The tapas plate at Pangea. - Photos by Bob Pennell

Pangea's global-fusion cuisine

Its moniker a metaphor for global-fusion cuisine, Ashland's Pangea connects the local food landscape to the wider world.

As more diners demand locally produced foods and just as many embrace foreign flavors, Pangea's culinary concept only becomes more relevant, says co-owner Roanna Rosewood. The restaurant's new menu, rolled out in April, is "claiming what they've always done," says Rosewood.

Arriving in Ashland 13 years ago with then-husband Marc Rosewood, Roanna Rosewood wanted to nourish people, their communities and ultimately the planet. Her chef spouse brought bold flavors to the table.

Pangea, says Rosewood, was the couple's "compromise."

"He had never heard of quinoa," she says, adding that she didn't know how to hold a chef's knife.

But Rosewood did grow up in the kitchen, where her mother, Rebecca Wood, cooked to promote health and healing with whole foods.

"I literally grew up watching my parents cure people," says Rosewood, 37.

Wood was at the forefront of research about quinoa more than 20 years ago for a 1989 book. A decade after that release, the resident of Boulder Colo., published "The Splendid Grain," which won two of the food industry's top honors, the Julia Child cookbook award and the James Beard KitchenAid cookbook award.

Wood's reverence for a single grain of rice, explained on Pangea's website, laid the foundation for Rosewood's food values. Yet the Pangea menu, until recently, made little mention of owners' commitment to fresh, healthful foods — some local and organic — prepared from scratch, as well as free-range meats.

"We actually really downplayed the natural part of it," says Rosewood. "People used to make fun of us," she adds, explaining that jokes abounded about "free-range tomatoes" on salads and sandwiches.

With health trends tending toward Pangea's preexisting ethic, Rosewood now touts food quality and willingness to meet dietary needs. More options exist for each item, namely the choice between chicken and tempeh or tofu. Locally produced, free-range buffalo sausage can be substituted in wraps and panini for an additional $2.

Dishes previously were tailored to just one protein — or none at all — before Pangea adopted variations that actually streamlined preparation, says Rosewood. Prices range from $4.99 for a small salad to $11.29 for a grilled sandwich filled with Brie cheese, pesto, spinach and tomatoes.

"Vegetarian people will be able to enjoy more, and meat eaters will be able to enjoy more," says Rosewood.

Accommodating gluten-free diners is an accomplishment of the past year. Pangea continues to serve spelt bread, which used to carry more clout among customers with wheat allergies, says Rosewood. But the ancient wheat relative contains gluten, a protein that triggers an autoimmune response in sufferers of celiac disease and severely impairs digestive function.

Pangea's solution is flatbreads made from teff, a gluten-free grain and dietary staple of Ethiopia, particularly for that country's renowned distance runners, who elevated teff's status to "superfood." The restaurant doesn't charge extra for the special wraps because they're a bit smaller than standard ones.

The restaurant's other exotic ingredients include gogi and acai berries, sprinkled on salads, baked into cookies and squeezed into sodas, along with rosewater and scores of spices. The house special spice mix, which fills shakers in the dining room, features chili, cumin, garlic, thyme, paprika and sea salt among others.

Dishes on the regular menu are influenced by Africa, Greece, India and Turkey. Numerous soup specials draw from these culinary traditions, in addition to Brazil, Russia and Thailand.

A cornerstone of Pangea's repertoire, several soups are available simultaneously: one with meat, one based on beans, one containing dairy and one vegan. Prices are $3.99 for a cup, $5.99 for a bowl.

Soups, says Rosewood, take full advantage of seasonal produce, from squash and sweet potato in winter to chilled strawberry-rhubarb in late spring. Pangea doesn't have any standby soups on its regular menu because she refuses to fall back on processed ingredients, adds Rosewood.

"We're starting with a box of yams ... it's not a can."

Honoring seasonality allows Pangea to purchase some locally grown, organic produce. Field greens usually are the purview of large-scale organic suppliers because they're not always available locally in quantities the restaurant requires, says Rosewood.

However, favoring local food sources has become more important the longer she's been in business, says Rosewood, explaining that she tries to ease environmental impacts of transporting foodstuffs over long distances. Pangea has long recycled, composted, used biodegradable to-go packaging (some with recycled content) and even allows diners to bring their own tableware.

Pangea's health in an ailing economy, says Rosewood, owes as much to employees' rapport with customers and pride in their work as to its bill of fare.

"I planted the seeds ... I gave them the container."

Just as Pangea's food broadens culinary horizons, its staff, says Rosewood, expands the definition of "family."

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