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New look for Greenleaf Restaurant

After completely transforming Ashland Greenleaf Restaurant’s look and menu, new owners are scrambling to deal with the new realities of a state-wide shut-down of restaurants due to the coronavirus COVID-19.

The new owners are two Ashland couples—Brent Brakebill, wife Marisela Mendoza, and Frank and Lucy Ortega.

“We got the word Monday,” said Frank Ortega, “and complied with the order. We’re offering take-out and curb-side pick-up of orders now.

“We weren’t very familiar with take-out service, being mostly a sit-down dining restaurant, but we’re adapting,” he said. “We’ve reached out to the community and customers and friends are being very supportive.”

Greenleaf is taking phone orders between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. daily at 541-482-2808. They’re also offering free delivery in Ashland. They hope to be able to reopen on April 12, at which time the shut-down order is scheduled to be lifted.

Located at 49 North Main St. in the historic Independent Order of Odd Fellows building, the restaurant has been part of Ashland’s vibrant culinary scene for nearly 35 years.

The new menu preserves some of Greenleaf’s favorites along with an expanded selection of new breakfast, lunch, and dinner dishes.

The restaurant was founded in 1985 by Daniel Greenblatt as Greenleaf Grocery and Delicatessen, offering counter service and takeout of hot and cold dishes, fresh produce, bulk foods, and other pantry staples.

Greenleaf’s menu featured many vegetarian choices, a novel take in Ashland at the time. After a couple of years, Greenblatt abandoned the hybrid restaurant-grocer model. People downtown were there to eat, not grocery shop.

The two couples got acquainted as neighbors and became good friends. When the opportunity arose to buy the restaurant, they were ready for a new challenge.

Brakebill, 57, operated three restaurants in Long Beach, California, before he and Mendoza, 42, a college instructor, recently decided to move their family to Ashland. “We wanted to get closer to nature,” Mendoza said, explaining their choice of Ashland as a place to raise their two young girls.

Ortega, 62, is retired from Fed Ex and Lucy, 54, works in Medford as a physician’s assistant.

Brakebill still owns two of the Long Beach restaurants, but missed being part of the action as an owner in absentia. “I was bored,” he said. He looked forward to helping give Greenleaf a new look and a new life, drawing on his 30 years of experience as a restaurateur.

Mendoza came up with the idea of playing homage to Ashland’s literary traditions with the “Second Edition” theme, partly inspired by the name itself, the middle name of poet John Greenleaf Whittier.

The concept plays out in the framed art on the walls, in the menu layout, where Preface, Short Stories, Best Sellers, and the Main Story substitute for appetizers, soups and salads, burgers, and entrees.

Floor-to-ceiling bookshelves display more than 200 handpicked books. “Yes, they are meant to be touched, handled, and read,” Mendoza said, smiling. Children’s books are easily reachable on the lower shelves.

Mendoza collaborated with Ashland designer Kelly Ingledew in creating the aesthetics of the restaurant’s physical space.

“We wanted to honor all elements of our community,” Mendoza said. “That includes Ashland’s energized retirees, younger families, and college students, too.”

The interior design is a reflection of that, a blend of the traditional with a dash of trendy, fun elements. Exposed brick walls, sleek and clean lines, new seating, and modern, contemporary lighting combine to give the restaurant a bright and welcoming ambience.

The menu was revamped considerably as well, with an emphasis on the bounty of the Pacific Northwest, locally sourced when possible. The emphasis is on fun, casual dining with food that’s “a little hearty and a little healthy,” says the restaurant’s website.

The new owners engaged chef and kitchen consultant Corrie Matthews to help create the new menu.

“The goal was to offer big flavors that people may have grown up with,” Matthews said, “and combine them with healthy alternatives to fuel the next hike up the hill, and hearty options to feed the soul.”

Brakebill also brought in his main California chef to help revise the bill of fare and train the kitchen staff on preparation of dishes new to the Greenleaf menu.

The breakfast menu has two pages of traditional and newly imagined entrees, available until 11:30 a.m. daily. It includes a wide assortment of egg and meat dishes, omelets, scambles, pancakes, and specialty items.

“Greenleaf used to offer benedicts only on the weekend,” Mendoza said. “Now we offer them seven days a week.”

There’s the Traditional with shaved ham, poached eggs and house-made hollandaise sauce. Three additional choices include the Florentine with spinach, mushrooms, caramelized onion jam and poached eggs; the Soyrizo with grilled soyrizo (a chorizo-flavored meat alternative) and roasted poblanos; and the Norwegian Trout with cold-smoked trout, grilled tomato, crispy potato pancake, pickled red onion, capers and poached eggs. Each option is served on a grilled English muffin.

Most breakfasts come with a side of rosemary potatoes, grilled polenta, fruit, or grilled tomatoes. The bread choices include toast, marionberry muffins and scones.

There are many new items on the lunch and dinner menu as well. Gorgonzola cheese fries and a redwood forest dip (with tortilla chips and veggies) highlight an expanded menu of starters.

Soups include salmon chowder, a rotating rustic soup, and a new hearty house-made chili with ground Angus beef, pork sausage, beans, tomatoes and onions, served with a variety of toppings. The menu offers a half-dozen salads, including kale and spinach tossed with smoked trout and topped with roasted tomatoes, green apple, capers, pickled red onions and toasted almonds.

Greenleaf offers both grilled and deli-style sandwiches. “Plus, we’ve added some very special burgers to the menu,” Ortega said. Customers can choose Angus beef, black bean and quinoa, herb-crusted tofu or grilled chicken breast for the patty.

Brakebill is particularly proud of the grilled ribeye dinner. The steak is topped with crispy fried onions, whiskey gravy, and wine-braised mushrooms, served with garlic mashed potatoes and sautéed vegetables.

Ortega has his own favorites. He likes the bacon-wrapped meatloaf, “just like mom used to make,” and the tender, juicy braised short ribs.

“After we get settled, we’ll start having regular specials,” Brakebill said. It will be the way Greenleaf introduces new dishes to customers.

Hot and cold beverages include a variety of espresso double-shot drinks, with a barista on staff. “We recently added mimosas, and they’re a big hit,” Brakebill said. Local draft beers and wines complete the beverage menu.

Greenleaf also has a catering business and sells box lunches that include a hearty sandwich, cookie, apple and chips. “They’re popular with tourists,” he said.

People who haven’t visited Greenleaf recently won’t recognize the place. But they’re going to like what they see, Brakebill said. “Customers have embraced the changes. They love the new look,” he said.

But for now, people who haven’t seen the remodeled space will have to wait a while to enjoy it fully.

When restrictions are lifted, the restaurant will be open from 8 to 8 Tuesday through Sunday and 8 to 2 on Mondays. Hours may vary as the seasons change. “We may stay open later when the tourist season is in full tilt,” Brakebill said.

For more information and to view the full menu with prices, go to greenleafrestaurant.com.

Jim Flint is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at jimflint.ashland@yahoo.com.

Jim Flint photoSleek lines and contemporary lighting brighten the ambiance of Greenleaf Restaurant in Ashland.