Not just dogs

Hot dogs and health foods aren't mutually exclusive meals, according to the owners of a hole-in-the-wall eatery adjacent to Ashland's hardware store.

The menu of Koko's Bento-Dog Cafe reflects the eating ethics of founders Zack Burrows and Etsuko Jensen. He's a strict vegetarian and longtime employee of Ashland Food Co-op. She's a macrobiotic chef who eats a diet of mostly rice, beans and vegetables, often in the traditional dishes of her native Japan.

So bento, soba and udon noodles occupy one side of the menu while the mainstay of American street corners and ballparks anchors the other. In addition to German, Polish and Greek-style sausages, there are vegan, vegetarian and organic and natural, meat-filled dogs.

"Big City Dogs" are prepared three ways: with tomatoes and pickles (Chicago style), with wasabi, cabbage and teriyaki sauces (Tokyo style) and as classic chili dogs with cheese and onions (New York style). Coney Island "long dogs" and quarter-pound "big dogs" maximize the meat-to-bun ratio.

American favorites also come in the form of potato salad, soft pretzels and root-beer floats. The couple's version of hot chocolate — "kokoa" — is sweetened, real chocolate and cream.

They say the name Koko arose in 2008 because it sounded catchy when the stand opened, the latest of several businesses to lease the cinderblock space from the owner of Ashland General Hardware. But the couple soon learned the moniker means "here" in Japanese.

Recommended: Intense, meaty flavor of Shelton's natural, jumbo turkey dog complemented by mustard and sauerkraut; tahini-ginger noodles come in a creamy, flavorful sauce; traditional Japanese miso soup has plenty of savory seaweed and shiitake mushrooms.

Alternative diets: Organic beef, natural turkey and chicken, kosher and vegan, tofu dogs available; tofu bento option; noodle dishes are vegetarian; organic, wheat hot dog buns, ketchup, salad greens and brown rice,

Beverages: Fountain sodas, bottled juices and waters, homemade iced tea, organic coffee and Japanese matcha tea, other hot teas and "kokoa"; root-beer floats in spring and summer.

Price range: Japanese entrees, $5.75; dogs and sausages, $3.75 to $4.75; soup and chili, $3 to $5; sides and snacks, $1 to $3; add-ons, 50 cents to $1.50

Extras: Prices listed do not include Ashland meals tax; $3 kids' hot-dog special; outdoor seating only; parking in large, adjacent lot; restaurant logged a perfect score on its most recent Jackson County health-department inspection.

Serving: From 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday, until 5 p.m. during summer.

Info: 249 A St., Ashland (next to Ace Hardware); 541-482-5656.

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