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Rewards of the Road Trip 

With pleasant service and delicious food, Jasper's Food and Spirits is worth the jaunt.

It's not every day I decide to drive north to Oracle Junction for dinner; however, a recent trip to Jasper's Food and Spirits has given me a reason to venture a little out of the way to find good food.

As soon as we pulled into the parking lot of Jasper's, I thought I knew what to expect: a small-town restaurant with small-town cuisine. That may be why I was caught off guard when chef and owner, John "Jasper" Kaser, dressed in his chef whites, greeted us at the door and politely showed us to our table.

The next thing that immediately caught my attention was the color of the restaurant. Just about everything in there was pink or mauve. There was a definite Southwest color scheme going on that could use a little update. Nevertheless, it must be a very soothing color, because we immediately felt at home.

That comfortable feeling may also have been because of our server. A sweeter waitress you cannot find. I honestly haven't had someone this genuinely nice wait on me in a long time. There was only one other table occupied when we arrived, so we had her full attention. She promptly greeted us, and as difficult as it was, she twisted my arm into ordering a martini from the martini menu. Jasper's has a great martini menu, which I wasn't expecting in a place so "pink." Their signature Jasper's Martini is an ice cold Beefeaters' gin martini served with garlic stuffed olives. I opted for the citrus cosmopolitan, and Jeffrey, my husband, ordered a bottle of Dos Equis beer. I'm always looking for a good cosmo at a reasonable price. This one fit the bill at only $4.75. Jeffrey's beer rang in at a whopping $4.50--those imports will get you every time.

Our waitress quickly took our orders, and we were ready to get started with the smoked salmon appetizer ($7.95). Jasper's appetizer selection includes everything from bags of gold ($7.50), seasoned chicken or cheese wrapped in a golden eggroll shell, to shrimp in the half shell ($7.95). The smoked salmon, however, is considered one of their specialties. The chef assured me the salmon is brought in fresh everyday and smoked there on site. It was served over a bed of lettuce and topped with thick slices of red onions, a smattering of capers and hardtack crackers. It was so moist and delicious that we were tempted to order more. Luckily, they offer the smoked salmon to go at $14.99 a pound.

Not long after we devoured the salmon, our soup and salad arrived. I need to mention that when you order an entrée at Jasper's, it comes with enough food to feed four adults. Well, maybe not that much, but you get the picture. We had the option to split an entrée for a split plate charge of $3.50, but when the Tucson Weekly is picking up the tab, I say, "Go big."

I ordered a salad with my entrée. I was pleased to see that my salad was a plate of mixed greens tossed lightly in blue cheese dressing. I guess I was expecting something more along the lines of iceberg lettuce with ranch. Jeffrey ordered the cream of asparagus soup. I quickly stole a couple of bites of the rich and creamy soup before he ruined it with two bags of oyster crackers. The soup, too, was positively up to par.

By this time in the evening, the restaurant was getting its dinner rush. There were families, young and old, coming in the doors to dine. By eavesdropping on conversations, and watching the servers interact with the customers, I gathered that Jasper's has quite a few regulars. The rush didn't slow the kitchen down at all. We had just finished our soup and salad when our entrées arrived. The entrées on Jasper's menu range from $9.95-$27.95. From Buffalo New York steak ($27.95) and margarita shrimp ($16.95) to ostrich medallions ($23.95), the menu boasts a variety of different steak and seafood selections.

I was torn between the lobster ravioli ($14.95) and the catfish ($10.95). I took the server's recommendation of the catfish. It was lightly seasoned, dusted in flour and pan-fried to perfection. It arrived with a pat of herb butter melting on top. It was served with the chef's choice of starch for the evening, a bay shrimp couscous and his award-winning chili. Jeffrey ordered the desperado cut of the herb-crusted prime rib ($16.95). The menu didn't specify the ounces of the petite or desperado cut, but I assure you it is enough. It was served perfectly pink and juicy, accompanied by a baked sweet potato dripping with butter and plenty of au jus and horseradish for dipping. The dinners were also served with green chili cornbread in the shape of tiny saguaro cactus topped with sweet pink prickly pear butter. Amazingly enough, we managed to clean our plates.

As I write this, I'm full just thinking about how much we ate that night--not that it stopped us from ordering dessert. Jasper's dessert menu includes either a mile-high mud pie or special cheesecake of the day. We ordered the crème brulee cheesecake ($6.50). It was thick and dense, not quite as fresh tasting as I'd hoped, but it had a great vanilla bean flavor and was drizzled with plenty of caramel sauce. The dessert was the perfect end to a sensational meal. Our entire meal, including drinks, was slightly over $60.

For those interested, Jasper's is now offering a four-course meal for two that includes your choice of selected appetizers, soup or salad, entrée, dessert and a bottle of chardonnay or red wine for $49.95 per couple.

My Jasper's experience proved to be a valuable lesson for me. It's my fault for judging a book by its cover, but this was certainly not the kind of food I was expecting to have when I pulled into the parking lot of Jasper's. What a treat!

A little out of the way? Maybe for some. In need of a makeover? Possibly. Worth the drive to Oracle Junction? Definitely.

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