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Spoons

One restaurant comes to mind when fast, fresh, flavorful and frugal are this diner’s primary considerations.

Spoons in downtown Medford’s Woolworth building offers enough variety to hold regular customers’ interests in portions and at prices — $5 per meal — that are practically in perfect harmony.

Foremost is Spoons owner Merrie Gaye’s rotating cast of 30-plus soups, most riffs on family recipes and adaptations from popular cookbooks. Five-mushroom, split pea with ham and several chicken variations are some of the best-sellers. Customer input also spurred Gaye to perfect meat- and dairy-free soups.

It’s these vegan soups that most often beckon. Creamy carrot, parsnip, broccoli and spinach soups pack hearty helpings of vegetables into relatively small servings. Each 10-ounce cup of soup comes with a slice of the day’s fresh-baked bread and a side of salad, slaw or sundry concoction, depending on Gaye’s mood and the season.

Indeed it was cantaloupe, diced in ½-inch cubes and tossed with filaments of green cabbage that most impressed me recently. Gaye says she buys locally grown produce in season and even supplements from her own organic garden. This sweet, juicy melon seemed the epitome of that ethic.

Summer also is the time when Gaye trots out a repertoire of chilled soups. My favorite, “sassy watermelon,” won Best Taste at this year’s Smudge Pot Stroll. But gazpacho is the mainstay on Monday, when I dropped in with a friend. She chose the day’s “greens,” Asian chicken salad, also $5. Rounding out the menu are 1-pound baked potatoes loaded with such toppings as bacon, mushrooms and blue cheese; chicken cordon bleu with tarragon cream or whatever Gaye has on hand.

The gazpacho was at the same time refreshing and nourishing with Gaye’s cheese-and-herb rolls.

Heavier soups include Gaye’s take on French onion, topped with Brie cheese; chicken pot-pie, distinguished from others of its ilk by Gaye’s potato-cheese crust; and vegan roasted red pepper with black beans. Heartier appetites can spend an extra dollar for 12 ounces of soup or $3 for an entire pint.

Spoons’ soups taste so good for the simple reason that Gaye makes each from scratch every day, starting with her own stock, simmered over several days from bones and vegetable trimmings. The basic formula continues to yield innovations. A quick glance at Spoons’ Facebook page revealed several newcomers: saffron-spiced fish stew, twice-baked potato and Italian lima bean carbonara.

Spoons is open from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. weekdays (except federal holidays) at 33 N. Central Ave., Medford. Call 541-220-6993.

— Sarah Lemon