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Pangea serves up tried-and-true plant-based comfort food

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The “French kiss” panino combines fresh and sundried tomatoes with pesto, spinach and Brie at Ashland’s Pangea. Photo by Sarah Lemon.
African groundnut soup is one of the rotating daily specials at Ashland’s Pangea. Photo by Sarah Lemon.
The “squirrel nut” salad is served with housemade lemon-tahini dressing at Ashland’s Pangea. Photo by Sarah Lemon.
The “drunken barbecue” panino can be made with chicken or tempeh at Ashland’s Pangea. Photo by Sarah Lemon.
German potato soup is one of the rotating daily specials at Ashland’s Pangea. Photo by Sarah Lemon.

Vegetables — so long as they aren’t salt-spiked, sugar-coated, doused in butter or drowned in canned cream of mushroom soup. That’s all I want the day after a holiday feast.

Plant-based eating is at the heart of Pangea’s fresh, wholesome soups, salads, wraps and sandwiches. As vegetarian and vegan fare has caught on over the past couple of decades, Pangea’s menu no longer evokes globally inspired innovations but rather Ashland’s tried-and-true brand of comfort food.

Just as Ashland’s storefronts, artisan markets and craft fairs are my preferred antidote to big-box stores, shipping delays and “supply chain” woes, Pangea epitomizes the fast-casual alternative to franchise eateries. Longtime customers likely didn’t notice when Pangea changed hands in 2018 because its mission didn’t. Dishes made from scratch with quality ingredients — many organic and locally grown — remain the restaurant standard.

It helps, of course, that Pangea was purchased by industry veterans. Ryan and Zoe Lehmann also operate Zoey’s Cafe & All-Natural Ice Cream, less than a block away, as well as Cicily’s Pastaria & Grill in Medford. At Pangea, they merely had to stay the course set in 1998 by founders Marc and Roanna Rosewood.

The spice palettes of Africa, Greece, India, Turkey, Brazil, Russia and Thailand are still apparent at Pangea, more than 20 years since chef Marc Rosewood developed the original menu. Roanna Rosewood imparted a whole-foods ethic, evident in tempeh, live sauerkraut, kombucha and sprouts. As gluten-free became a common request, Pangea offered the substitution for its breads and wraps.

Priced from $8.99 to $13.99, wraps and panini are large enough for me and my partner to share one, if we add a salad or bowl of soup. And from four daily soups, it’s not an easy task to choose just one.

I knew my older son, enamored of bacon, would gravitate to Pangea’s “German potato.” I suggested he share a bowl ($7.79) with my partner, freeing me to enjoy more offbeat flavors. I weighed “African groundnut” against “Bhutanese chile pepper and feta,” settling on a cup ($4.99) of the former when a staff member described the pepper soup as more like tomato.

Tomatoes I anticipated aplenty in my favorite “French kiss” panino ($12.99), which incorporates both fresh and sundried love apples, married to spinach and basil pesto with a rich layer of melted Brie. Closely vying for my affection is the “mushrooms wild” panino, which swaps the Brie with soft goat cheese and the fresh tomato for grilled portobello and other fungi.

Always enamored of salad, my younger son and partner agreed to split the “squirrel nut,” a cornucopia of dried goji berries, nuts and seeds over organic field greens, carrots and sprouts ($10.99). Dressings served on the side — lemon-tahini in this case — keep calories where customers want them and also sequesters flavors unfamiliar to kids. Salads range from $7.99 for a small to $14.99 for Indian-spiced chicken or tofu salad as a combo with soup.

Chicken is a choice for two-thirds of Pangea’s panini and wraps, making truly plant-based recipes the minority. I love the restaurant’s way with tempeh, preferring it over poultry, but selected the latter in a barbecued-sauced sandwich ($11.99) with caramelized onions and roasted red bell peppers for my kids to share.

First we all quenched our thirst with Pangea’s indispensable rose lemonade ($3.95) Other popular beverages are raspberry iced tea ($3.25) and a stevia-sweetened hibiscus cooler ($3.95). Pangea serves a full complement of coffee and espresso drinks, as well as several beers ($4.95 each) and glasses of Del Rio cabernet sauvignon and pinot gris ($7.50 apiece).

