Restaurant-rich Ashland has more than its share of locally owned coffee shops. Whether it’s a longtime favorite like Rogue Valley Roasting Co. or a newer endeavor like Café 116, Ashland coffee shops offer ambiance and pick-me-ups for any taste.
So it probably comes as little surprise that a Southern Oregon original would expand from Jacksonville to Ashland. Open for more than a year on Lithia Way, Pony Espresso brings much of its familiar, from-scratch menu and Longbottom coffee to well-appointed digs in the commercial-residential complex christened Plaza West at First Place.
Sharing its entrance with a Washington Federal bank branch, the café calls to mind cohabitation of the Starbucks sort. Yet how refreshing that an independent business sits shoulder-to-shoulder with a nationwide financial institution, I thought.
More upscale in its décor than the rustic, barn-like building of the original store in Jacksonville, Ashland’s Pony Espresso pairs buttery leather couches with burnished metal fixtures. Weathered wooden paneling abuts glossy concrete floors. Umbrella-topped tables line the sidewalk outside, and metal picnic tables and benches occupy an adjacent courtyard.
A surprisingly extensive assortment of hot food is served until 5:30 p.m. daily. Seven breakfast items complement 15 selections more appropriate for afternoon. Prices range from $3.95 for a cup of soup to $8.95 for the chicken-bacon-ranch wrap.
With the day’s first cup of coffee, breakfast unquestionably is in order. I spent hardly a moment considering the menu because my palate already was primed for quiche ($5.75), a dish I’d enjoyed several times at the Jacksonville location. Given the choice between chicken sausage or veggie, I ordered the former. Tempted by sausage, my friend still opted for the veggie version.
The prospect of lavender in a latte intrigued both of us. But only she was adventurous enough to order the floral-scented, white-chocolate mocha special ($3.50). My usual 16-ounce coffee with cream ($2.20) sufficed.
Served in a sturdy, white mug, the mocha featured a stylized flower traced in the foam. A flair for presentation has become more common in coffee shops locally. But the extra measure of care never fails to put a smile on my face.
A bit more effort composing plates of food could benefit the Ashland location. But the Jacksonville kitchen, to be fair, prepares many dishes for reheating at its sister café.
Most customers, though, likely would never know the difference when it comes to the quiche, a single serving entirely encased in flaky crust, rather than a slice excised from a larger pie. Baking quiches individually ensures that the egg remains moist and light and maximizes the ratio of filling to pastry.
I was pleased that mine revealed a few mushrooms in addition to the advertised sausage and jalapeno. Even better, my friend’s veggie quiche was crowned with a slice of tomato over custard studded with summer squash, along with the de rigueur peppers and onions.
Sourcing local, organic ingredients based on seasonal availability is among Pony Espresso’s practices, according to the business website. Salads boast organic lettuce, and bread is baked fresh daily by a local baker. A grilled Ahuva bagel is the vehicle for a satisfying sandwich of egg, bacon and cheddar, dubbed the “eggle” ($5.50). I’d also come back for the “sunrise” sandwich, which piles egg, turkey and Swiss on a croissant ($5.95).
Located at 175 Lithia Way, Pony Espresso Ashland is open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. Call 541-482-2583 or see www.ponyespressojville.com