Alaskan cod fish 'n' chips basket at The Wharf in Medford. [Photo by Sarah Lemon]

Set your dining course for The Wharf

Rogue Valley residents hooked on fish ’n’ chips should set their course for The Wharf.

Some of the freshest seafood in this landlocked region can be had at this west Medford eatery with a no-frills atmosphere. Plain-Jane, cafeteria-style tables, white walls and the requisite nautical kitsch all take me straight back to childhood growing up on the Oregon Coast, where spots like The Wharf were a vital part of every town with a small fishing fleet. Indeed, The Wharf owner Brent Kenyon has forged business relationships with several local fishermen to ensure a steady supply for the past decade.

Now that I have a family of my own, I delight in my sons’ enthusiasm for breaded, deep-fried fillets nestled in paper and flaked apart with greasy fingers. The Wharf’s two tropical fish tanks also are a reliable diversion for my older son, who makes a beeline for the two tables flanking the main dining area’s large tank.

Children’s meals do factor into The Wharf’s extensive menu, but a three-piece fish ’n’ chips basket apiece for me and my husband leaves plenty to share with the kids and saves several dollars. Baskets are priced at $11.99 for Alaskan cod or $15.99 for halibut. Two-piece baskets each are $2 less.

While servers sometimes seem slow to take customers’ orders, I can’t recall during recent visits waiting longer than 10 minutes for lunch or dinner to hit the table, another boon when dining with kids. In the interim, we usually whet our appetites on The Wharf’s commendable chowder, whose scalding-hot temperature barely slows our eager consumption. A large bowl for $5.99 (a cup is $3.99) allows for sharing, although this chowder is so good that I usually second-guess such a generous gesture.

Distinctive clam flavor carries through the chowder’s cream base of almost ideal consistency, even if I did detect a few lumps on my most recent visit. I appreciate, however, that the chowder’s potatoes mirror its clam morsels in size, and that The Wharf makes no attempt at bolstering its version with large chunks of gratuitous bacon. If Oregon’s own Mo’s set the standard for “famous” clam chowder, The Wharf’s certainly measures up, as its menu attests.

Between The Wharf’s numerous appetizers, grilled entrees, “steamer buckets,” seafood sandwiches, main-dish salads — not to mention burgers, steaks, chicken and vegetarian specialties — the average diner could spend years sampling from the menu. I’ve been tempted on several occasions by scampi ($18.98), scallops sautéed with mushrooms and served over fettuccine ($18.98) and Parmesan-crusted halibut ($24.99).

The Wharf also is one of the few places in Southern Oregon to enjoy whole, freshly cooked Dungeness crab in season ($25.99). Yet I find my standby too satisfying to venture much beyond The Wharf’s assorted baskets, which also feature salmon, oysters, crab, prawns, clam strips, lobster or the “captain’s platter,” priced from $9.99 to $15.99.

Breaded in-house, fish fillets are light, tender and moist under a batter whose only flaw is a tendency to fall away from the flesh. The “chips” are more accurately steak fries ubiquitous to West Coast interpretations of the dish. And the coleslaw likewise is a garden variety. All told, exactly what I expect is consistently served up by The Wharf every time.

Located at 827 W. Jackson St., The Wharf is open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday and Tuesday through Thursday, from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Call 541-858-0200.

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