Our soups arrived just hot enough to dig in without the kids protesting over its temperature. Although my older son was disappointed that Pangea doesn’t prepare garlic bread, a few seeded rice crackers accompanied each soup. Both were thin-bodied but savory and lightly salted.

The salad plate was heaped with impeccably fresh, hearty greens under a generous layer of pumpkin seeds, sunflower kernels, hempseed hearts and cashews. My partner and I both loved Pangea’s pourable but still creamy dressing without dairy. My younger son declined dressing but shoveled in his half of the salad, sparing hardly a glance at his sandwich’s chicken.

My pizza-loving kids may have shown more enthusiasm for the day’s special panino — pepperoni and salami with marinara sauce, pesto, black olives, banana peppers and mozzarella ($12.99) — despite their initial vote for chicken. A kids’ menu featuring grilled cheese, peanut butter and jelly and chicken quesadilla would tempt youngsters accustomed to plainer foods and accommodate adults’ pocketbooks with prices from $4.99 to $6.49.

My panino’s Brie wasn’t quite as distinctive as I recalled from previous visits, although the cheese’s ooey-gooey texture was plenty apparent. Usually avoiding greens on sandwiches, I can’t parse a reason why this particular panino’s spinach is so seductively velvety. Ingredients in ideal proportion, perhaps. But I also could contentedly chalk it up to Pangea’s “je ne sais quois.”

Those well acquainted with Pangea know the restaurant is one of Ashland’s prime outlets for online orders, takeout and delivery. Its virtual ordering platform reveals items — inspired by North Africa, the Middle East and even Shakespeare’s plays — that aren’t on the printed menu.

Located at 272 E. Main St., Pangea is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. See pangeaashland.com or call 541-552-1630.

Tempo Tidbits

Medford’s newest craft brewery boasts expansive outdoor seating at the site of a former custom cabinet shop.

HRL Brewery & Pubbery builds on Matt Maynard’s 12 years of home brewing and Eric Maxwell’s extensive business and restaurant experience. Both retired veterans, the co-owners had been working on HRL for about a year.

Seating more than 160 customers between its indoor and outdoor dining areas, HRL serves six house-brewed beers to complement flatbreads, salads, a burger, chicken sandwich and assorted snacks and appetizers, priced from $6 to $14. The pub’s 18 rotating taps highlight local beers, wines, ciders, kombuchas and CBD-infused sodas.

Located at 1100 N. Central Ave., HRL is open from noon to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday, until 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Call 541-499-6373.

The restaurant’s 5,000 square feet dates to the 1940s, when it was a commercial laundry, followed by speaker box, waterbed and cabinet manufacturers.

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A new downtown Medford brunch establishment is in the works.

Owners of the former Xilakil Latin Fusion unveiled their latest project: Tartine Brunch Club. The interior at 36 S. Central Ave., formerly The Rogue Grape, marries sleek, modern furnishings and pendant lights with neutral-colored floral flourishes. The establishment was awaiting its Oregon liquor license last week, said proprietor Andre Velez.

The restaurant was foreshadowed on Instagram when Xilakil closed its doors at 1361 Center Drive in September, after operating for nearly three years. Offering Sunday brunch and specialty cocktails, Xilakil merged Mexican and Southern California street foods.

Tartine adds more brunch options within a few blocks at such establishments as Downtown Market Co., Ghostlight Grille and Over Easy. The Rogue Grape relocated over the spring to Jacksonville’s Bigham Knoll.

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A culinary travel show on public television is the new project of longtime Southern Oregon restaurateur Vinny DiCostanzo.

The owner of Vinny’s Italian Kitchen, DiCostanzo directs and produces “All Across Oregon,” which debuted in October on Southern Oregon PBS. Episodes can be viewed at 6 p.m. Wednesdays on the locally broadcast station or at allacrossoregon.com.

Featuring Southern Oregon towns, Northern California and the South Coast in its first season, the show will expand across the state and larger Pacific Northwest, said DiCostanzo.

When he’s not filming, DiCostanzo staffs Vinny’s in Medford’s Larson Creek Center Wednesday through Saturday evenings, cooking almost everything the restaurant serves. DiCostanzo reopened his popular eatery in its original location a year ago after a decade away from the business, which was subsequently sold.

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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.