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Arbor House is a warm and friendly Rogue Valley tradition

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A longtime main course on the regular Arbor House menu, braised lamb shank now is available as a special. Photo by Sarah Lemon.
Minestrone was a recent soup special at Arbor House in Talent. Photo by Sarah Lemon.
Potato-corn chowder was a recent soup special at Arbor House in Talent. Photo by Sarah Lemon.
Green salad is served with a caddy containing three house-made dressings at Arbor House in Talent. Photo by Sarah Lemon.
A special seafood penne was packed with sea scallops, bay shrimp, prawns and house-smoked steelhead at Arbor House in Talent. Photo by Sarah Lemon.

Southern Oregon’s celebrations and traditions are reemerging into the collective community. And spring’s sunnier outlook coincides with a resurgence at the region’s restaurants.

Long a locale for both traditions and celebrations, Talent’s Arbor House Restaurant is welcoming customers back to its dining room after pausing business, first to serve community meals in the aftermath of September’s devastating Almeda fire, then for the statewide pandemic precaution that banned indoor dining.

Like other fine-dining establishments, whose cuisine doesn’t travel so well as takeout, Arbor House endeavored to make the best of a climate that crippled so many food service operations locally and nationwide. It simplified its menu for curbside pickup and also instituted new take-and-bake items. When its doors reopened, Arbor House’s loyal clientele came hungry for tried-and-true recipes.

Although the Arbor House menu looks simpler on paper than prior to the pandemic, a half-dozen or so “specials” that represent beloved dishes are prepared each evening. Dijon Chicken is no longer listed, but it was on special the evening my partner and I visited. So was braised lamb shank, while seafood fettuccine had been reinterpreted with penne and the addition of house-smoked steelhead.

Dishes that did make the cut say a lot about customer cravings at Arbor House.

The Caesar Salad Supreme, Pasta Primavera and Chicken or Eggplant Parmigiana are mainstays alongside “chef’s choice steak,” “catch of the day” and “chicken entree of the week.” Prices range from $18 for the Caesar without an addition of chicken or shrimp to $38 for steak, plus “surf.”

Unchanged is the multicourse format that includes soup, salad and bread with each entree for a single price. A rarity in the local dining scene, this holdover from decades past is a good value and sets Arbor House — open since 1979 — apart from other establishments in the region.

Testaments to Arbor House’s history, framed portraits — most black and white — of people dear to founders Kitty and Patrick Calhoun cover the walls. The couple moved from New York in the 1970s to give their six children an “alternative lifestyle,” according to youngest daughter Leah Calhoun, who has owned Arbor House since 2007. Each generation of Calhouns embraced their clientele as family, she says.

A warm, friendly tone prevails through Arbor House servers’ face masks. Accommodating various dietary requirements and just about any special request is one of Arbor House’s calling cards. Samples are routinely and courteously offered for wines, soups and such items as curry sauces.

My partner and I felt confident enough in our choices of minestrone and potato-corn chowder that we declined a taste. He did accept a sip of Season Cellars Transparency before committing to a full glass ($9) while I swooned over availability of EdenVale Midsummers Cuvee by the glass, also for $9.

Our soups arrived at just the right temperature for tucking in and dipping our garlic bread. The minestrone’s hearty broth harbored carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, corn, red beans and a few bits of pasta. The potato-corn chowder was more refined, its sweetness tempered by garlic. Both bowls were beautifully garnished with chopped fresh chives.

The salads’ tender spring mix had enough character to support heftier slices of cucumber, mushroom, cabbage and house-made croutons. But Arbor House could serve just about any produce alongside its house-made dressings, and diners would gobble it up.

Each table’s caddy conveys three dressings, including a vinaigrette and a creamy style. In addition to classic blue cheese, Greek yogurt vinaigrette and strawberry balsamic were available. I ladled both vinaigrettes onto my salad and dunked mushroom slices in the blue cheese. My partner and l chuckled to see a customer several tables away drinking the dressings straight from the caddy with his soup spoon.

Surpassing “cup” and “side” sizes served at most other restaurants, Arbor House’s soup and salad can be ordered a la carte with bread for $8. For some appetites, the combination would make a plenty filling meal.

But bring a healthy hunger for Arbor House’s main courses. Portions are large, and proteins generous. I noted that three types of seafood — scallops, prawns and fish — are commendable in a pasta dish like the one my partner ordered. Arbor House tosses in bay shrimp for good measure. Lightly sauced, the penne incorporated bell peppers, carrots, mushrooms, broccoli and summer squash, sprinkled with more fresh herbs and preshredded Parmesan.

