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Ghostlight Grille presents a showtime menu in a new venue

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Eggs Benedict can be ordered on a crab cake or the traditional English muffin at the Ghostlight Grille in Medford. Photo by Sarah Lemon.
Buttermilk fried chicken is served on biscuits or waffles at the Ghostlight Grille in Medford. Photo by Sarah Lemon.
Challah bread French toast comes with seasonal fruit compote and Chantilly cream at the Ghostlight Grille in Medford. Photo courtesy of the Ghostlight Playhouse.
Brunch is served Friday through Sunday at the Ghostlight Grille inside the Ghostlight Playhouse in Downtown Medford. Photo courtesy of the Ghostlight Playhouse.
The Michelada combines beer and bloody Mary mix at the Ghostlight Grille in Medford. Photo by Sarah Lemon.

Randall Theatre Company’s new Medford performance venue moonlights as a restaurant.

The Ghostlight Playhouse on Front Street debuted the Ghostlight Grille in mid-August. Cast to create a showtime menu of burgers, sandwiches, hot dogs and snacks, chef Nic Lanier started by spotlighting weekend brunch for the Grille’s soft opening.

Given downtown’s draw with brunch crowds at the nearby Downtown Market Co. and Over Easy, the move seems like a solid rehearsal for adding lunch and dinner later this fall. And meals ordered at Ghostlight support the nonprofit theater’s bid to bring more live entertainment downtown and financially pull out of the pandemic.

Randall moved into the old Howiee’s on Front a year ago and is still renovating and upgrading. Ghostlight endured months of setbacks, including staffing shortages, equipment repairs and pandemic-related restrictions that postponed its intended May opening. Yet the organization remains committed, according to Artistic Director Kathy Wing, to revive the iconic restaurant space that was a downtown fixture for about a quarter-century.

The wood-paneled interior of 16 N. Front St. looks much the same as it did during Howiee’s tenure, minus posters of rock ’n’ roll icons that papered the walls. Rustic wooden bars and bar-height tables provide most of the seating, with more limited outdoor accommodations in the building’s alley courtyard.

My friend preferred to sit inside on a sunny Saturday afternoon, perhaps for nostalgia’s sake. Working for combined decades a stone’s throw from the former Howiee’s gave us plenty of occasion to drop in with colleagues.

All-American fare defines the Grille’s menus, streamlined with 10 items for showtime, not including popcorn and cookies, and eight brunch dishes. Lanier wisely doubles up on burgers and fried chicken for both mealtimes and seasons the lineup with Southern influences, seen in chicken and biscuits, chicken and waffles and a chicken or shrimp po’boy.

I likely would have chosen the last in that list if it was offered for brunch. But the Grille confines morning-into-afternoon choices to a burger and club sandwich as complements to its breakfast dishes. Because my friend and I both gravitated to the chicken and biscuit ($13), I had to guard against duplication and capitulated to the crab cake Benedict ($15).

Brunch dishes also include chicken and waffles, biscuits and gravy, a breakfast burrito and challah bread French toast, from $12 to $13. Priced at $13 and served with a side of fries, the aforementioned burger incorporates bacon, a fried egg and maple syrup drizzle on a fluffy “waffle bun.” Also served with fries, the chicken-bacon club for $12 touts ranch aioli.

A bar menu is available mornings, afternoons and evenings. Given the suggestion of a mimosa or Michelada at that hour, I requested the latter, skipping the gussied up version with garnishes of bacon, a chicken tender and slider in favor of plain beer and bloody Mary mix rimmed with chile-lime salt. My friend asked for an iced tea.

Placing our orders at the counter, we slid into cushioned stools across the dining room. Our drinks arrived in short order, followed by the food about 10 minutes later.

It was immediately apparent which of the ungarnished plates represented a better value. My friend’s open-face buttermilk biscuit boasted an entire fried chicken thigh on each half. Seizing on my question for staff about whether I could substitute country gravy for the dish’s eggs, he requested his order that way.

Although he didn’t care for honey butter drizzled over the bird, it was moist and flavorful under its buttermilk batter. The bite I claimed confirmed it as impeccably crunchy and savory. I did think the honey butter’s sweetness complemented the nicely salted chicken, and I likely would request the optional jalapeno flavor. For those craving more heat, there’s habanero honey butter and Nashville hot chicken.

