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A roasted mushroom melt with a side salad featuring garlicky house-made Italian dressing is perfect for a light lunch. [Photo by Anita Burke]

Zoey’s Café great for lunch ... plus ice cream

A cultural oasis with a wide variety of dining options, Ashland has plenty of innovative chefs showcasing local ingredients and elegant restaurants with award-winning wine lists, but the heart of downtown is also home to a simple café and ice cream shop that has charmed tourists and locals of all ages since 2005.

That’s when Zoe and Ryan Lehmann moved Zoey’s Café from Phoenix to the popular BJ’s Ice Cream Shop at 199 E. Main St., Ashland. Since then, Zoey’s Café has served up sandwiches, salads and calzones, along with Oregon-made ice cream and a full slate of soda fountain classics.

The vinyl booths and gleaming marquee-style sign hearken back to diners of another era. Instead of burgers and fries, the menu skews to fresh flavors with plenty of pesto, vibrant vegetables and even grilled salmon. There are soups, salads, homemade calzones, wraps and sandwiches on a crusty focaccia bread or flaky croissants.

Breakfast, which includes bagels, croissants loaded with eggs, cheese and bacon or ham, a breakfast burrito and an unusual breakfast calzone stuffed with scrambled eggs, ham, pesto and mozzarella, is served until noon. An array of espresso drinks featuring Allan Bros. Coffee will help kickstart your day or get your afternoon buzzing.

Strolling through downtown Ashland, I decided to pop in for a quick lunch. The breakfast calzone is available all day long, along with a turkey and Swiss version and a tasty sounding Tuscan chicken with mushrooms, roasted garlic, tomatoes, red onion, plenty of cheese, pesto and marinara. Rather than wait for a freshly baked calzone, I zeroed in on the croissant melts served with soup or salad. They promised the right combination of buttery bread and rich, melting fillings brightened with a side salad, so I could tell myself that it really was a light lunch.

The roasted mushroom melt for $9.99 was a hearty vegetarian option with a generous layer of savory roasted, sliced button mushrooms, slices of Roma tomato, red onion, bright pesto and a melting slice of mozzarella cheese. The warm croissant was topped with a crispy layer of toasted cheese and a sprinkling of dried Italian herbs. The side salad featured fresh romaine lettuce, a mound of grated carrots, wan tomato and cucumber slices, all nicely accented with a light coating of garlicky house-made Italian dressing.

Diners order at the counter and service is quick and friendly, with attentive servers making sure water glasses stay filled and tables are promptly cleared. The café was steadily busy with giddy grandparents happily spoiling grandkids, giggling teens sampling ice cream flavors and a sweet older couple sharing a double scoop of chocolate mint ice cream.

Roughly 40 flavors of ice cream, sherbet, sorbet and gelato made in Florence are available. BJ’s Ice Cream has made magical frozen desserts using Oregon products since the 1970s. I particularly like Oregon Trail, a double chocolate ice cream with a blackberry swirl and hazelnuts.

Zoey’s Café is currently open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. These winter hours will start to stretch in March as daylight hours lengthen. In the summer — peak ice cream season — Zoey’s stays open until midnight.

Call 541-482-4794 for details. To-go orders are welcome.

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