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Family favorites made from scratch at Luna Cafe

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Ashland restaurant’s dine-in or grab-and-go fare touts Oregon focus
Sarah Lemon / Mail Tribune The BLT gets a boost from pesto aioli at Ashland’s Luna Cafe
Sarah Lemon / Mail Tribune The kids’ cheeseburger comes on a house-baked brioche bun at Luna Cafe in Ashland.
Sarah Lemon / Mail Tribune Tempeh is an alternative to the traditional pastrami Reuben at Ashland’s Luna Cafe.
Sarah Lemon / Mail Tribune A small “Luna salad” can be selected as a side dish with sandwiches and burgers at Ashland’s Luna Cafe.
Sarah Lemon / Mail Tribune Lavender lemonade is a summer thirst-quencher at Ashland’s Luna Cafe.
Sarah Lemon / Mail Tribune Sandwiches come with a choice of side dish at Ashland’s Luna Cafe.

Summer break also signifies a break for my kids from some school cafeteria staples.

Chief among those are pizza and hamburgers, which their school serves every week. And while my two sons — like the majority of their peers — never met a pie or burger they didn’t like, I certainly welcome a departure from daily dishes that mimic fast food.

That’s why I can embrace Ashland’s Luna Cafe, located for the past six years just down Ashland Street from the town’s drive-through lanes — but light-years from the fare served by corporate chains. After a day of soccer games, shopping and other errands, my family bypassed Ashland’s fast food alley for Luna’s from-scratch but still speedy menu served in a modern-chic but kid-friendly atmosphere inside Ashland Hills Hotel & Suites.

Luna indeed touts its dining accommodations for families and pets — an “ultimate rest stop” with the “freshest food” on Interstate 5, according to its website. Among its road trip provisions are locally roasted coffee, house-made pastries and grab-and-go items that are just as compelling to locals who value wholesome options and Luna’s focus on Oregon producers.

Locally made beers, wines and cider headline Luna’s drink list, along with specialty cocktails. My partner and I both craved lavender lemonade ($4 for 16 ounces) while the boys each wanted fountain sodas ($1.50 apiece). Luna provides kid-themed plastic cups with lids upon request.

The kids’ cheeseburger with fries ($8) and cheese or pepperoni pizza ($7) join a roster of classic macaroni and cheese ($5) and grilled cheese ($6) or chicken tenders ($8) with fries. The boys needed hardly a moment to ponder the choices before both blurting out “burger!” And I had to concede its house-baked brioche bun elevates the burger above other selections.

The regular menu’s natural beef burger ($16) comes with a side-dish choice, which includes sautéed veggies or Caesar, house or orzo salads, as well as fries. Add $1 for macaroni and cheese or soup of the day. Make it a bacon burger or Beyond patty for $17.

Bacon as a BLT ($15) with basil aioli enticed my partner. Among Luna’s vegetarian and vegan options, I homed in on the tempeh Reuben ($16), fairly widespread in Ashland but harder to find in other cities locally. A “loaded garden” sandwich with smoked mushrooms, avocado, sauerkraut, Gruyere cheese, pesto mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato and onion is among the new items Luna unveiled earlier this year.

Chicken-bacon-ranch is another newer combination that increased Luna’s pizza selections to a half-dozen, including pear and blue cheese with candied walnuts. I relished a similar flavor profile in my side “Luna salad,” prettily presented with thinly sliced apple fanned over the mixed greens, completely covered with bits of candied nuts. Also generous, the roasted shallot vinaigrette reposed in the bowl’s bottom to preserve the greens’ texture for taking to go.

Salad fans find more options in the barbecue chicken ($17) and steak salad bowl ($20). The former’s Southwest spice palette is echoed in the paprika-crusted salmon bowl ($28) with cumin sour cream, cilantro, black beans, corn and lime over orzo.

Online ordering and curbside pickup, even weekend take-and-bake meals, saw Luna through the coronavirus pandemic. Once restrictions eased this spring, the restaurant added happy hour from 5 to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday, affording $1 off pints and wines by the glass, as well as $2 off craft cocktails, pizzas and burgers.

My kids’ burgers arrived in sturdy baskets seemingly woven from a natural material in keeping with Luna’s vibe. House-made ketchup accompanied the hearty portion of fries, crisped to perfection under a thin breading. Pickles perched alongside, the burger constituted a cute, hand-formed patty with cheese that — unlike school burgers — oozed attractively under the pillowy bun, cut from a larger loaf of brioche.

Gobbling their burgers in a few bites, the boys never finish a restaurant portion of fries, leaving plenty for me. My Reuben was so filling, though, I was hard-pressed to finish it and my salad, among the most visually appealing and satisfying side dishes I can recall receiving with a sandwich.

The sandwich itself layered tempeh and sauerkraut in nearly equal proportion on marbled rye. Amalgamated with Gruyere and just moistened with Thousand Island dressing, the sandwich handled neatly for a Reuben, among the most conscientiously constructed versions I’ve tried. I also appreciated pickle slices on the side as an additional palate cleanser.

Also stacking ideal ratios of bacon and tomato, the BLT was bulked up with freshly shredded lettuce tossed in red wine vinaigrette that cut through the other ingredients’ richness. Nicely toasted sourdough also corralled this sandwich’s components.

An ideal thirst-quencher, lavender lemonade is a drink we’ll seek out on future trips to Ashland. And warmer weather likely would lure us to Luna’s patio or deck overlooking Grizzly Peak.

Located at 2525 Ashland St., Luna Cafe is open from 5 to 8:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, until 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday; lunch service is 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. See lunacafeashland.com or call 541-482-3372.

Features editor Sarah Lemon writes The Whole Dish column that runs biweekly in A la Carte. Reach her at 541-776-4494 or slemon@rosebudmedia.com