Best of Ashland

Part II

Best of Ashland Part IISomehow, another month of living with COVID-19 is behind us, and there seems to be a dim light at the end of the tunnel. I still argue that if we had an aggressive testing system and isolated all the carriers, we could have this thing licked in a month, but who listens to me? Everyone wants to put all their eggs in the vaccine basket, and it could take a year before we reach herd immunity. Think about it logically: if you have a population of 10,000 people, and 10% are infected with COVID-19, the virus would spread quickly, especially among those who thought it was a hoax and refused to wear masks. HOWEVER, if you tested every single one of those 10,000 on a certain day and located the 1,000 carriers and isolated them, the virus would have nowhere to go. Voila …. pandemic over! On a national level, it would take a tremendous amount of money and organization, similar to the Manhattan Project and the Apollo program, but it could be done. Apparently, however, someone other than Curt Hayden needs to get behind this.

Anyway, what else happened last month when Part I of the “Best of Ashland” came out? Oh, the Democrats won two Senate seats in Georgia and took control of the U.S. Senate, and later that day President Trump, in an attempt to subvert the election and install himself the winner, incited a riotous mob to attack the U.S. Capitol, where five people died. He would later be impeached for a second time for those traitorous actions. And President Joseph Biden was inaugurated, putting an end to Trump’s Reign of Terror. Other than that, a fairly boring month.

In the last year, local restaurants have taken a huge hit, except for the ones who could figure out creative ways to make takeout and delivery work. And, of course, the fast food places had cars lined up a block long. Our readers still had their favorites, and maybe this survey will brighten up the spirits among local restaurants. Again, when the votes were bunched up closely at the top, we awarded multiple ties. We realize it doesn’t have the romantic impact of a clear-cut winner, but it’s the fairest way to do it.

Arts and entertainment also took a hit during the pandemic, but never fear, our readers have not forgotten you. In fact, they yearn for First Friday Art Walk to start up again and for the Shakespeare Festival and local theaters to get back on a regular schedule. The balloting covered everything from December 2020 to the present, and luckily our readers have long memories.

And so, without further ado, Part II of the 2021 “Best of Ashland.” In the spirit of the times, I’m not going to mention the coronavirus again for the rest of this survey. Got to give it a break and enjoy life.

RESTAURANTS 

BEST NEW RESTAURANT

Last year was probably not the best time to open a restaurant, but in this Game of Life, you have to play with the cards you’re dealt, and local restaurants responded admirably to the challenge. Our readers were able to mention six new restaurants that caught their fancy, including this year’s winner Billy’s Fried Chicken (82 N. Main), Billy Harto’s new creation in the spot upstairs where the Thai Pepper Bar used to be. The bar is still there, but it now serves both Thai Pepper downstairs and Billy’s Fried Chicken upstairs.

The top three were actually pretty close, and they included:

  • Mam’s Happy Thai Express at 165 E. Main
  • Burrito Republic, located at 46 E Main

The list also featured:

  • Craving Cave at 2345 Ashland Street in the Albertson’s Shopping Center
  • The remodeled Greenleaf Restaurant, with new owners and a new look
  • Clyde’s Corner in Phoenix, whose young owners are Ashland High School grads

BEST BREAKFAST

Somebody drank a little too much tequila the night before and forgot to set the alarm. You’d planned to cook one of your award-winning omelets before heading off to work, but there wouldn’t be time for that … or even a shower. A co-worker called and wanted to go over the upcoming stockholder vote on whether to eliminate your position or not, and she wanted to meet for a quick pow-wow and breakfast.

Where to go? Taking down top honors this year was Brother’s Restaurant (95 N. Main) where Dan Durant and David Newton have been holding down the fort since 2007 (although the restaurant itself has been around since 1976).

Coming in a close second was The Breadboard at 744 N. Main. The new owners, Gilberto and Ivan, bought the restaurant just before COVID-19, and they promise their customers that they’re hanging in there and will be back better than ever.

And, of course, third place went to Morning Glory Café, and they’re not hanging in there, as owner Patty Groth closed the doors last December. LATE BREAKING NEWS! Just a call from Dave Bernard this morning, and he and his wife have bought Morning Glory and will reopen the restaurant on February 4. It will be just takeout at first, but they plan to bring MG back to its former “glory.”

