LodeStar in Jacksonville serves up food that is far from ordinary bar fare. The new eatery and night spot on the corner of California and Third streets offers delicious tapas, sandwiches, salads, soups, desserts and more at reasonable prices.

My friend, Marcia, and I tried LodeStar on a Friday night. We arrived just as a singles group was wrapping up a social gathering, and the place was packed. We found two empty stools that turned out to be the best seats in the house because they overlooked chef Tony Efstratiadis' small kitchen behind the bar. The minimal amount of space holds an indoor grill, microwave, convection and countertop ovens, a soup warmer, a ricer and one small Cuisinart.

We watched Efstratiadis as he created delicious-looking sandwiches and salads. Efstratiadis says he has streamlined the menu to offer what sells best. His top seller is the gourmet grilled-cheese sandwich, made with crisp bacon, fresh tomato, avocado, red onion and garlic-cheddar and havarti cheeses. Vegetarians can have this sandwich served without bacon.

When we were ready to order, one of the friendly staffers, Jimmie, took us through the selection of tapas, or appetizers. These plates include large shrimp marinated in garlic, cilantro and lime; a Rogue Creamery plate with garlic cheddar, Oregonzola, curds and organic greens; a plate of roasted seasonal vegetables stacked with Oregonzola and drizzled with balsamic vinegar; some cheesy flatbreads and a couple of sushi rolls — a California roll and a LodeStar roll made with smoked snapper from the Oregon coast and cream cheese. Prices range from $5 to $9.

Jimmie suggested the chickpea hummus with roasted vegetables and warm pita bread or the flatbread with herbed goat cheese, roasted peppers, wilted spinach and a honey drizzle.

We tried both. The hummus was creamy and full of flavor from fresh garlic. A dollop of hummus and a sprinkling of roasted veggies on warm pita bread made for savory bites. But it was the goat cheese flatbread that really got our attention. This yummy plate would be good to share but could constitute a main dish or even dessert.

The singles group cleared out to dine elsewhere, and the room quieted. LodeStar offers Wi-Fi, cribbage, dominoes, darts and other games.

We let our appetizers settle while we sipped some house white wine. All wines and beers offered at LodeStar are from Oregon, with the exception of Moose Drool Brown Ale from Big Sky Brewing of Montana. A winter ale called Ill-Tempered Gnome from Oakshire Brewing Co. of Eugene also is available.

Regional wineries showcased at LodeStar include RoxyAnn, Trium, Del Rio, EdenVale, Agate Ridge, Caprice, Cowhorn, Longsword, Wooldridge and others. Prices by the glass range from $5 for the Valley View chardonnay — the house white — to $14 for a glass of sparkling Argyle Brut. The eatery also hosts a full bar.

The sandwiches at LodeStar, along with the gourmet grilled cheese, include rare roast beef on toasted ciabatta bread and a turkey club on sourdough. Salads include a baby spinach salad with red onions, crispy potatoes and bacon vinaigrette; an orange-fennel salad with a citrus-chili vinaigrette; organic greens with toasted almonds, goat cheese and a choice of gourmet dressings; and a classic Caesar with homemade croutons. Salad and sandwich prices range from $4 to $7.

Efstratiadis buys fresh produce at local farmers' markets. Each day, he creates a few special dishes at LodeStar. You'll find them posted on a blackboard behind the bar, or you can ask your server. He also owns a catering business, Casual Creative Catering. Find it at www.casualcreativecatering.com.

The night Marcia and I visited LodeStar, the soup was potato bisque with bacon and white-truffle oil. We tried a cup, and it was fabulous. So was the grilled-cheese sandwich.

The topper was Efstratiadis' baked, New York-style cheesecake. This lemon cheesecake was served with a sauce made from reduced syrah with cinnamon, star anise, cloves, black peppercorns, crushed cumin seeds and crushed red pepper — just something Efstratiadis put together. It was a big cut above the usual, fruity sauces served over cheesecake. Its flavor still haunts Marcia and me. I thought we were going to lick the plate before we were finished. It cost just $4.

LodeStar is a fun place to meet friends and dine out. I wish it were around the corner from my house. Visa, MasterCard and American Express are accepted at LodeStar, but not checks. The kitchen closes at 9 p.m., but snacks are available afterward.

— Laurie Heuston

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