In contrast to the assertive chicken, my crab cakes weren’t immediately apparent. Instead, I saw a slice of ham under each of my eggs. I asked the server if I misread the menu, to which she pointed out the crab cakes under the ham slices. So focused on crab, my eye had simply slipped right over ham in the dish’s menu description.

The housemade cakes were about what I had expected for flavor and texture, which is to say not strong on crab. Because the majority of crab used in restaurants is previously frozen, there’s little chance it will impress, unless specified as Dungeness in season.

A crispier crab cake would have elevated the dish. But in this case, I actually would have preferred the traditional version on an English muffin for $3 less. The Hollandaise, nevertheless, was rich and lemony, somewhat remedying an overcooked yolk in one of my poached eggs.

Like many eateries attempting creative alternatives to the old “eggs-any-style” format, the Grille doesn’t prepare hash browns or country-style potatoes. Diners preferring to start their day with spuds would be advised to choose an item with fries. Even better are poutine ($10 on the Grille’s showtime menu), a beloved Canadian concoction comprising fries, cheese curds and housemade brown gravy with the option to add buttermilk fried chicken bits for $3 extra.

In addition to plays and musicals, the Ghostlight hosts bands, comedy, karaoke and more. Most shows also are available for livestreaming. See the performance calendar and purchase tickets at ghostlightplayhouse.com. Call 541-690-8810.

The Grille is open for brunch from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday through Sunday. See menus at ghostlightplayhouse.com/ghostlight-grille

Tempo Tidbits

An Indonesian eatery in Ashland is going green.

Blue Toba is the latest local restaurant to sign on with Rogue To Go, which supplies reusable takeout containers. Located on Ashland Street, Blue Toba is Rogue To Go’s 10th participating business.

Customers get started in Rogue To Go by paying a one-time $10 fee. They receive a durable plastic container they can return to any participating restaurant in exchange for a clean one.

The program’s other eateries are Ashland Food Co-op, Buttercloud Bakery & Cafe, Burrito Republic, Common Block Brewing Co., Falafel Republic, Kobe, Pie + Vine, Simple Cafe and Skout Taphouse & Provisions. A counter-service restaurant with very limited seating, Blue Toba does a brisk business in takeout.

Some restaurants’ online ordering systems offer the option to choose Rogue To Go. Customers also can call participating restaurants and request their order in Rogue To Go containers. See roguetogo.com

Manufactured in the United States, Rogue To Go containers are made from BPA-free plastic that can be melted down and reformed into other recycled materials products. All are commercially sanitized between uses, in compliance with Jackson County public health guidelines.

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Happy hour is back at Ashland’s Peerless Restaurant & Bar.

The fine-dining establishment, where entree prices can top out at $62, last week announced its new bill of casual fare, served 5-6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday in the bar. A merguez lamb slider and barbecue chicken wings headline the happy hour menu while kusshi oysters are $5 to $8 off the dinner menu price for a half dozen or full dozen.

Cocktails — martini, Margarita, Manhattan and aperol spritz — are $8 apiece, roughly half the price of artisan drinks on the regular menu. House red and white wines are $1 off during happy hour.

Located at 264 Fourth St., Peerless is open 5-9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Reserve at peerlessrestaurant.com or call 541-488-6067.

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The following restaurants in August received perfect scores of 100 on their semiannual inspections by Jackson County Environmental Public Health:

Abby’s Legendary Pizza, Crater Lake Highway, Medford; Ali’s Thai Kitchen, Medford; Asian Grill, Medford; Bonsai Teriyaki Sushi III, Medford; Boomtown Saloon, Jacksonville; Branding Iron Tavern, Medford; Dairy Queen, Central Point; Domino’s Pizza, Eagle Point; Dutch Bros., 7251 Crater Lake Highway, White City; Dutch Bros. Coffee, Stewart Avenue, Medford.

The county’s searchable database of restaurant and food service inspections is at healthspace.com/Clients/Oregon/jackson/Web.nsf/home.xsp

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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.