The list also included:

  • Ruby’s
  • Brickroom
  • Wild Goose
  • Oak Tree
  • Greenleaf
  • Northwest Raw

BEST LUNCH

So many places to go for lunch, so little time. It’s like trying to read all of the books in the Library of Congress, except a lot more fun. Our readers were all over the map on this one, as they mentioned 32 different favorites. Taking down the number-one spot this year was a tie between Pangea, Ryan and Zoe Lehmann’s establishment at 272 E. Main, and The Brickroom, located upstairs on the Plaza at 35 N. Main, where owner Eli Katkin has converted the old Alex’s into the place to go in downtown Ashland.

The Top Ten featured:

  • Larks
  • Ruby’s
  • Sammich
  • Sauce
  • Standing Stone
  • Breadboard
  • Black Sheep
  • Brother’s
  • Wild Goose
  • Oak Tree

BEST FRENCH TOAST

I was in France in October 2019 before the pandemic hit, and while waiting for a train, I decided to go buy a “croque monsieur,” which is a popular grilled cheese sandwich in France. The lady pulled it out of the frig and asked if I wanted it heated, and I had no idea what she was saying. So trying to be accommodating, I said “non” and just paid for the sandwich unheated. Trust me on this one: you want the thing heated. Where was my interpreter when I needed her?!

Here in Ashland, we don’t need any interpreters to find the perfect French toast, which was awarded to The Breadboard by our readers, although Brother’s, Oak Tree and Wild Goose also have the backing of a lot of people.

Morning Glory Café probably would have won this category except for its demise, and also mentioned were The Brickroom and Hither.

BEST RUEBEN SANDWICHES

I had a friend from back east who told me once that no one in southern Oregon knew how to make a real Rueben sandwich. He was kind of a snob anyway, but he kept going on about how the Russian dressing had to be exactly right. Just to pimp him, I mentioned that I actually like to add a lot of ketchup to mine, and he practically had a heart attack. “Dude,” I said, “I put ketchup on my ketchup!” He laughed.

Where to go for that perfect Rueben sandwich? This was a runaway for Sammich (424 Bridge Street), where owner Melissa McMillan and her crew pride themselves on their sandwiches, including their award-winning Ruebens.

Also receiving a lot of votes were:

  • Ruby’s
  • Oak Tree
  • Wild Goose
  • Brother’s
  • Greenleaf
  • Breadboard

FAVORITE DINNERHOUSE 

My favorite dinnerhouse of all time was at 3037 Oak Hill Road in Evansville, Indiana. I grew up in a family of eleven people, and as the middle child I got to experience the good, the bad and the ugly of my siblings every night around the dining room table. It would be kind to label it a zoo, especially since all of my six sisters wanted to be the center of attention. I just took copious notes and used it all to blackmail them when we turned adults. Half of them wouldn’t make it out of a Supreme Court appointment if I had my way.

Where would my family want to go if we all had a reunion in Ashland? This turned out to be a tie between Alchemy Restaurant & Bar (35 S. 2nd), where the Gibbs family holds sway inside the Winchester Inn, and Larks Home Kitchen Cuisine in Doug and Becky Neuman’s Ashland Springs Hotel at 1st and Main.

The top four were actually pretty close, and they included:

  • Peerless at 264 4th Street
  • Omar’s Fresh Seafood & Steaks, located at 1380 Siskiyou

Also high on the list were:

  • Amuse
  • Hearsay
  • Beasy’s on the Creek
  • Harvey’s
  • Brickroom
  • Smithfield’s

BEST STEAK ENTREES ON THE MENU

We had a little family gathering last night (socially distanced, of course), and my three grandkids (9, 7 and 4) were in rare form. We were sitting around some tables waiting for Mémé to finish cooking the baby back ribs on the grill, when my 9-year-old grandson said, “I’m a Vegan, but I like bacon, pigs and meat.” Not sure he understands the complete meaning of Vegan, but it was pretty funny.

Taking down top honors in this category for the umpteenth time in a row was Omar’s Fresh Food & Steaks, where sole owner Jen Sinks continues in the tradition that has wowed local residents since 1946.

The top three were actually pretty close as Beasy’s on the Creek and Smithfield’s both received a good share of the votes, followed by:

  • Amuse
  • Brickroom
  • Alchemy
  • Hearsay
  • Larks
  • Harvey’s

BEST SEAFOOD ENTREES ON THE MENU

I’m not a huge fisherman, but I did my share of fishing for bluegills in the neighborhood while growing up, plus some trout fishing in Rocky Mountain National Park, and a couple of bass fishing expeditions with a buddy in Grants Pass. And, of course, we won’t talk about the time in the Florida Keys when some ne’er-do-wells took me out on a boat and we robbed some lobster traps. Mum’s the word on that, although I do believe 46 years is probably past the statute of limitations.