The same vegetable melange constituted a side dish for my lamb shank, served with brown rice pilaf, instead of mashed potatoes, at my request. Pan gravy oozed over the rustic cut, cooked for several hours in a low-temperature oven, the server explained.

I cook lamb shanks at home and appreciate restaurants’ efforts to highlight this beef alternative. Arbor House’s version had lamb’s inherently distinctive flavor and the succulent chew expected of cuts containing connective tissue. A tenderer shank can be achieved by cooking under pressure, I’ve found. But this one was a lamb lover’s delight, recommended to any diner of a carnivorous persuasion.

With half of my shank boxed to take home, we were briefly enticed by white chocolate creme brulee, salted caramel chocolate mousse and whole wheat strawberry shortcake. Given a few minutes to deliberate, however, our stomachs registered peak satisfaction, and we declined dessert. Our meals each were priced at $32, a relative bargain — not including drinks — for two diners.

Located at 103 W. Wagner St., Talent, Arbor House Restaurant is open from 5 to 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. Call 541-535-6817 for reservations. See arborhouserestaurant.com for more information.

Tempo Tidbits
Shrimp and grits is on the new Sunday brunch menu at Ashland’s Hearsay Restaurant, Lounge & Garden. Photo courtesy of Hearsay Restaurant.
Jefferson Farm Kitchen chef-owner Kristen Lyon plans a business relaunch Thursday with samples and discounts. Photo courtesy of Jefferson Farm Kitchen.
Noonie’s Boba Tea in Medford serves a new lunch special, discounted after 3 p.m. for heating and eating at home. Photo courtesy of Noonie’s Boba Tea.
Chicken and waffles is on the new Sunday brunch menu at Ashland’s Hearsay Restaurant, Lounge & Garden. Photo courtesy of Hearsay Restaurant.

Reducing food waste at a downtown Medford eatery comes with a reduced cost for new takeout items.

Heat-and-eat dishes from Noonie’s Boba Tea are available after 3 p.m. until closing for $4 to $5 apiece. The restaurant last week instituted lunchtime specials of two protein choices paired with steamed or fried rice for $12. A popular street-food format in Bangkok, “curry and rice” shortens service time at Noonie’s and gives chef-owner Noon Korapat some creative license each day.

Customers can look for braised pork, duck red curry and mango red curry, among other specialties. Items remaining after the daily lunch rush will be portioned as small meals or snacks and chilled for takeaway. Korapat and co-owner Neil Belt say they hope the concept minimizes food waste at Noonie’s and encourages customers to try new dishes at attractive prices.

Located at 149 Central Ave., Noonie’s is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Call 541-941-6022.

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Sunday brunch has resumed at Ashland’s Hearsay Restaurant, Lounge & Garden.

The restaurant located under Oregon Cabaret Theatre announced its reinstated brunch service last week on social media. The menu offers omelets, eggs any style with breakfast meats and potatoes, cornmeal waffles with or without chicken, vegetarian eggs Benedict, pan-fried quinoa cakes and a “breakfast burger,” in addition to soups and salads on Hearsay’s dinner menu. Sunday brunch hours are from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Located at 40 S. First St., Hearsay’s lush, walled garden is a hidden oasis above downtown Ashland while its main dining room — with colorful, abstract murals of cosmopolitan clientele — suggests both opulent jazz club and shadowy speakeasy. In keeping with the theme, the restaurant’s cocktail list recalls a bygone era when vermouth, bourbon, gin and rye engendered American classics.

Reserve at hearsayashland.com or call 541-625-0505.

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A farmers market-style open house headlines Jefferson Farm Kitchen’s “Earth Day Rebirthday.”

The April 22 relaunch of the Jacksonville takeout establishment and meal-delivery service also highlights new products, new subscription packages and a store remodel. Samples packaged to-go will be available from 1 to 6:30 p.m. Thursday, April 22 and 29, and from 1 to 5 p.m. Friday, April 23 and 30, and Wednesday, April 28, at Jefferson Farm Kitchen, 135 S. Oregon St.

The event continues through May 3 with online promotions and giveaways at jeffersonfarmkitchen.com. The eatery specializes in meals to go by advance order but also does a brisk business in bone broth and soups, housemade ferments and condiments, quiches and pot pies and freezer and pantry staples. Chef Kristen Lyon chooses organic and locally produced ingredients and offers a variety of vegan and gluten-free options.

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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.