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Comal Bar & Grill raises its profile, attracts an enthusiastic crowd

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Burritos number eight different recipes at Comal Bar & Grill in Central Point. Photos by Sarah Lemon
Burritos number eight different recipes at Comal Bar & Grill in Central Point. Photos by Sarah Lemon
Chile relleno is a traditionally prepared whole green chile, stuffed with cheese, battered and fried at Comal Bar & Grill in Central Point. Photos by Sarah Lemon
Chile relleno is a traditionally prepared whole green chile, stuffed with cheese, battered and fried at Comal Bar & Grill in Central Point. Photos by Sarah Lemon
Horchata is a sweet, milky housemade beverage at Comal Bar & Grill in Central Point. Photos by Sarah Lemon
A sope is a masa shell filled with meat, cheese and other toppings offered as an appetizer or lunch special at Comal Bar & Grill in Central Point. Photos by Sarah Lemon
Chicken wings come with a choice of five different sauces Comal Bar & Grill in Central Point. Photos by Sarah Lemon

Flavio and Paola Martinez know how to build anticipation — and style a restaurant.

The social media-savvy couple are equally savvy restaurateurs, confirmed by their latest Comal Bar & Grill location in Central Point. Announcing plans six months ago to expand to the former Mazatlan Grill site, the Martinezes gave the space a much-needed makeover and last week welcomed a community hungry for more Mexican cuisine.

Comal enjoys recognition in Medford and Phoenix for its signature dish: a hefty stone mortar — “molcajete” — awash in beef, chicken, shrimp, edible cactus pads, peppers, onions and jalapenos. Beverages also are feasts for the eyes. Think bottles of Modelo served upside down in massive goblets frilled with shrimp and dripping hot sauce. For birthdays, order a round of shots and let Comal replace the candles with liquor-fueled flames.

This isn’t the region’s standard Mexican fare, although Comal offers plenty of the genre’s standbys. A longtime Southern Oregon resident who attended Phoenix High School, Flavio Martinez worked his way up from the restaurant industry’s lowest ranks to open his own establishment in 2014. He and his wife have since built up their business and raised their profile in a crowded market, earning enthusiastic followers.

A modernized interior greets Comal customers in Central Point. Where Mazatlan’s colorful Mexican-style tiles and mosaics previously covered the walls now are cinder block alcoves painted white to complement faux marble-topped tables and pendant lighting. One entire wall blooms with artificial flowers and greenery, softening the otherwise neutral, angular decor.

Anticipating a rush at dinnertime, my partner and I opted for a midday meal at Comal. Lunch specials are served until 3 p.m. and trim several dollars off the regular prices for an enchilada, burrito, tostada, taco or sope (each $9.95) served with rice and beans. Brunch items include chilaquiles, huevos rancheros and machacha burrito from $12.95 to $13.95. Lunchtime chicken or steak fajitas can be had for $15.95 or $16.95, respectively.

The dinner combos drew my eye for the chile relleno, tamale and chimichanga, which are not offered among the lunch specials. One combo item costs $12.95, two $14.95. Yet I also was craving sopes since enjoying them on a recent trip to San Antonio. Once I confirmed I could order a single side of chile relleno for $7.50, my ideal combo materialized.

My partner deliberated among eight different burritos, each more elaborate than the basic lunch special incorporating chicken or ground or shredded beef. Considering the veggie burrito ($12.95) with grilled onions, peppers and mushrooms, he lamented its lack of cheese.

In the end, he favored “Romio’s burrito” ($16.95) a hybrid dish that not only affords melted Monterey jack cheese but smothers the main item in enchilada sauce. Requesting carnitas from Comal’s list of “premium meats” (pastor, asada, pollo asada, fish and shrimp) added $2.95.

And because we’d lately been thwarted on the chicken wing front, I declared Comal’s “chingon bad ass wings” indispensable. I eagerly approved habanero-tamarindo from the sauce options of chipotle, crema, “diabla” and Korean pepper.

A house-made horchata ($3.50), I thought, would quell any fire from the wings. My partner almost regretted jumping the gun and ordering a Coke ($3.50) before perusing the full beverage menu. We’d have to save Comal’s elaborate cocktails for another time.