This category was hard fought, but according to our readers they most appreciated the efforts of Larks (in the Ashland Springs Hotel).

Others mentioned a lot were:

  • Kobe
  • Omar’s
  • Amuse
  • Thai Pepper
  • Beasy’s on the Creek
  • Ostra’s

FAVORITE MEXICAN RESTAURANT

When I first visited Ashland in 1977, I’m not sure there were any Mexican restaurants here. Maybe Dave’s Mexican Food, but that’s about it. Today, however, there seems to be a Mexican-style restaurant on every corner, and it’s a testament to the popularity of the food and atmosphere.

All ten Mexican restaurants were mentioned by our readers, and out of fairness, we’ll name all ten of them, starting with this year’s numero uno, Taqueria Picaro (76 N. Pioneer), where owner Jeven Flowers has turned the old Tabu into a popular gathering place, complete with a family section and seats in the bar.

The top four were extremely close, though, and they were:

  • El Paraiso at 545 Clover Lane
  • La Casa del Pueblo, located at 1209 Siskiyou
  • Agave at 5 Granite Street

Also receiving lots of votes were:

  • Mezcal
  • Señor Sam’s
  • El Tapatio
  • Burrito Republic
  • Big Al’s
  • La Tapatio in Phoenix

BEST BURRITOS 

This is the quintessential Mexican dish, similar to the Dogwood sandwich in the States. You basically have an outer layer of a flour tortilla, then fill it with all kinds of goodies. One of my favorites is the Veggie Burrito, and every vegetable known to man can be found inside, while the tortilla is smothered in some kind of zesty sauce. Makes me want to fly down to Cabo San Lucas right now and order one. But why bother with that when Ashland has so much to offer, including our readers’ favorite, which ended up in a tie this year between Señor Sam’s, Jim Gilbert’s restaurant in the Ashland Shopping Center, and Ruby’s at 163 N. Pioneer, where Christian and his staff roll out the burritos.

The list also featured:

  • Taqueria Picaro
  • Burrito Republic
  • El Tapatio
  • La Casa del Pueblo
  • Mezcal
  • El Paraiso

BEST APPETIZERS

You’re obviously hungry when you get there, and your growling stomach can be heard all the way over on Table Twenty-two. The solution? While ordering your drinks, go ahead and select an appetizer that will whet your appetite until the big guns get there. And when it comes to really creative and tasty appetizers, our readers most often picked Peerless Restaurant and Bar (264 4th Street), where new owner Harlan Brooks is applying his unique culinary skills to the entire menu.

They were followed by:

  • Ostra’s
  • Alchemy
  • Brickroom
  • Larks
  • Omar’s
  • Hearsay
  • Beasy’s on the Creek

FAVORITE ASIAN RESTAURANT

The closest I got to Asia was in the army when I walked into company headquarters at Ft. Sam Houston, Texas, in July 1970 after receiving word that I gotten my deployment orders. I was a little nervous, and the sergeant at the front desk bellowed out, “You’re going to Vietnam, Hayden.” My heart sunk, but two seconds later he said, “Nah, just kidding, Private, you’re going to Germany.” I felt like backhanding him, but I was so elated at the news, that I laughed along with his joke.

I have been to Hawaii, though, and that’s almost Asia. But if I wanted to get a taste of Asian cuisine, our readers know where to send me, as this ended in a tie between Kobe, Michelle Ruibal’s Modern Japanese Cuisine restaurant at 96 N. Main, and their neighbor Thai Pepper (92 N. Main), where Billy Harto works his magic with Thai food.

The Top Ten featured:

  • Sesame Asian Kitchen
  • Umami
  • Happy Bowl
  • House of Thai Cuisine
  • Yuan Yuan
  • Golden Dynasty
  • Bonsai Teriyaki 

BEST SUSHI MENU

I was a Johnny-come-lately to the sushi craze, but I’ll have to say it’s a fun way to eat dinner. It’s bite-sized morsels of prepared vinegared rice filled with a variety of ingredients of your choosing. I have a friend in Carmel who’s an expert in sushi, and he tried to give me a crash course when I was there last year. I still don’t know the difference between nigiri and uramaki, but who cares if it tastes great?

