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Healthy variety at The Café at Medford Food Co-op

Since the Medford Food Co-op opened in August 2011, it has been a reliable source of locally produced, organic and sustainable food. In mid-November, it extended that healthy, community-minded ethic to a café offering dine-in and take-out options. The cafe’s grand opening is planned for Jan. 7.

The Café at the Medford Food Co-op serves food as simple and straightforward as its name, but the menu fortunately displays plenty of creative flair with the flavors featured in the soups, salads, sandwiches and entrees available on the hot bar. The staff, led by manager Chris Bradbeer, focuses on seasonal, healthful food prepared from scratch, with options for vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free and other special diets.

The specialty salads and sandwiches tempted my taste buds when I stopped in for lunch. A simple turkey and bacon sandwich, a marinated and grilled portobello mushroom burger or a more unusual chicken sandwich featuring grilled chicken seasoned with lemon and dill, sliced pear and blue cheese all sounded delicious. All options are under $10 and come with a choice of potato salad or a kale and quinoa salad.

I also could have built my own sandwich, selecting my choice of organic deli meats, tuna or chicken salad, crispy tofu or spicy tempeh, then adding cheese, veggies, and house-made condiments such as hummus, horseradish spread, mustards and vegan or traditional mayonnaise to layer on bread from Rise Up! Artisan Breads in the Little Applegate Valley. The same selection of toppings can be served in a wrap or on a bed of mixed greens for $8.99.

The specialty salads were even more intriguing: a rice salad featuring the earthy-tasting, purple-black forbidden rice, a golden couscous option with rose water-infused apricots and a pomegranate mint dressing, and more common chicken Caesar salad. I selected a Chinese crispy tofu salad that piled thin slices of sesame-crusted tofu, pickled red onions, shredded carrots and sweet red bell peppers on a napa cabbage slaw dressed with a savory soy vinaigrette. For $8.99, the hearty salad provided me with two delicious meals.

Preparation took a bit longer than I might have expected at the moderately busy café, but diners in a hurry can head to the salad bar to pile up fresh vegetables of their own choosing for a quick salad and add a hot entrée and sides such as beans, rice and roasted vegetables. Hot and cold options are all priced at $8.99 a pound.

With the hustle and bustle of the holidays, I visited another day to pick up an easy dinner. A garlicky parmesan and herb macaroni and cheese and a vegan pasta e fagioli featuring multicolor rotini, white beans, spinach and mushrooms in a light tomato sauce enabled me to take home a buffet of baked pasta. I scooped up a small salad of fresh vegetables over spring greens and romaine, plenty of zesty croutons made with Rise Up! bread, and two tasty dressings: a subtle white balsamic vinaigrette and a classic red wine vinaigrette. I added a miniature apple pie with thick chunks of apple, a flaky crust and buttery streusel topping to bag a three-course meal for two, plus leftovers for the next day, for $22.

With buttery yellow walls, a soaring peaked ceiling with exposed wood beams, and a polished concrete floor, The Café is welcoming, but can be noisy with the buzz and clatter of a busy kitchen and conversations of happy customers echoing through the space.

The Café is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily, the same as the rest of the store, but not all options are available at all times. Grab-n-Go premade items and an array of coffee and espresso drinks, as well as cocoa and chai, are available anytime. The soup and salad bar is available from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., and hot food options such as pasta, enchiladas, roasted vegetables and rice dishes are stocked from 10:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Made-to-order sandwiches, wraps and salads are available from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. While it sounds complicated, odds are you’ll find something to suit most tastes whenever you stop in. Call 541-646-3686 or see medfordfood.coop for details.

Crispy sesame-crusted tofu, pickled red onions, shredded carrots and sweet red bell peppers top a napa cabbage slaw dressed with a savory soy vinaigrette for a to-go supper from The Cafe at Medford Food Co-op. [Photo by Anita Burke]