THE OREGONIAN — Innkeepers with only a handful of rooms get to know everyone staying under their roof. In a small city like Ashland, they also make a point to know all the downtown businesses, which lets them guide guests who are serious foodies to restaurants like Mas to savor 10 courses of foraged and wildcrafted delicacies, steer romantics to Amuse for its Northwest-French cuisine and fun seekers to popular, boisterous places, like the Brickroom, that overlook the downtown Plaza.
Acting as concierges, innkeepers can make reservations at places that fill up on weekends like the sophisticated Peerless Restaurant & Bar in the Historic Railroad District and point people craving a casual place to the grass-fed gourmet burgers at Flip or the organic North Indian cuisine at Taj of Ashland, and lots of place in between.
Vicki Capp, who has been welcoming guests to the Iris Inn Bed and Breakfast since 1982, knows the perks and quirks of eateries in Ashland as well as those just outside its borders. She tells her guests that the hands-on owners of fabled New Sammy’s Cowboy Bistro, who introduced farm-to-table, slow-food to the Rogue Valley decades ago, prefer cash or check over credit cards.
If a restaurant’s slow kitchen put guests in danger of butting up against the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s no-late-seating, no-refund policy, innkeepers remember. If the menu hasn’t changed in years, returning guests are advised to try someplace new.
“Every moment you’re in hospitality is a moment to share how wonderful our little town is and how many great restaurants there are,” says Francesca Amery of the Bayberry Inn. “We have a clear vision of what our guests have enjoyed and what they need, from a walk-in restaurant to a hiking spot to an assistive listening device reserved for them at a theater performance.”
Some innkeepers can offer guests discounts – up to 75 percent off OSF ticket prices, says Amery – and make all the arrangements.
Here are five Ashland innkeepers’ dining recommendations beyond what they serve:
Ashland Creek Inn (70 Water St., 541-482-3315, ashlandcreekinn.com) is a 10-suite luxury inn in a scenic, creekside setting blocks from Ashland Plaza, Lithia Park and downtown offerings. Longtime owner Graham Sheldon welcomes loyal theater patrons who appreciate a suite with a private entrance to use as a perennial pied-à-terre as well as a new generation of visitors who crave a first-class basecamp from which to wine, dine, hike, bike and explore the region’s natural wonders like Crater Lake National Park, which is a 90-minute drive away.
The inn’s full-time, in-house chef prepares a multi-course, nouveau Northwestern haute breakfast and accommodates guests’ culinary requests.
For dinner, Sheldon appreciates the fine dining at chef-owned Coquina in the Historic Railroad District a short walk from downtown. Chef Lynn Flattley has an amazing palate and creates unusual flavors with seasonally fresh ingredients that “make a dish sing,” he says. Courses take time to prepare so make reservations for 5:30 p.m. on theater nights (542 A. St., 541-488-0521, coquinarestaurant.com).
Ostras Tapas & Bottleshop, which faces the Plaza, offers daily paellas for two and complimentary wine tastings, poured by local winemakers, starting at 5 p.m. on Thursdays. Sheldon says Ostras is the opposite of fusion food: “Ostras offers a great variety, all of which have unique flavor profiles authentic to Spain’s cuisine plus it’s a fun place to eat and the staff is engaging” (47 N. Main St., 541-708-0528, ostrasashland.com).
Small plates, or tapas, are perfect for people who don’t want to eat too much before a play, but there are large dishes for people who are hungry, he says.
Bayberry Inn (438 N. Main St., 541-488-1252, bayberryinn.com) has six luxury suites in a renovated 1920s Craftsman-style bed and breakfast near downtown Ashland.
Owner Francesca Amery tries out new places and maintains an up-to-date library of seasonal menus, from “cheap and cheerful” to “fancy schmancy,” to inform and inspire her guests, she says.
If the weather is nice, Amery suggests guests cross town to experience the happy hour and bistro fare in the garden of the Winchester Inn’s Alchemy Restaurant and Bar (35 S. 2nd St., 541-488-1113, winchesterinn.com).