All of the local sushi places were mentioned in this survey, and taking down top honors was Kobe at 96 N. Main, followed by:

  • Bonsai Teriyaki
  • Umami
  • Sakana
  • Little Toyko
  • Sushi Heaven

FAVORITE ITALIAN RESTAURANT

My wife and I discovered an Italian singer named Andrea Bocelli about a year ago (check out his duet with Ed Sheeran on the song “Perfect” on Youtube). Now, whenever we have a pasta dish for dinner, we instruct Alexa to shuffle songs by Andrea Bocelli just to get us in the mood.

Here in Ashland, you don’t need a smooth, blind Italian singer to make you think you’re in the heart of Italy; just go to one of the many fine restaurants serving up great pasta dishes. This year’s balloting ended in a tie between Cucina Biazzi (568 E. Main), where Beasy and Chandra work overtime to create authentic Italian dishes, and Marty Morlan’s Martino’s/Macaroni’s at 58 E. Main.

Others receiving lots of votes were:

  • Pie + Vine
  • Northwest Pizza & Pasta
  • Martolli’s

FAVORITE PIZZA PLACE

Okay, history lesson number 585 from Wikipeida: “In the 6th century BC, the Persian soldiers during the rule of King Darius I baked flatbreads with cheese and dates on top of their battle shields, and the ancient Greeks supplemented their bread with oils, herbs, and cheese. An early reference to a pizza-like food occurs in ‘The Aeneid,’ when Celaeno, queen of the Harpies, foretells that the Trojans would not find peace until they are forced by hunger to eat their tables.”

Makes you want to go out and get some pizza, right? And our readers know exactly where to go, as they once again got top nod to both Great American Pizza at 1448 Ashland Street, and Martolli’s Hand Tossed Pizza, with two locations on 38 E. Main and 1469 Siskiyou Boulevard, followed by:

  • Creekside Pizza
  • Northwest Pizza & Pasta
  • Papa Murphy’s
  • Pie + Vine
  • Clyde’s Corner in Phoenix

BEST PLACE TO BUY PASTRIES/DOUGHNUTS

Back when I was growing up, my parents would pack all nine kids into two cars and head off for church every Sunday morning. On the way back, my dad would stop at a store and pick up four Sunday newspapers (St. Louis, Louisville, Indianapolis and Evansville … he was a political junkie) and two dozen doughnuts for everyone to consume. We had to answer a question about current events in order to get a doughnut, but it was all in fun.

Where would my dad go today to get some great doughnuts and/or pastries? According to our readers, their top choice would be Mix on the Ashland Plaza. Owner Jamie North is a veritable wizard at pastries and desserts, and if you can’t catch them downtown, they have a sister store, ReMix, at the corner of E. Main and Walker, where the Beanery used to be.

Others mentioned a lot were:

  • Case Coffee
  • Café 116
  • La Baguette
  • Market of Choice
  • Little Shop of Bagels
  • 4 & 20 Blackbirds

RESTAURANT WITH FRIENDLIEST WAITSTAFF

Any job that involves constant interaction with the public requires a lot of smiling and adopting the customer-is-always-right mantra. That’s not always easy considering that a certain percentage of human beings are totally unreasonable, narcissistic creatures who think the world revolves around them. But our friendly waitstaff carry on, and our readers appreciate them.

Over twenty different restaurants were mentioned in this survey, with number one going to the friendly staff at El Paraiso, a Mexican-style restaurant at 545 Clover Lane, where Jesse, Chino and the rest of the staff are always ready to greet you with a friendly smile (and a margarita just to set the mood).

The list also included:

  • The Breadboard
  • Oak Tree
  • Harvey’s
  • Wild Goose
  • Kobe
  • Thai Pepper
  • Brother’s
  • Louie’s
  • La Casa 

FAVORITE “QUICK SERVICE” RESTAURANT

Fast-food restaurants were my go-to destination while growing up. I just didn’t have the money to do anything else. I never ate in a sit-down restaurant until the summer of 1965, when I was 17 years old and working in Washington, D.C., at the Capitol building. I’d eat breakfast at the Senate-side restaurant on the ground floor and gobble down some eggs while the pooh-bahs were passing Medicare and the Voting Rights Act that summer. Good times!

