Where the downtown Caldera Tap House used to be on Water Street, now has bloomed the new Aqua Restaurant & Bar, which features dining on the creekside deck, live weekly music (outside), curbside pickup for hurried lunch-seekers — and an array of burgers, wraps, salads, crab cakes and wings, along with 24 regional beers (on tap) and some cocktails.
For owners Jatinder Kaur and her husband, Parvinder Singh, the emphasis is on mostly local produce (organic where possible), grass-fed beef and abundant vegetarian and vegan dishes, with an eye to family dining and serving downtown employees at lunch and after work.
They’ve kept the time-honored dining arrangement, with bar to the side, as well as the staff, manager Sydney Vevynck and Chef John Campbell. They are creators of 15 jobs, with many more on the upper floor, at Taj Restaurant, which serves Indian cuisine. They bought it in 2016.
Kaur says they have joined the hot competition to be makers of the best burger in Ashland. In addition to your basic hamburger and cheeseburger, they serve a halibut burger, vegetarian mushroom-brie burger, black bean burger and vegan burger made only of veggies.
Their wraps include curry veggie, chicken-bacon-caesar, buffalo chicken — and they offer sirloin steak and honey-dijon chicken. Desserts are strawberry cheesecake and homestyle cobbler with fresh local fruit. For non-drinkers, they offer alcohol-free beer and kombucha.
Their garlic-parmesan polenta passed the test as tasty, top-flight mom food, and included sauteed veggies and balsamic reduction. Crab cakes elicited a big “yum” and went well with City of Dreams pale ale from Fort George Brewery. Most of their two dozen beers hail from Oregon and the rest from Western states.
Kaur emphasizes that Aqua is a democratic workplace where all staff taste dishes and decide as a team what to serve. They operate with all the latest knowledge of environmental practices, including biodegradable packaging, straws only on request and emphasis on reduction of food waste.
The couple are Indian immigrants who came to the U.S. as children. They have two small pre-school daughters and live in Ashland. Although they like to cook, at Aqua, they do not serve Indian or any other ethnic food (except for a fish taco).
Kaur is creating a collection of historic photos of the space at 31 Water St., which, before Caldera, housed The Pillars coffee house, Vintage Inn, Rogue Brewery, Siskiyou Brew Pub, Jefferson State Pub and a bike shop. One historic photo from about the 1910s show it as Ashland Laundry.
Smoke permitting, they will kick off their music at 6 p.m. Saturday, on the patio, with Dayton-Gypsy Jazz, which is “nice and soft.” For those interested in sports and other events, they have two big TV screens inside, as well as a fireplace.
John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.