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Gather Cafe Bistro Bar serves specialties, plus some classics

Prolific local restaurateurs behind a new Talent eatery say they intended to preserve a community gathering place.

The Almeda fire and coronavirus pandemic had other plans, however, for Gather Cafe Bistro Bar, owned by Sumesh and Dimple Bakshi, who also operate restaurants in Ashland and Medford.

The Bakshis cite the community’s encouragement for Gather’s Oct. 8 opening, a mere month after the catastrophic Almeda fire swept through Ashland, Talent and Phoenix. Off to an optimistic start, Gather shuttered its inviting, expansive dining room a couple of months later, shifting its customers outdoors or encouraging carryout. As other local eateries resumed on-site dining last week, the Bakshis were biding their time, welcoming patrons to Gather’s covered porch and tables in the adjacent parking lot.

The cheerful exterior of the former Downtowne Coffee House at 200 Talent Ave. welcomes patrons with mosaics, stained glass and other quaint adornments. While some of the menu’s “everyday food” matches the aesthetic, the Bakshis bring a global influence to their “small plates” — samosas, “street corn” and cauliflower and chicken “Manchurian.”

I’d been hankering to try these specialties since sampling Gather’s brunch menu several months ago. The small plates format is an attractive option for a late lunch or early dinner in deference to the restaurant’s 4 p.m. closure.

Diners also can choose from such “comfort foods” as fish ’n’ chips ($13), macaroni and cheese ($12) and two different rice bowls ($12 each). Among the fare billed as “light and healthy” are tomato-basil bisque and a rotating housemade soup — each priced at $4 for a cup or $7 for a bowl — as well as house and Caesar salads, priced from $4 to $8.

While I appreciate the Bakshis’ multiethnic approach, I’m more inclined to Indian and Asian cuisine than the menu’s Western dishes. My friend agreed and requested the chicken Manchurian ($10) after I had decided on the cauliflower ($8.50). When I added the samosas ($6), she expressed hopes of a bite.

Contrary to our tastes, our companion opted for a BLT ($10.75), which listed “spicy mayo” among the sandwich’s otherwise classic components. Gather’s lineup of sandwiches range from Southern fried chicken ($11.50) to the “vegan special” ($11.75), served with “skinny fries.” In between are variations on grilled cheese, including chicken pesto, from $9 to $10.75.

Our order took a bit longer than I anticipated, considering we were the only customers on hand. But given that Gather’s closing time was drawing near, I assumed kitchen staff may have already started putting away ingredients and equipment. When our food did arrive, it was piping hot and attractively arranged in takeout containers lined with lettuce leaves.

As we expected, the cauliflower and chicken shared a flavor profile, but their textures diverged, primarily because the vegetable wasn’t battered and the bird was. Both had a tangy, slightly spicy persona, and the duo together managed to avoid being redundant. Our group happily shared bites of both dishes and proclaimed them worth ordering again.

Likewise, the samosas were more distinctly seasoned than I anticipated, their potato and pea filling nicely accented with coriander. The savory pastries’ fried exterior was a little thick and chewy, but their accompanying roasted red pepper sauce brightened the overall effect. I only wish I’d had another samosa to polish off the generous portion of sauce.

Although we would have appreciated some ketchup or another dipping sauce on the side, the fries were a fine example of the genre — ultra thin and ultra crispy, just the way I like them. The BLT boasted thick slices of juicy tomato layered with perfectly done bacon and the requisite lettuce on multigrain bread.

My friend wasn’t deterred in his sandwich selection by the overdone bacon that Gather served for brunch prior to the November coronavirus-related “freeze.” Our impression that the kitchen staff’s attention had wandered could have explained the hash brown patties that were — almost inconceivably — too crunchy for my tastes. The veggie scramble ($11.75) we ordered could have redeemed the meal, if only it had been hot.

What the dish lacked in temperature, however, it made up for in flavor and presentation. The scramble’s mushrooms, spinach and tomatoes were succulent companions to the moist eggs, drizzled with red pepper sauce and garnished with microgreens. The slice of grilled tomato also improved the plate’s appeal.

Three other scrambles, eggs any style ($9.75) with the option of ham, bacon or sausage ($11.75), three breakfast burritos and two versions of french toast compose the “brunch” menu, so specified because Gather doesn’t start serving until 9 a.m.

Both fans of french toast, my friend and I ordered Gather’s traditional take prepared with multigrain bread ($8). Despite the side of jam and syrup, the toast lacked moisture, and we agreed a better bet would have been the dish’s fancified counterpart arrayed in fruit compote, peanut butter, sliced bananas and whipped cream for $1.75 more.

Plenty of sweets — scones, muffins, turnovers, cookies and croissants — can be had in Gather’s pastry case at the front counter. The assortment rotates and includes such desserts as tiramisu, which had promise — much like Gather. Once the restaurant can finally hit its stride after the past six months of false starts, it should indeed be the community draw the Bakshis envision.

Gather is open Thursday through Tuesday. See gathercafebistrobar.com. Call 541-897-0763.

Tempo Tidbits

Sip and nibble to the sounds of live music at Hummingbird Estate in Central Point.

The vineyard on Old Stage Road is hosting Gypsy jazz guitarist Dayton Mason at 3 p.m. Saturday. Hummingbird’s wines and tasting room fare are available during the event.

Hummingbird’s menu comprises goat cheese terrine, pork meatballs, spicy edamame wontons and weekend soup specials, in addition to the more mainstream cheese and charcuterie board and warm, marinated olives. Prices are $6 to $22. See the menu at shop.hummingbirdestate.com/Tasting-Menu

Expanding its food gardens to cultivate more ingredients to use in its kitchens is one of Hummingbird’s goals, says co-owner Kristina Alvarez. An event venue, the historical property also is home to a bed-and-breakfast.

The return of live music at Hummingbird, with more events planned this spring, is a preview of a tentative summer concert series that also will feature food trucks each weekend, says Alvarez. See the lineup at shop.hummingbirdestate.com/Events/Event-List

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A longtime vendor of prepared foods is absent from Rogue Valley Growers & Crafters markets, which opened this week in Ashland and Medford.

Jams, jellies, cookies, pastries and sweet and savory pies and turnovers from Pennington Farms no longer will be available at local growers markets. The berry farm and bakery announced it was bowing out of market vending this week after nearly three decades to focus on its farm store in the Applegate Valley.

Pennington’s beloved jams are still available at Ashland Food Co-op and Great Harvest Bakery in Medford. The farm’s full product line can be purchased on its website, pennington.farm, as well as through Rogue Produce, rogueproduce.com.

Sam and Cathy Pennington relocated with their five children in the 1980s from Colorado to the Applegate Valley, where they purchased an 88-acre farm and almost immediately planted it in seven acres of berries — blueberries, raspberries, strawberries and unusual varieties like tayberries and loganberries. The family liked to eat the berries, but had so many that they needed to find a way to sell them. When attempts at wholesale were unprofitable, the Penningtons started making their namesake jams.

Located at 11341 Williams Highway, Grants Pass, Pennington Farms is open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. Call 541-846-0550 or email contact@pennington.farm for special orders.

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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.

Cauliflower Manchurian is seasoned with a housemade sweet and sour sauce at Gather Cafe Bistro Bar in Talent.{ }
The veggie scramble comes with toast, hash browns or home fries and a slice of grilled tomato at Gather Cafe Bistro Bar in Talent.