Classic fish and chips make a sharable lunch repast at Howiee's on Front. [Photo by Anita Burke]

Howiee's on Front is a downtown classic

Howiee’s on Front is perhaps best known as a night spot and live music venue, but the crew in the kitchen regularly wins accolades at food events, too, such as the Smudge Pot Stroll each spring.

The restaurant, at 16 N. Front St., Medford, draws a steady lunch crowd with an array of burgers, sandwiches and specials with Cajun flair and has tempted plenty of carnivores with enticing aromas from a MasterBuilt smoker set up on the sidewalk on many afternoons. Indeed, it is ribs paired with a beer from Walkabout Brewing that dazzled the diners at several recent Smudge Pot Strolls.

My husband and I were recently lured in by a chalkboard touting $1 oyster shooters, which sounded like a delicious way to start a leisurely late lunch.

Each plump oyster, fresh from a farm on the Oregon Coast, was complemented by spicy cocktail sauce and further accented with a wedge of lemon on the side. On a previous visit, we enjoyed a $6 special of five fried oysters, succulent in a delicate, crispy coating and drizzled with a tangy remoulade.

We perused the sandwich menu, considering a po’boy featuring catfish, shrimp or andouille sausage, a cheesesteak swimming in rich, gooey house-made cheese sauce, or the perennially popular Spanky, a turkey sub dressed up with provolone and prosciutto. The selection of burgers ranged from a basic burger to the Cajun-spiced Red Dragon, and I’ve always liked that Howiee’s will swap the beef patty for chicken or a veggie patty at no additional cost.

Relishing this round of raw oysters, we decided to turn lunch into a seafood extravaganza, selecting a calamari appetizer for $10 and a $17 order of fish and chips to share.

The appetizer’s bites of squid were tender and encased in a crackling crumb coating. A rustic sauce of crushed garlic, capers, parsley and a hint of lemon provided a flavorful accent, but the olive oil base made the savory sauce just a little greasy for layering over fried food. The same spicy cocktail sauce featured in the oyster shooters was served on the side here.

The fish and chips featured thin pieces of halibut enrobed in a sturdy beer batter. The batter’s subtle flavors of yeast and grains paired perfectly with malt vinegar, my favorite accompaniment for authentic fish and chips. The quality of the halibut showed in its firm, meaty texture. A wedge of lemon and a zesty, fresh-tasting tartar sauce also were provided.

The accompanying fries were golden brown, crisp on the outside and soft within, and extra salty. Ranch dressing for dipping was served on the side. The meal’s other side was a creamy coleslaw. The cabbage was fresh and crunchy, but I like a little more zip than the bland dressing offered.

Howiee’s pours a varied selection of beers, including numerous IPAs that pair well with oysters and fried foods. I tried a Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin, while my husband tried a Ninkasi offering.

Our long lunch was almost as good as a coastal getaway. While downtown Medford doesn’t have ocean views, Howiee’s does display a vast collection of music memorabilia, including posters from rock shows across the region and album covers that blanket the ceiling.

Howiee’s is open from 11 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. Mondays through Saturdays and closed on Sundays. Call 541-773-5767.

Come early for food, as the crowds grow and can get raucous as the evening progresses, especially on the weekends. Lunchtime service was attentive. Our server Brandi was knowledgeable about the food and beer and happy to offer suggestions and recommendations.

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