By Anita Burke
Mail Tribune, Medford, Ore.
It’s always fun to pause at the end of the year to reflect on the best bites and tasty trends.
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I was especially impressed with Rogue Valley entrepreneurs starting small by jumping on an idea that has proved huge elsewhere: food carts.
A handful of food trucks have cruised Southern Oregon the past few years, serving plenty of hot dogs, tacos and bento, with a few offering upscale items featuring local products at local wineries, breweries, farmers markets and random parking lots around town.
Two — Victory Dogs, the popular purveyor of bacon-wrapped hot dogs loaded with tempting toppings, and Ooblies Waffle Food Truck, which piles innovative sandwich toppings on light crispy waffles — rank among Medford’s top restaurants on Yelp.
This year brought some great additions to the fleet and two places that corral these mobile kitchens.
The Medford Center draws several to the courtyard near Tinseltown, aiming to create a festive atmosphere, especially on Friday and Saturday evenings. It’s one of the places you’ll find Ooblies, and look for Rogue Fire Pizza there.
Rogue Fire’s rolling pizza oven is stoked with hardwood and quickly puts out thin-crust pies that balance crispy, chewy and flexible and are infused with a subtle smoke flavor that enhances the mild red sauce. Vegetarians will love the spinach and tomato or gourmet artichoke pies, while meat-lovers will find all the classics, too. Order a slice for $3 or $3.25 depending on toppings or get a whole 18-inch pizza, with prices starting at $21 and topping out at $27 for the all-meat combo.
The Chop Shop, a former used car dealership at the corner of Eighth and Fir streets, is now regularly home to roughly half a dozen food carts, including old favorites such as Figgy’s Food Truck, which focuses on fresh seasonal food, and Peruvian Point and some newcomers. It’s open for lunches weekdays and experiments with late night and weekend options when the weather isn’t too cold and wet.
The newsroom gang regularly dashes down the street to Wok Star, which features Asian tacos and other fusion dishes developed by a classically trained chef who grew up in Hawaii. Fired Up Food Truck wraps up carnitas, rice, steak and grilled vegetables in an array of burritos or piles the ingredients in a bowl to create a dish dubbed “the smokin’ bowl.”
Winter has me craving a big bowl of pho from Nguyen Street Food, although this food cart operated by chefs Hallie Conlan and Steen Turner isn’t open in the winter. I enjoyed their pho, banh mi, spring rolls, rice bowls and hearty salads all summer at the Rogue Valley Growers and Crafters Market and look forward to their return.
The Rogue Chef was another excellent entry in the food truck field by Stephen Pena, who has worked in the food industry since his teens and was previously at The Peerless in Ashland. You can taste the quality in the Rogue Reuben’s mesquite-smoked pastrami and a dark cocoa rye, both made by the chef in his mobile kitchen. The Wagyu burgers on brioche buns also baked in the trailer are amazing, too. After a brief break for Christmas, he’ll be back serving breakfast and lunch items at 111 S. Talent Ave.
I’m confident these little successes will keep growing. Maybe more will move up to full restaurants, the way Blue Toba did with its delicious Indonesian dishes in Ashland. Certainly new trucks will roll onto the scene, and Rogue Valley diners who appreciate innovative, inexpensive food will rejoice.
— Anita Burke