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Wild River Pizza serves up drive-in movie fun

Medford arguably has a stand-out pizzeria, but the region’s pizza preference is much broader.

With locations in Grants Pass, Cave Junction and Brookings, as well as Medford, Wild River stands out as a brew pub and entertainment-focused, family-friendly venue that’s still innovating amid the pandemic’s restrictions. The restaurants formerly known for live music and comedy nights pulled out all the stops with a drive-in movie series this month and last. For my recent experience at the Medford location, Wild River managed to overdeliver during challenging times for food service.

“Jurassic Park” drew my family and dozens of others last week to Wild River’s massive parking lot off North Pacific Highway. Fronting an inflatable screen are spaces for about 40 cars attending the drive-in, along with plenty more for diners choosing Wild River’s roomy patio with fire pits.

The drive-in continued in Medford this week with “Shrek” and promises of at least one more film at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 26. The Grants Pass location on Northeast E Street screens its drive-in films Mondays at 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. In Cave Junction, showtime is at 6:30 p.m. Wednesdays.

Follow links on the restaurants’ Facebook pages to Eventbrite’s tickets sales platform. The movie costs $20 per car; food purchases are not required.

Given my 7-year-old son’s fascination with dinosaurs, “Jurassic Park” was a billing too thrilling to pass up. We packed blankets and pillows, intending to raise the car’s back hatch and sit in the cargo space. Arriving about 45 minutes before showtime allowed us to maneuver the car, order pizza and enjoy the first few bites before the action commenced.

For this outing, the kids expected a treat, and the reassurance of “no weird pizza” helped to entice our companions. Because one boy prefers pepperoni, the other Canadian bacon, I combined both with my choice of linguica sausage on the large “Spirit of America” ($33.50). I requested black olives and mushrooms on half, plus a side of pineapple for my younger son.

If it was a matter of pleasing my palate alone, I would could have ordered the Greek lamb pizza with thinly sliced leg of lamb and feta cheese or maybe the “Oktoberfest” with smoked sausage and sauerkraut. Even if must be a mini pie, the “Bait Bucket” with shrimp, oysters and anchovies will beckon until I’ve scratched that itch. Vegetarian combinations, chicken pizzas and two versions of the much-loved “taco pizza” number among the menu’s 18 selections, in addition to four calzones. Pizzas are priced from $6 for a mini cheese to $34.50 for a large pie under the menu’s “European Inspired Classics.” Calzones cost $14.50 or $18.50.

And if pizza doesn’t pique your appetite (really?!), there are pasta dishes and other main courses of coconut shrimp, chicken Parmesan and coho salmon fillet, priced from $10.95 to $22.95. Burgers, sandwiches and salads, from $6 to $15.50, prove the menu’s appeal to any dietary persuasion any time of day.

There’s no kids’ menu, but the standard pizza presentation — cross-cut into diamond shapes — appeals to little hands. For adults, my partner pointed out, the smaller pieces encourage portion control and also easier sharing of a pizza’s few remaining bites. There’s also implied value in many more, albeit smaller, slices of pizza.

All that aside, the format did make juggling pizza and drinks inside a vehicle less daunting. Rounding out the meal was a portion of house salad comprising Romaine and green leaf lettuce, tomato, cucumber, Parmesan, marinated red onions and housemade croutons. There also are Caesar, Cobb, chef, taco, sesame chicken, shrimp Louie and several other salad choices.

When I requested two portions of the salad — typically presented family style and priced at $6 per serving — the server clarified that a single portion easily feeds two people. Dressing, served on the side, likewise was generous, a handy surplus for diners who want to dip their pizza in ranch. We also were pleasantly surprised to locate among our napkins a bag of the salad’s accompanying baguette, although it was superfluous alongside so much pizza.

The salad was far more enjoyable than I anticipated, fresh and crunchy with several long spears of cucumber heightening its visual appeal. The red onions, which I typically skip, were so mild from being marinated that I detected none of the sulfurous aftertaste that detracts from the rest of my food.

