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Lots of bacon and house-made peasant bread lightly grilled in garlic butter make this BLT tasty in any season. Mail Tribune / Anita Burke

Upscale pizzas, pub fare at Wild River Pizza

From its 1975 start in Cave Junction as Miller’s Shady Oaks Pizza Deli, Wild River Pizza has spawned a mini empire of casual pizzerias.

Known for large, rustic dining rooms, thin-crusted pizzas chopped into small diamond-shaped pieces instead of traditional wedges, and clean, classic craft beers, the restaurants are justifiably popular.

The Medford location at 2684 N. Pacific Highway also offers a diverse and affordable happy hour menu in the bar from 2-5 p.m. and from 8 p.m. to close daily. When my husband and I stopped in for a late lunch on a busy Saturday, we found a happy crowd of college football fans and a cozy corner booth where we could watch games playing on several screens and still carry on a conversation.

The happy hour menu ranges from bar snack basics such as beer-battered mozzarella sticks, clam strips, wings and sliders to light meals, including a garlic chicken pizza, a BLT and a steak salad. Prices start at $5 and top out at $10. All Wild River beers are priced at $4 a pint. Aiming to share an ample cross-section of the menu, we ordered the $8 BLT, loaded potato slabs for $6 and some $5 chicken Cordon Bleu bites.

The BLT featured four crisp pieces of peppered bacon, slices of tomato, ruffled leaves of iceberg lettuce and a smear of mayonnaise on house-made peasant bread. The bread, something like a thick focaccia loaf, had been split, lightly grilled in garlic butter, then turned so the chewy crust was inside the sandwich and the toasty surface was exposed. This treatment helped turn my favorite summertime sandwich that usually relies on exquisitely ripe tomatoes into a winter winner.

Loaded potato slabs offered a heartier and probably more practical take on potato skins. Hand-sliced slabs of russet potatoes were fried to a golden brown, then topped with a melting mix of cheddar and mozzarella, crumbled bacon, dollops of sour cream and a generous sprinkling of green onions.

The perfectly spherical chicken Cordon Bleu bites wrapped a crumb-coated layer of highly processed chicken around a gooey filling of Swiss cheese and tiny bits of ham, transforming the flavors of an elegant French entree into all-American bar food — crunchy, salty, cheesy and served with a side of your choice of ranch or blue cheese.

The restaurant’s full menu is available in the bar, too. Like all of Wild River’s outlets, this one serves wood-fired pizzas classified via the same system as river rapids, from Class I for a cheese pizza to Class V for more complex and challenging combinations, but here you can also find a separate section of upscale options, including a Greek lamb pizza and a barbecue chicken pizza with cilantro pesto. Also look for house-made pasta, big burgers, original sandwiches and hearty salads loaded with extras such as smoked chicken or bay shrimp.

Medford’s Wild River Pizza opens at 10:30 a.m. daily and closes at 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, staying open to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Call 541-773-7487 or see www.wildriverbrewing.com for details.

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