But trust me, I also ate at fast-food restaurants a lot, and today my readers would direct me to both Señor Sam’s and Wendy’s, which are conveniently located right next to each other in the Ashland Shopping Center, followed by:

  • Taqueria Picaro
  • Happy Falafel
  • Agave
  • Xerxes
  • Ruby’s
  • Taco Bell
  • Louie’s
  • Big Al

BEST SELECTION OF BURGERS

The hamburger had its origins in the city of Hamburg, Germany, back in the 19th century, and it was supposedly eaten by emigrants traveling to America. The Hamburg steak is reported to have been served between two pieces of bread on the Hamburg America Line, beginning in 1847. Since then, the United States has adopted the hamburger as its official national sandwich. So what that it’s named after a German city? Sounds better than a Pittsburger.

The battle for top dog was ferocious this year, but in the end Flip, located at 92 N. Main, was the number one choice. It may be just a small space with limited seating, but they apparently know how to flip the perfect burger.

It was extremely close among the top three, as Louie’s (41 N. Main on the Plaza) and Big Al’s at 474 N. Main garnered a lot of votes.

Also in the running for great burgers were:

  • Caldera
  • Standing Stone
  • Brickroom
  • Oak Tree
  • Wendy’s
  • Simple Café
  • Ruby’s

BEST FRENCH FRIES

You’re driving a back road in South Dakota and you need some French fries bad. There’s a sign up ahead that says, “Ties, 3 for a dollar.” I don’t need no stinking tie, you think to yourself. Five miles later, there’s another sign pitching ties, then another one ten miles down the road. What’s up with all these ties? Then finally a sign that says, “French Fries!” You breathe a sigh of relief and pull over to place your order. The guy looks at you and says, “Sorry, we don’t serve anybody here without a tie on.”

Yeah, I know, old joke, but it’s still pretty funny. In the meantime, where to go in Ashland for great French fries? The number one choice according to our readers was a tie between Brickroom and Louie’s. And in case you want to do a taste test, they’re located right next to each other on the Plaza.

The list also included:

  • Flip
  • Oak Tree
  • Standing Stone
  • Ruby’s
  • Big Al’s
  • Wendy’s
  • Omar’s

BEST OUTDOOR SETUP DURING THE PANDEMIC

As of this writing, Jackson County is still on the restricted list for counties with out-of-control numbers of the Virus That Will Not Be Named. It seems as if the numbers are going down lately, and we’re hoping that when the next announcement is made on February 9th, that we will have passed with flying colors.

In the interim, many of our local restaurants have gotten extremely creative with their outdoor eating arrangements (which are still allowed). Taking down top honors in this category was Growler Guys, who went all out with heaters and covered arenas.

Others stepping up to the plate were:

  • Kobe
  • Cucina Biazzi
  • Omar’s
  • El Paraiso
  • Harvey’s
  • Louie’s
  • Luna Cafe

RESTAURANT WITH BEST CURBSIDE SERVICE

If you want to help support your favorite restaurant and want to still see them around when this pandemic passes, another option is to order takeout and then drive down to the restaurant to pick it up. You’re still allowed to go inside with a mask, but you can also call ahead and have them bring it out to your car in specially designated parking spaces. Just text them as soon as you’re there, and they’ll deliver to you curbside.

A lot of restaurants joined the bandwagon on this concept, and according to our readers, they were most impressed with the service at Luna Café, located south of town in the Ashland Hills Suites.

The list also included:

  • Taqueria Picaro
  • Agave
  • Thai Pepper
  • Billy’s Fried Chicken
  • El Paraiso
  • NW Pizza & Pasta

RESTAURANT WITH BEST DELIVERY SERVICE

And then, of course, you can always just have the food delivered to your house, either directly from the restaurant or via a third party service like Doordash. Winning this category was Louie’s, located on Plaza, followed by:

  • Great American Pizza
  • Pie + Vine
  • Oak Tree
  • NW Pizza & Pasta
  • La Casa del Pueblo
  • Luna Cafe

ENTERTAINMENT

BEST VIRTUAL/STREAMIING CONCERT LAST YEAR

Between the pandemic and the Almeda Fire, it was not a good year for southern Oregon residents. From October 9-11, a Wild Relief Music Festival was held with both live concerts and live streams performed by local musicians with all proceeds going to benefit fire victims. The concert featured performances from a wide variety of local musicians and bands, including The Brothers Reed, Robbie DaCosta, Holly Gleason, the Rogue Suspects, Fox & Bones, Alice DiMicele and Clayton Joseph Scott feat. Kris Yenney. The three-day event, which was organized by Clarinda Merripen of the Black Sheep, was extremely successful, and they were bringing in money from as far away as New Zealand.