The pizza’s first impression was diminished in the parking lot’s floodlights, but even in unfavorable lighting, I could make out the crust’s charred edges from Wild River’s wood-fired oven and the deliciously crisped wafers of sausage and mushrooms. I did have a bit of trouble weeding out a few fungi and olives that strayed onto my kids’ side of the pizza, but their protests were mild, cut short by the film’s accelerating plot and their first glimpses of its prehistoric stars.

My partner and I kept busy replenishing the kids’ paper plates in between bites of salad and sips of Wild River’s India pale and Kolsch-style ales. Typically, 12 brews are offered on tap, in addition to wine and cocktails. Drive-in audiences are limited to three drinks per vehicle.

If I’d realized Wild River also brews root beer in house, I would have ordered the caffeine-free alternative to fountain sodas for the kids. Free hot chocolate is available for drive-in ticket holders at Wild River’s Grants Pass location. In Medford, we got a family-sized chocolate chip cookie when we presented our ticket.

Located in Medford at 2684 N. Pacific Highway, Wild River is open from 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. See the menu and order at wildriverbrewing.com/our-restaurants/wild-river-medford Or call 541-773-7487.

Tempo Tidbits

Indulge your sweetheart in a custom-made, ready-to-eat box of meats and treats.

A new lineup of “grazing boxes” from Wildly Platter Co. is available in time for Valentine’s Day. The meat lover’s box ($34) is stuffed with more than a pound of cured meats in four varieties, pepper jack cheese, crackers, pickles, nuts and Dijon mustard. A “wildly sweet” grazing box ($15) features treats, including truffles, themed for the holiday, and the caterer’s classic grazing box ($20) has more Valentine’s Day pizzaz.

Order by Feb. 10 at wildlyplatterco.com for delivery Feb. 13. Delivery is available in Grants Pass, Medford and Ashland. Email wildlyplatterco@gmail.com or call 458-212-4425 for more information.

Based in Grants Pass, Wildly is an offshoot of Roam the Bar, a mobile bar and catering service. Unveiled in August, Wildly specializes in “grazing tables” a lower cost, casual alternative to more formal buffets and multicourse meals at weddings and other events. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, caterers have transformed the communal concept into individual boxes and handheld assortments.

Follow Wildly on Instagram @wildlyplatterco or see facebook.com/wildlyplatterco

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Waffle bowls are back at The Oregon Cheese Cave in Phoenix.

A signature item when the cheese shop opened in 2018, the waffle bowl was on hiatus since September’s Almeda fire, when the bakery producing the batter closed. With this month’s reopening of Organicos Bakery, the gluten-free, vegan treat is available again, says Melodie Picard, owner of The Oregon Cheese Cave.

“The concept is to serve it like ice cream.”

Each bowl gets a scoop of fresh cheese, either locally made By George fromage blanc, Wisconsin chevre or vegan cashew cream. Toppings pay homage to a cheese platter’s traditional accompaniments: fresh and dried fruits, nuts, olives, honey and preserves.

Priced at $6 apiece, waffle bowls are available for takeout during business hours, noon to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, at 310 N. Main St. Preorder larger quantities by emailing roguecheesequeen@gmail.com. Call 541-897-4450 for more information.

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More covered outdoor seating and new fire tables await patrons of Medford’s Tap & Vine at 559.

A new roof, completed last week, shelters four tables near a blast heater outside the restaurant facing Tinseltown in the Medford Center. Large umbrellas shield new fire tables that accommodate two to four diners for a full meal or up to six customers for drinks and appetizers, says Kitty Cerrato, restaurant spokeswoman.

Also selling blankets branded with its logo, Tap & Vine encourages dressing warmly and bringing lap robes or even portable camp heaters, says Cerrato. Make reservations, which are strongly encouraged, at tapandvine559.com/reservations, or call 541-500-1632.

Marking its first anniversary last week, Tap & Vine is open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4-8 p.m. weekdays and from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

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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.

The “Spirit of America” is one of 18 pies on the Wild River Pizza menu in Medford.{ }Photos by Sarah Lemon
The house salad at Wild River in Medford features marinated red onions and housemade croutons.