CultureWorks Cafe

Alternative food culture is attracting fans to a new Ashland restaurant.

CultureWorks Cafe is serving vegetarian and vegan dishes suitable even to adherents of the raw-food diet and boasts of being the only 100-percent organic eatery in the Rogue Valley.

Open for lunch and dinner since June, CultureWorks is a venue for live music performances most nights of the week, with free dinner shows planned.

Sweltering summer evenings are an ideal time to try raw food. Cool and refreshing, the dishes won't leave indulgent diners feeling heavy or sluggish. If you're not ready for such a departure, CultureWorks serves up plenty of familiar foods — pizza, pasta, burgers, nachos, burritos and quesadillas — just minus the meat.

Pizza, lasagna, salads and wraps are features of the raw menu, all served with sauerkraut, a raw-food staple for its probiotic properties. Whether raw or cooked, all entrees are $12. Priced at $10, sandwiches are served with a side salad. A la carte salads are $10 for large, $5 for small. Soups are $6, starters $5.

Considering that nearly every ingredient is organic, with produce coming from local farmers during the growing season, prices seem reasonable. My friend and I decided to try the raw pizza and lasagna, as well as the raw sampler plate.

House-made ginger lemonade ($3) was too tempting to pass up on such a hot night. It was vibrant, tart and contained enough fresh-squeezed ginger to warm the throat even as it cooled the palate. We remarked that the beverage could become a summertime habit.

Although housed in the expansive, high-ceilinged space formerly occupied by Inner Child Cafe, CultureWorks seems a tad stuffy. Fantastical murals and paintings by Lindy Kehoe add interest and invite conversation.

Listed as an entree, the sampler plate makes a generous appetizer for two. Perhaps because we didn't ask for it first, it came to the table with our individual entrees, detracting somewhat from the other dishes.

A garden of sprouts and greens arrayed the plate's main attractions: carrot-cashew paté, flaxseed crackers, sprouted wild-rice salad, olives, sun-dried tomatoes and several types of fermented vegetables. The paté was sweet and nutty with a distinctive taste of both components, rather than a muddled paste. If the savory, gluten-free crackers could be purchased in stores, I would eat a whole box.

We were a little surprised, however, to see the "guacamole" was simply sliced avocado, albeit perfectly ripe. The sun-dried tomatoes were difficult to detect under mounds of shredded vegetables and surfaced just before the plate was cleared.

Shredded carrots filled the layers of raw lasagna, which earned much of its appeal from the "rawmesan" topping, a mixture of nuts, nutritional yeast and sea salt. I enjoyed the thinly sliced zucchini "noodles" and thought diners also would enjoy skinnier strips to resemble pasta in other preparations.

Rawmesan, pesto and sun-dried tomato sauce also adorned the pizza, which, to be fair, should be dubbed "bruschetta" with its toppings on 4-inch rounds of gluten-free, buckwheat-and-seed crust. Difficult to cut through, the hearty discs are best eaten as finger-food. The dish's careful composition supported even flavors of raw bell pepper and onion, which I usually pick off my pizza.

The side salads offered a nice mix of greens, including frisee and dandelion, as well as fresh herbs. The green goddess and balsamic vinaigrette dressings far surpassed our expectations.

I wanted to try the gazpacho, but our server dissuaded me from adding more to the considerable quantity of food we had already ordered. She had no qualms, however, about plying us with raw desserts such as mint-chocolate and strawberry cheesecakes (each $5). The selection of sweets is due to expand with an "afternoon tea" menu of organic pastries and cakes.

We had to decline but were warmly urged to return for music and another meal.

I'm sure we will.

— Sarah Lemon

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