Rogue River Cafe

Restaurateurs Anne and Lee Kimball bring a taste of their beloved Rogue River Lodge a little closer to home.

The couple opened its Southern outpost, the Rogue River Cafe, three weeks ago. Open for breakfast and lunch, the small eatery offers an abbreviated selection of the same casual but classic dishes served in the lodge's Riverview Room.

The new cafe replaced Celena's Grill in the small, warehouse-style space opposite the former Musician's Friend and, in no way, resembles the 75-year-old, recently-renovated lodge situated on an idyllic two acres along the Rogue River.

The cafe can be identified by red and white umbrellas and outdoor seating in a small patch of grass out front. Inside, large scenic photographs of the lodge hang on the walls — a clever advertising move by the Kimballs. The decor is otherwise minimal.

My friend, my sister and I patronized the restaurant shortly after noon on a recent Tuesday. A basic menu above the counter touted sandwiches, soups, salads, smoothies and breakfast items — all moderately priced under $12.

Fans of the lodge will be happy to know that its house salad, made with romaine lettuce, sweet pine nuts, shaved Parmesan and creamy garlic dressing, carried over to the cafe's menu. The lodge's Caesar and spring salads ($5.25) and a half-dozen of its sandwiches also made the cut. Grilled chicken or Northwest wild salmon can be added to salads for $2 and $4.50, respectively. (The smell of fish seemed to pervade the restaurant but abated after a while.)

The cafe, unfortunately, did not begin serving soups until a day after our visit. However, from here on out, there will be daily soup specials, including loaded baked potato, tomato bisque, Yankee pot roast, Italian wedding soup and Southwest clam chowder.

My dining companions and I ordered sandwiches at the counter and then found an empty table at the front of the restaurant. Within 15 minutes, all the tables and booths were filled.

The cafe serves fountain and bottled sodas, energy drinks, fresh-squeezed orange juice and 100-percent fruit smoothies (four-berry, strawberry, pineapple and peach-pear-apricot, $3.85).

A blinking pager alerted us that our food was ready and could be picked up at the counter. When the restaurant is less busy, Kimball is happy to oblige.

Our sandwiches were served in paper-lined baskets with a side of fries, which had been dipped in Romano cheese to create a crunchy, batter-like texture.

My sister ordered the special, a Philly beef sandwich ($8.95) with thinly-sliced roast beef topped with Swiss cheese, onions and red and yellow peppers on a toasted sourdough French roll.

Our friend, who somewhat facetiously said her food tasted like "happiness," ordered the Southwest chicken sandwich ($8.95). Also served on a toasted French roll, the sandwich featured several frills of lettuce, thin slices of tomato, two thick pieces of seasoned chicken and a warm housemade chipolte-mayo spread, which gave it just the kick it needed.

My Reuben sandwich ($7.95) trumped many I've had. The sandwich was done right with the rye bread buttered and grilled to keep it from getting soggy and support its contents. Inside there was a mound of thinly-sliced corned beef, tangy sauerkraut, melted Swiss cheese and sweet Thousand Island dressing. Although sometimes offered as a special, the Reuben is one of only two sandwiches not featured at the lodge. My sister remarked that she would definitely be ordering the Reuben on a return visit.

Kimball recommended the beer-battered fish (cod) and chips which has been a big hit both at the lodge and now the cafe.

For breakfast, there are "Scrambowls," made with bacon, chorizo or veggies ($4.25); the lodge's stuffed French toast; quiche; chicken-fried steak with a homemade sausage gravy; granola parfaits and more.

Many of the menu items are prepared at the Lodge and brought in daily.

I think I'll be back to the cafe or, even better, upgrade to the lodge.

— Teresa Thomas

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