Freddie Lee's, Island Time Grindz plate up winners
Wintry weather aside, the climate has perhaps never been more favorable for food trucks. More than 100 mobile units across Jackson County serve cuisines to satisfy almost any craving.
A “seafood smorgasbord” is one of the newest trucks to hit the streets locally. But Freddie Lee’s also prepares to-die-for fried chicken and burgers to complement its fish and shrimp baskets.
With a similar surf-and-turf approach, Island Time Grindz specializes in Hawaiian plate lunch, with either shrimp, chicken or pork, plus the beloved breakfast version known as “loco moco.” There’s also banana-macadamia pancakes and vegan coconut curry.
Island Time Grindz recently secured a favorable downtown Medford location after struggling for months in the wake of September’s Almeda fire, including a closure to assist family and friends in need. The North Riverside Avenue parking lot of Inn at the Commons doesn’t offer seating, but it does catch the late-afternoon sun, inviting customers to perch on a curb and soak up some rays, which is exactly what I did on a recent weekday.
A longtime fan of the plate lunch format, I’ve had my share of kalua pig, teriyaki chicken and mac salad. I’d never seen a version, however, with the “Pele shrimp” that Island Time Grindz advertises. Hawaiian fare isn’t typically regarded as spicy, so I had to try it, although it’s one of the more expensive items, at $14. Only “loco moco,” usually boasting eggs on a hamburger patty with brown gravy and the requisite starchy sides, is priced higher, at $16. Pork and chicken plates cost $10 and $12, respectively.
With six succulent shrimp, two scoops of rice and a hearty portion of macaroni salad, the meal still represents a great value. The shrimp were nicely seared on the truck’s portable grill, positioned under a separate awning. A grilled jalapeno nibbled between bites of shellfish provided more than enough heat, accented with a fresh lime wedge. The bright flavors gained depth from the savor of Japanese furikake seasoning sprinkled over the two scoops of rice. And the macaroni salad lent a creamy contrast to the protein and grain.
Also serving macaroni salad, Freddie Lee’s signature recipe is touted with its fried chicken. Although seafood was the primary purpose for tracking down the fire engine red truck off Central Point’s Pine Street, I knew my family would love the chicken. And I’ve never yet met a macaroni salad that I could pass up.
The seasonal chowder special promoted on Freddie Lee’s Instagram profile piqued my curiosity. An Oregon coast native, I’m choosy about my chowder, finding most versions far too reliant on bacon and potatoes with clams added almost as an afterthought. But I was game to try Freddie Lee’s, augmented with fish and shrimp, according to the truck’s social media posts.
Freddie Lee brought out the 16-ounce portion of chowder to content me while I bided my time behind several phone-in orders. Chock full of chewy clams, the chowder ($8.50) confirmed itself as the real deal upon my first bite. I didn’t detect shrimp per se, excepting their brininess. But the fish was easily apparent for its breading, which was a first for me in chowder. And surprisingly, it worked, offering another texture in the multilayered mixture.
The breading may have betrayed that Freddie Lee’s Alaskan cod isn’t battered by hand. But the chicken almost certainly is. Under its crispy coating, encrusted with salt and spices, the bird is tender, juicy and faultlessly flavored. Even the Texas Pete hot sauce that Freddie Lee serves on the side and recommends with the bird can’t compromise its commendable crunch.
The same breading coats the truck’s fried shrimp, priced at $5 for five crustaceans. A basket with fries costs just a dollar more.
Five bucks also affords two pieces of fried chicken, one white, one dark. For another $1.50, customers get three pieces of dark and white meat, plus coleslaw. Or get four pieces for $8. Make that all white meat, or all dark, if you want. Regardless, these kinds of prices define Freddie Lee’s exceptionally delicious chicken as one of the most affordable meals I’ve seen locally, whether at a mobile or bricks-and-mortar establishment.
A side of macaroni salad tacks on $2 for a portion that easily feeds two people. Freddie Lee’s recipe tastes strongly of sweet pickle, rather than the dill I prefer. But acknowledging that sweet pickles are more common in Southern classics, I appreciate Freddie Lee’s addition of hard-boiled eggs and absence of peppers or onions.
Unimpressed by either salad, my kids clamored for the chowder and would have begged for a burger if I’d revealed their existence on the Freddie Lee’s menu. We’ll doubtless be back for a cheeseburger basket ($8) and more fried chicken meals.
Located at 1510 E. Pine St., in front of Chevron, Freddie Lee’s Seafood Smorgasbord is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Call 458-220-9588 or order on DoorDash.
Located at 200 N. Riverside Ave., Island Time Grindz is open from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. Call 541-631-0255. Follow @islandtimegrindz on Instagram for special hours and locations.
Boba tea is the specialty of a new restaurant in downtown Medford.
Noonie’s Boba Tea opened Dec. 10 at 149 Central Ave., formerly Paisans Pizzeria. Southeast Asian dishes are available for takeout and on-site consumption at several outdoor tables. The menu features curry noodles, salad rolls, rice bowls, oxtail pho, Thai-style soups, papaya salad and “bubble waffles.” Noonie’s signature item, also known as “bubble tea,” combines chewy tapioca pearls in a beverage that also can contain milk and various flavors.
The eatery builds on the experience of chef Noon Korapat, a native of Thailand, and husband Neil Belt. The couple opened their first establishment, offering only boba tea and smoothies, last year inside Heroes American Cafe in Medford. They also are in the process of opening a bricks-and-mortar location in Grants Pass after operating a food truck in that city.
Noonie’s is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Call 541-941-6022. Delivery also is available through DoorDash.
Lake of the Woods has a special to-go menu and accommodations for snow enthusiasts venturing to the resort situated about an hour’s drive from Medford.
A bonfire and tents are highlighted this season to encourage customers to stay and sip drinks from the bar, said general manager George Gregory. The outdoor setting complements the resort’s lodge, general store and marina, all of which are open for business, said Gregory.
Popular with cross-country skiers, snowmobilers, ice fisherman and anyone who enjoys outdoor recreation in winter, Lake of the Woods has taken a “can-do approach” to the latest statewide restrictions on restaurants in response to the coronavirus, said Gregory. Guests can look for a special New Year’s menu, he added.
The following restaurants in November received perfect scores of 100 on their semiannual inspections by Jackson County Environmental Public Health:
Jersey Mike’s Subs, Medford; KFC, Center Drive, Medford; North Medford High School Catering, Medford; Ruby’s on Genessee, Medford; Starbucks, White City.
The county’s searchable database of restaurant and food service inspections is at healthspace.com/Clients/Oregon/jackson/Web.nsf/home.xsp. At the request of Oregon Health Authority, county staff suspended inspections during the November’s statewide “freeze” to slow spread of the coronavirus. Fewer inspections also were conducted last month as county staff’s workload was diverted to contact investigations related to the pandemic, said Chad Petersen, Environmental Public Health program manager.
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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.