Reposing on lettuce leaves with a surprise side of slaw, the chicken wings’ presentation was more appealing than most other restaurant versions. The seven nicely sized wingettes and drummettes ($12.95) were perfectly cooked to a juicy, even doneness inside with deliciously crispy skin. Comal’s thin, sweet sauce that saturated the wings without sticking to our fingers had just the right heat from sliced habanero chile. These easily were the best wings we could recall eating locally.

We only wished for more time to relish our appetizer before the rest of our food arrived scarcely five minutes after the wings. While my meal of a single sope piled with shredded chicken was portioned just right for lunch, my partner’s platter-sized burrito easily could have fed both of us, even in the absence of rice and beans. My partner said it was packed with much more pork than he expected.

Chile relleno encased in a tortilla for $14.95 makes a nice alternative to Comal’s meaty burritos. On its own plate, the egg-battered and fried whole green chile was a symphony of cheese, stuffed with white stringy Oaxaca cheese and topped with melted jack.

My sope was the only dish that didn’t surpass expectations. The softball-sized masa shell wasn’t as light and tender as others I’d tried, and its flavor didn’t do much to complement the seasoned poultry, onion and tomato. If I wanted a similar effect, next time I’d order a tostada.

There’s plenty more to explore at Comal, including the menu’s large section of seafood specialties, ranging from“pina rellena,” a half pineapple stuffed with five types of shellfish, plus fish, onions, bell peppers and avocado ($29.95) to a classic shrimp cocktail for $19.95.

Located in the Mountain View Plaza at 1350 Plaza Blvd., Comal is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, until 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. See comalbarandgrill.com. Call 541-727-7359.

Sister restaurants are at 1209 W. Stewart Ave., Medford, and 723 N. Main St., Phoenix. Call 541-779-1698 and 541-897-4203, respectively. Both offer online ordering.

Tempo Tidbits

A meal that treats Mom is planned at Larks Home Kitchen Cuisine.

The restaurant inside Ashland Springs Hotel is taking reservations for its three-course Mother’s Day Brunch May 8. Service runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. with seating in the hotel’s walled English Garden or Larks’ dining room, 212 E. Main St., Ashland.

The menu offers a choice of Dungeness crab on field greens, spring vegetable egg bake with crispy potatoes, house-cured duck ham Benedict with farm potatoes, avocado sandwich with herb-garlic fries or Oregon huckleberry buttermilk pancakes with bacon or chicken-apple sausage. Brunch begins with scones, housemade jam, butter and fresh fruit for the table and concludes with flourless chocolate torte, mandarin marmalade and vanilla ice cream. The cost is $34 per adult, $17 for children 12 and younger, excluding beverages, tax and gratuity.

See larksashland.com/mothers-day-brunch and reserve online for dining room seating. To book garden seating, customers must call 541-488-5558.

*****

A new coffee company supports local kids in need.

Royal Coffee Roasting donates the cost of a meal to Medford’s nonprofit Kids Unlimited for every pound of beans it roasts. Organic and Fair Trade beans by the bag and coffee capsules can be purchased at royalcoffeeroasting.com

Family-owned and based in Central Point, Royal Coffee rolled out its food truck last month in Medford. It operates from 7:30 a.m. to 1: 30 p.m. Wednesday through Friday at 2780 E. Barnett Road and from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays at Medford’s Fichtner-Mainwaring Park through May 21. To go with its regular coffee drinks, cold brews and infused “energy” elixirs, the truck serves maple bars, pink-frosted doughnuts and waffles on a stick in four sweet and savory flavors.

*****

British cheeses meet their teatime match Sunday in Ashland.

A special pairing of four cheeses selected by The Oregon Cheese Cave in Phoenix will be served at 4:30 p.m. alongside a flight of three British teas with international accompaniments at Lovejoy’s Tea Room. The cost is $35 per person. See lovejoystearoom-ashland.com/events-1 to reserve online or call 541-708-6718.

Open for the past year at 96 N. Main St. No. 201, Lovejoy’s is a treasure trove of mismatched china, shabby chic furniture, doilies, chintz and all the trappings of proper high tea. Hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Sunday.