At Mystic Treats, all 8-inch pizzas, regardless of toppings, cost $10. - MT file photo

Mystic Treats in Ashland

A new, exponentially larger space in Ashland's Tolman Creek Plaza is allowing the owners of Mystic Treats to bring their creative pizzas to a wider audience. It also represents their optimism for their all-vegetarian menu, expanded with burgers, dogs and fries.

Hoping to acquaint my husband with Erika and Michael Lowe's brand of pizza for the past year, I thought I'd found the perfect occasion while hanging out with friends, one of whom is dairy- and soy-free. Mystic Treats is among the valley's few pizzerias to offer vegan "cheese" that's also soy- and tree nut-free, and it makes perhaps the only credible gluten-free crust in the area.

We didn't go so far as to order gluten-free, but we did request the cheese substitute on one of Mystic Treats' most popular pies, the Zorba, a classic combination of spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, Kalamata olives and roasted garlic. The pizza's other half was slated for the Lowes' rendition of Hawaiian pizza with house-smoked salmon, minus its usual feta, mozzarella and cheddar.

An 18-inch pizza, regardless of toppings, costs $23. A 12-inch costs $17, and an 8-inch goes for $10.

I'm always one to crave dishes that push the boundaries of any food genre. At Mystic Treats, that was the Dungeness crab-topped pizza sauced with cranberry-horseradish puree. This is one pie, however, that's better in concept than practice.

While the aroma of crab was palpable, the protein was hard to pinpoint. Pricing the Goin' Coastal the same as its other pies apparently requires Mystic Treats to go light on the shellfish, no doubt among its most costly ingredients. While the single-cost strategy seems smart in some cases, customers inclined to order seafood typically are happy to pay more for it.

The pizza may have redeemed itself had we tasted more horseradish, which our friend favors. But that flavor didn't stand out from the slightly sweet cranberry or generous portion of cheese.

Plenty evident was the Zorba's roasted garlic. And the vegan "cheese" mimicked feta in texture if not entirely in flavor.

The dairy substitute was less successful on the Hawaiian, which proved a bit too spicy for the 3-year-old at our table. I recalled the paprika-infused oil as savory rather than hot and regretted the suggestion for a more sensitive palate. I did suspect, however, that fat in the original version's cheese would have tempered the tingle.

I didn't doubt my recommendation of the SO Oregon, nor would I have approved of it without the Gorgonzola. The Lowes, I still believe, hit on the perfect combination of blue cheese, pears and hazelnuts featured in so many local restaurant dishes but never, to my knowledge, as a pizza, sauced with fig puree no less.

Its sweet notes offset by pungent cheese, the SO Oregon plays almost like dessert, making for a fine final slice. I only wish the pears were presented in larger chunks or wedges.

Minor missteps aside, Mystic Treats' pizza roster merits more sampling. The potato pizza with creme fraiche, chives, cheddar and dill-infused oil is one I'd return for. And the spaghetti pie, like Mystic Treats' macaroni-and-cheese-topped pizza, is the stuff of guilty pleasures with classic marinara to complement the noodles, ricotta and green olives.

I also appreciate the Lowes' house-made variations on the typical vegetarian burger ($6.85). Their patties use a variety of beans, including garbanzo, black and edamame, as well as soy protein. I'd order the Piking burger, an edamame patty with green onion and almonds, topped with grilled pineapple and wasabi aioli. Mystic Treats offers sweet-potato fries, chili-cheese fries and seasoned fries in addition to regular spuds ($2.25 to $4.85).

Less compelling are the vegetarian hot dogs ($4.85), also made in house from tofu. Detroit transplants, via Portland and the Oregon Coast, the Lowes dedicated one dog to their hometown, as well as New York, Chicago, Seattle, Atlanta, Louisville and even Frankfurt, Germany.

Truly aspiring to full-service restaurant, open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily, Mystic Treats also serves a soup of the day ($3.25 and $5.25) and vegetarian chili with cornbread ($4.25 and $6.25), six salads from $3.75 to $12.75, side orders of a few kinds of bread and a variety of pastries and confections. Sodas are house-made, and craft beers include a few surprises, such as a watermelon beer that was almost light as air with a refreshing hint of fruitiness.

— Sarah Lemon

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