MOST FUN PLACE FOR FIRST FRIDAY ART WALK

It’s been a bummer not being able to attend the First Friday event for the last ten months, although many of them still display some great art in their windows and make it a point to change it up on First Friday. So if you’re a creature of habit and still want to see some great art on First Friday Art Walk, it’s still out there for you.

One place that has taken the assignment seriously is Gallerie Karon at the corner of 4th and B Streets, where owner Karen Wasser and her assistant Sarah Bronson have art shows that change monthly. They’re also open from 11-5 Tue-Sat, with all Covid safety protocols being met.

Other art galleries that have stepped up to the plate and are appreciated by our readers include:

  • Art & Soul Gallery
  • Hanson Howard Gallery
  • Studio AB
  • Ashland Art Center (and hopefully it can regroup this year)
  • Studio 151
  • American Trails

FAVORITE LOCAL ARTIST

When my wife and I visited France a year ago, we studiously avoided the long lines at the Louvre. Luckily, we stumbled across an art museum called the Petit Palais one day with no lines and no admission fee. It was outstanding and was one of the highlights of our trip. It also gave me a more profound admiration for artists and the work that they do.

Our readers must have agreed as they named 25 different artists in this survey. Taking down top honors this year was Pegi Smith, a contemporary fine artist who moved to Ashland in 2000 and began painting in 2006. “She aims to summarize her own life perspectives in her paintings and hopes that her work will cause the viewer to immerse and then emerge with the intent of the design.” Her paintings are on permanent display at Gallerie Karon.

Others mentioned a lot were:

  • Inger Nova Jorgensen
  • Denise Kester
  • Lindy Kehoe
  • Betty LaDuke
  • Cheryl Kempner
  • Gabriel Lipper
  • Ann DiSalvo

BEST PLACE TO GET A WORKOUT DURING A PANDEMIC

If you really want to protect yourself from unseen viruses, it’s important to keep the immune system in top working order. There are all kinds of things you can do, from taking vitamins and supplements to getting a lot of sleep, but keeping the body in shape is also at the top of the list. While it’s always possible to get a workout at home or outside, most of us need a little motivation and persuasion from professionals. And now that the restrictions are being lifted, that’s where health and fitness clubs come in handy. And it that regard, the runaway winner in that category was once again the YMCA, followed by:

  • Ashland Tennis & Fitness
  • Anytime Fitness
  • Snap Fitness
  • Baxter’s

And when they couldn’t get into a club and still wanted a workout, the number one choice with our readers was hiking in Lithia Park. The Bandersnatch trail was also mentioned. 

BEST LOCAL PLAY (REAL OR STREAMING) LAST YEAR 

The pandemic totally upset the theater scene this year, although somehow Oregon Cabaret Theatre was able to pull off The Odd Couple last summer, with Covid-19 protocols in place. It was number one in our readers’ hearts.

Also mentioned in the survey was Sherlock Holmes at Collaborative Theatre Project in Medford, which was part of their Radio Days series in July.

FAVORITE LOCAL ACTOR

From Broadway to Hollywood to Ashland, the theater scene has practically dried up, but that doesn’t mean local actors and actresses aren’t hanging in there and doing their part to help put this pandemic behind us. Our readers reached into their memory banks for their favorite actors over the last twenty years, and receiving the most accolades was Galloway Stevens, a mainstay at Oregon Cabaret Theatre, followed by:

  • Tyrone Wilson at OSF
  • Don Matthews with Actor’s Theatre and other places
  • Jared Freiberg, who returns periodically to reprise his role as Jerry Lee Lewis at OCT
  • David Kelly at OSF
  • James Ryen at OSF 

FAVORITE LOCAL ACTRESS

On the female side of the ledger, our readers named quite a few, with both Shirley Patton and Brandy Carson garnering a lot of votes.

Others mentioned many times were:

  • Miriam Laube at OSF
  • Eve Smythe with the Hamazons
  • Christiana Clark with OSF
  • Robin Goodrin Nordli with OSF

BEST LOCAL MUSICIAN/SINGER

According to Wikipeida, archaeologists uncovered a 50,000-year-old carving in the northwest region of Slovenia in 1995 that featured four holes that were probably part of a rudimentary flute. So humans have been honoring their more musically inclined brethren for a long, long, time, and the Best of Ashland is no different, as our readers were able to name 20 different musicians and singers.

