Gastropub meets casual dining at Alex's Plaza Restaurant and Bar.

Gastropub meets casual dining at Alex's Plaza Restaurant and Bar.

With Chef Sam Jackson and owner Charles Tobey at the helm, the Ashland restaurant touts a new menu offering a versatile — and affordable — selection of small plates, burgers, sandwiches, salads and entrees that is aces.

After working as executive chef for almost three years at The Peerless Hotel, Jackson had a different experience in mind when he came on board at Alex's about a month ago.

"I thought Alex's would be the perfect venue to create food that is more approachable, food that would reach more people in a laid-back setting. This is great food without the stuffiness."

Jackson and Tobey immediately revitalized Alex's menu with smaller dishes of fine fare, high-end burgers and sandwiches, and entrees of trout, chicken, steak and pasta.

Alex's has served distinctive cuisine since it opened in the late '80s. Tobey and his wife, Quinn Courtright, took possession nine years ago, making smaller changes here and there to the menu. In 2008, at the beginning of the recession, they began booking live music in the bar. As the restaurant became popular as a live music venue, they decided to take another look at the kitchen.

Of the small plates, Jackson's Asiago gnocchi ($8) is just one standout. These delectable bites are made of riced potatoes, eggs, nutmeg, Asiago cheese and rosemary that is kneaded and rolled into dumplings, tossed into boiling water to plump up, then pan-fried and topped with a generous dollop of creme fraiche.

His handmade chicken empanadas ($11.50) are stuffed with the dark meat of chicken that's been braised with sweet and peppery annatto. They're quickly pan-fried in a lot of oil to give them a bubbly flakiness.

Try the curried chicken salad sandwich ($10.75) — light, fresh and not too heavy on the curry — stacked with sliced apples on slices of La Baguette Bakery's country loaf and served with freshly cut potato chips that are cooked to order.

Top your meal with a slice of Jackson's baked cheesecake ($6.75). He blends goat cheese, cream cheese and creme fraiche to keep it light and moist. Flavors vary, according to the menu. The evening I indulged in this confection, he had added creme de cocoa and hazelnut liqueur to the mix, baked it in a graham-cracker crust and drizzled servings with a sauce of burnt hazelnut cream and caramel.

Jackson is quick to note that the beef used in his recipes is grass-fed and raised at Emerald Hills in the Umpqua Valley, chicken is from Draper Valley Farms and some vegetables are from Blue Fox Farm in the Applegate Valley.

Alex's Plaza Restaurant and Bar is at 35 N. Main St. Diners can enjoy a formal dining room with a fireplace, a deck overlooking Ashland Creek or a balcony overlooking the newly renovated Ashland Plaza. Doors open at 11:30 a.m. Saturday and Sunday; 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. Starting in June, Alex's will open at 11:30 a.m. daily. See the menu online at or call 541-482-8818 for information.

Look for a happy-hour menu every day from 4 to 6 p.m., with prices running from $3 for french fries or onion rings to $6 for Great White beer-battered fish and chips or pulled-pork sandwiches.

"This is just the beginning," Jackson says. "We'll offer new items based on my whims and what the local farmers' market has to offer."

To be continued ...