixed greens enhanced with a soft-boiled egg and “zombie dressing.” The aforementioned “pastrami zombie” has long since cemented its status with Sammich customers. Brined for three days, the brisket is smoked and served with Swiss and slaw on light rye. Even better on my palate — just with turkey pastrami — is the well-worn Reuben recipe of sauerkraut, Russian dressing and Swiss on grilled rye, which constituted one of the day’s specials. For the umpteenth time, I wished beef didn’t cause me digestive pains.

I watch Sammich’s social media accounts fairly closely for photos and descriptions of its latest specials. Whether riffing on its burger or paying homage to McMillan’s love of baseball, the kitchen’s innovations are another strategy for engaging customers as Sammich rises to each new challenge the pandemic throws down.

Located at 424 Bridge St., Sammich is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. See the menu and order at sammichrestaurants.com for takeout, curbside pickup or delivery by Sammich staff or DoorDash. Call 541-708-6055.

Tempo Tidbits

Give the gift of fresh, flavorful ingredients curated by local chefs — or treat yourself.

Larks Home Kitchen Cuisine in Ashland is the latest restaurant locally to assemble staples from its own kitchen for customers to use in theirs. Its first “provision box” includes organic and locally grown winter squash and root vegetables with Larks’ bisque recipe, the dry mix and recipe for savory cornbread with a jar of house-made fruit butter and a jar of house-made balsamic tomato sugo with ready-to-cook rigatoni pasta, along with roasted hazelnuts, Rise Up! focaccia, amaretti cookies and a bottle of Irvine & Roberts Vineyards 2015 Estate Pinot Noir. Priced at $60, boxes are available by advance order online through Thursday each week for pickup Friday or Saturday. See larksashland.com/provision-box

The concept builds on the popularity of “larder baskets” offered each month at Hither Coffee & Goods in Ashland. Hither packs its baskets with items that change according to seasonal freshness. December’s basket includes Hither’s house-made scalloped potatoes, chive-studded rolls, mint pots de crème and eggnog, along with the chicory lettuce mix, salt blend, olive oil and coffee used in Hither’s kitchen and cafe. In addition to wine, a bottle of Madeira for spiking Hither’s eggnog is in this month’s package. Baskets cost $100 apiece. Order at hithermarket.com/shop/larder-basket

“Oregon local baskets” complement cuisine ready for takeaway at Jefferson Farm Kitchen in Jacksonville. Browse the eatery’s website or South Oregon Street storefront for small and large baskets containing Bee Girl honey, Sherry’s gluten-free pasta, Uber Herbal tea, Port Orford foil-pouch tuna, as well as other treats and durable goods. Priced from $25 to $79, baskets can be purchased at jeffersonfarmkitchen.com

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The patio at Medford’s Kaleidoscope Pizzeria & Pub reopened Wednesday, ending the restaurant’s moratorium on dine-service since the November statewide “freeze” in response to rising cases of the coronavirus. Outdoor dining is available at Kaleidoscope on its covered, heated patio. Restaurant management encourages bundling up or bringing a blanket to occupy its limited, socially distanced seating. The restaurant also asks customers to refrain from parking in numbered parking spaces, which are reserved for curbside pickup orders. Located at 3084 Crater Lake Highway, Kaleidoscope is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.

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

AZ Catering & Event Planning, Talent; Arbor House Restaurant , Talent; Ed’s Oasis, Eagle Point; The Grotto Pizzeria, Talent; The Pump House, Talent; Rogue Valley Roasting Kitchen, Ashland; Sky House Bar & Grill, Medford airport; Sweet Beet Station, Talent; The Talent Club; Talent.

The county’s searchable database of restaurant and food service inspections is at healthspace.com/Clients/Oregon/jackson/Web.nsf/home.xsp. Increased county workload in response to the coronavirus pandemic delayed October reporting of restaurant inspection scores.

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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.

Tomato soup warms customers in the chill outside at Sammich.
The albacore tuna sandwich at Sammich comes on an Italian bun with avocado and sprouts.