If guests have two hours for a leisurely dinner or want to order small plates at the bar or in the garden, she confidently sends them to the Peerless Restaurant & Bar for Pacific Northwest-cuisine. Owner Crissy Barnett Donovan “is always there and makes sure her staff always hits it out of the park,” she says (265 4th St., 541-488-6067, peerlessrestaurant.com).
Country Willows Inn (1313 Clay St., 541-488-1590, countrywillowsinn.com) is a five-acre, secluded farmstead estate two miles south of downtown Ashland near the Lewis Carroll-inspired White Rabbit Trail, Queen of Hearts Loop and Jabberwocky mountain bike trail as well as the Oredson-Todd Woods, which connects to downtown Lithia Park.
The inn has four rooms inside the remodeled 1896 farmhouse and a new building for two suites with kitchenettes and spa-style bathrooms overlooking the heated pool and landscaping, plus a cottage facing pasture land and a classic barn.
Owners Kara and Dan Burian say 65 percent of their guests return each year.
They serve a substantial, two-course breakfast – “we don’t do a scoop and serve,” says Dan – in a handsome breakfast room with a fireplace, but they do have a downtown recommendation where breakfast and comfort food is served all day: Brothers’ Restaurant at 95 N. Main St #2781, where they say owner Dan Durant works hard to create a great experience (541-482-9671, brothersrestaurant.net).
The Burians also recommend Harvey’s Place at 50 E. Main St., which sits at the foot of the up-sloping Chautauqua Walk to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival campus. In the 1950s, Russian-American novelist Vladimir Nabokov penned some of his scandalous novel, “Lolita,” in this building. Today, diners enjoy craft cocktails and casual comfort food like meatloaf and rosemary polenta (541-488-9511, harveysplaceashland.com).
And for a dessert later in the evening, they suggest the gluten-free, salt-topped dark chocolate crème brûlée with pear compote at Hearsay Restaurant, Lounge & Garden at 40 S. 1st St., which is open until 9 p.m. (541-625-0505, hearsayashland.com). The speakeasy-style restaurant is next door to the Oregon Cabaret Theatre and a three-minute walk to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
The Iris Inn Bed and Breakfast (59 Manzanita St., 541-488-2286, irisinnashland.com) is a Victorian-era house with five guest suites in a quiet neighborhood that is a four block walk to downtown.
Owner Vicki Capp has been an Ashland innkeeper for 38 years, and she and her husband, Greg, keep their creativity up by making “out-of-the-box” suggestions, including vineyard outings. There are a handful of tasting rooms along Ashland’s Bear Creek countryside and dozens more throughout the Rogue Valley, which benefits from wide-ranging climates and soils.
“Wineries either serve light repasts or allow guests to bring a picnic,” which is a relaxing way to enjoy the state’s largest variety of wines as well as valley and mountain views, Capp says.
Some restaurants have no corkage fee nights, which encourages people to pop open the estate Pinot noir or Chardonnay bottle they bought that day at a winery or at the downtown Ashland Wine Cellar. Taking home Oregon wine is easy for Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan members who are allowed to check a case for free (ask wineries for packing tips).
Capp schedules special wine and food pairings, without the Napa Valley crowds, snootiness or high prices, at scenic Irvine & Roberts Vineyards five miles from downtown at 1614 Emigrant Creek Road. No reservations are required (541-482-9383, irvinerobertsvineyards.com).
She makes reservations at downtown’s Thai Pepper restaurant and satay bar at 84 N. Main St. (541-482-8058, thaipepperashland.com) or Beasy’s On the Creek at 51 Water St. (541-488-5009, beasysonthecreek.com) for guests who want to enjoy creek-side dining on a deck.
The McCall House (153 Oak St., 541-482-9296, mccallhouse.com) is a boutique inn inside an 1883 mansion blocks from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival campus.
Owners Mary Reimer and Shanna Barber send guests to Kobe restaurant for modern Japanese cuisine and “great sushi” a block away and recommend intimate Hither Coffee & Goods at the south end of downtown, across from the Andrew Carnegie-funded Ashland Library, for beverages, carefully prepared herbed eggs and a menu that changes with the seasons.