Taking down top honors for 2021 was Shae Celine, who is not only the lead singer for the popular band Rogue Suspects but has appeared in numerous productions at Oregon Cabaret Theatre over the years.

The list also included other favorites:

  • Robbie DaCosta
  • Danielle Kelly
  • Phil and Aaron Reed of the Brothers Reed
  • Terry Longshore, percussionist
  • Jeff Pevar, guitarist for Love Bites
  • Grant Ruiz

BEST LOCAL ROCK/BLUES BAND

I was nine years old when Elvis Presley made his first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. My three older sisters were screaming hysterically at the TV set, and it was my first indoctrination into the power of rock ‘n’ roll. Disregarding the fact that my sisters screamed hysterically almost every day over practically nothing, it did make me sit up and take notice that maybe I should pay more attention to rock ‘n’ roll.

Our readers are certainly paying attention, as they listed ten different local bands in this survey, including their number one favorite for 2021—the Brothers Reed. “Despite their brotherhood, Aaron and Phil Reed didn’t start playing music together until five years ago when Phil left their hometown of St. Charles, Missouri, to join Aaron in southern Oregon. Now their exhaustive tour schedule includes nearly 300 shows per year.”

Coming in a close second was The Rogue Suspects, followed by:

  • Robbie DaCosta Band
  • 221 Fly
  • Love Bites
  • Left
  • David Pinksy Band

BEST VENUE TO HEAR LIVE MUSIC

Let’s close our eyes and pretend there is no pandemic. Where you want to go to listen to some good live music? According to our readers, the most fun place was The Brickroom, upstairs on the Plaza, where they bring in some local talent and out-of-area bands on a regular basis … or at least used to. The good news: this will all be over soon.

Others mentioned a lot were:

  • Black Sheep
  • Wild Goose
  • Paschal Winery
  • Belle Fiore
  • Oregon Cabaret Theatre
  • Luna Café
  • La Baguette 

BAR WITH BEST SELECTION OF COCKTAILS

My wife and I are creatures of habit. When we go out to eat, I always order a Basil Hayden Manhattan, and she orders a Last Word, which is equal parts Hendricks gin, Chartreuse, Luxardo Maraschino, and lime juice. After that, we’re happy creatures of habit, and the meal can proceed.

Where to go for great cocktails? This ended in a tie between Alchemy Restaurant & Bar, located inside the Winchester Inn on 1st Street, and Thai Pepper at 92 N. Main in the Bluebird Plaza.

Also high on the list were:

  • Brickroom
  • Hearsay
  • Ostra’s
  • Peerless
  • Larks 

BAR WITH BEST SELECTION OF MICROBREW BEERS

Ah, the bad old days when all you could get was Bud, Oly and Schlitz. Not that those beers are bad, mind you, but variety is the spice of life, and the explosion of microbrewed beers has made the beer-drinking experience not just about pounding them down to impress your frat brothers but also about taste, texture and color.

And when it comes to finding a great selection of microbrewed beers, our readers have quite a few places to choose from these days. Their number one choice was Growler Guys, with plenty of outdoor heated seating at 345 Lithia Way, followed by:

  • Caldera
  • Gil’s
  • Standing Stone

BEST DAY HIKE 

This is the perfect pastime when you want some socially distanced exercise, and in that regard our readers most often mentioned Grizzly Peak, with access off Shale City Road at Dead Indian Memorial Road.

Also mentioned a lot were:

  • Toothpick to White Rabbit
  • Hobart Bluff
  • Lithia Park
  • Wonder Trail
  • Bandersnatch Trail
  • Emigrant Lake

BEST WEEKEND GETAWAY 

After spending two days counting the ballots and writing this thing, I’m going to need a weekend getaway. Where would our reader suggest I go? Most of them preferred the cool confines of The Oregon Coast, with Brookings, Gold Beach and Bandon getting a lot of votes.

The list also included:

  • Bend
  • Lake of the Woods
  • Greensprings Inn
  • Callahan’s
  • Crater Lake
  • Diamond Lake
  • Mount Shasta

* * * * *

Whew! My wife insisted that I write this Best of Ashland from a decompression chamber, and it’s good to breathe some fresh air again. She also had a Basil Hayden Manhattan waiting for me. If you have any suggestions for new entries next year, write to me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. —C.H.