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Louie's in Ashland ups its game

A tavern at 41 N. Main St. in Ashland has been there for more than 120 years. For almost 25 years, that place has been called Louie’s.

If you haven’t been in Louie’s for a while, it’s time to visit again, because Louie’s now features local organic fare, new gluten-free and vegetarian menus, and it still holds true to the best-of-Ashland burgers and fries we’ve come to know and love.

Walk in the door, and the grand, carved, mahogany bar and friendly greeting establish right off that Louie’s isn’t just another downtown Plaza restaurant. It’s a special place where the food is delicious and largely organic and won’t break your budget.

Louie’s blackberry ribs are so Southern Oregon, and its grilled Alaskan salmon and battered cod are a culinary delight. But perhaps Louie’s is best known for its juicy and tender flame-grilled burgers served with hot, crispy fries.

Consider the Oregonzola with bacon and blue or the Jack Daniels with bacon and barbecue sauce (each $9.99). Hungry for more than a single? Louie’s offers two double-decker burgers, the Ashlandia (with bacon and cheese for $11.99) and the Louie Louie (with onion rings, Jack Daniels’ sauce and a popper for $13.99). The Recession Burger is on the menu too, still priced at $5.99, a quarter-pounder on a fresh bun, complete with organic lettuce, tomatoes, red onions, pickles and dressing. Your taste memory will ring true even through the Recession Burger is now served on white china with house-made kettle chips instead of in a red plastic basket with fries.

Owner Melissa Jensen has moved Louie’s from its hamburger heaven into a more cosmopolitan and organic dining experience. Louie’s offers not just one or two vegetarian alternatives to the standard menus, but two entire menus for gluten-free eaters and vegetarians. There’s grilled pesto tofu, marinated grilled portobello, tofu and black bean burgers, Thai peanut wraps and lots more. Completely customizable, you can mix it up with a wide selection of sides, sauces, dressings and proteins. Louie’s also offers gluten-free beers, cider and cocktails in addition to rotating taps of Oregon beers. Slated for another update in April, Jensen will be adding gluten-free desserts to the menu.

Louie’s is sure to please if you want just a taste or two to go with a worthy selection of local and regional Oregon wines. There’s a good assortment of small plates, including BBQ Blue Canoes, a wonderful medley of blue cheese, bacon, chicken and barbecue sauce served on fresh romaine lettuce leaves. At three for $5.99, the BBQ Blue Canoes are a perfect match to a generous hummus platter served with a delicious grilled and spiced ciabatta bread and vegetables for $7.99. Coconut chicken or tofu skewers, a choice of sweet chili or peanut sauce on the side, cost $5.99.

Top off your meal with a slice of lava cake or mud pie ($7.99) or try a Recession Dessert for $2.25, a selection of truffles or three small squares of cheesecake, just the right amount to share after a fine meal.

Louie’s is a cool oasis during the hot summer months when it offers shaded creekside dining. Warm and sociable in the winter, locals gather for Tuesday Trivia nights, Fiddle Jam Fridays, or to watch the big game on big-screen TVs. You’ll probably know at least a couple of people enjoying the evening, but if you want to sit apart and read, no problem — attentive service and friendly smiles are the same.

Follow Louie’s of Ashland on Facebook for news and events, such as Equal Pay Day, coming April 4, when women will receive 23 percent off food and drinks, reflecting gender wage differences.

The Oregonzola Burger with bacon and blue cheese dressing at Louie's in Ashland. [Photo by Maureen Flanagan Battistella]