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Pork belly with sage pancacke and poached egg, left, and hanger steak with eggs, duck-fat fried potato cake and Bearnaise sauce at Smithfields Restaurant and Bar. Volim Photo

Smithfields brunch matches 'brilliant' complex flavors

The holidays are officially here, which means a lot of cooking and a lot of labor, if not for you and your family, then for the workers at local restaurants.

During the holidays, it feels great to let someone else cook for a change. For this reason, my family and I went to Smithfields Restaurant and Bar in Ashland, where, we’d heard, breakfast and brunch can be unbeatable.

The first tip for brunch at Smithfields during the holidays is that reservations should be made. When we arrived at 11 a.m., every table was taken. The same may have been true for just about any local brunch place, so call for a reservation if you plan to visit a particular restaurant.

In our case, the restaurant knew we were bringing our 1-year-old son, Niko, and needed a highchair, so not only did it hold a table, but the servers prepped his setting with a paper kids’ menu, a glass of crayons flanked by a pair of plastic farm animal toys, a portly pig and sweet, little sheep. In other words, the service at Smithfields started off with some touching thoughtfulness and attention to detail.

The menu is extensive and extends even further with a list of six brunch specials, making it extremely difficult to determine what to choose: the lemon crepes, pumpkin spice pancake, or pork belly with sage pancake. Like any brunch meal, the decision ultimately falls down to sweet or savory. I went with the pork belly, while my wife, Danielle, ordered the steak and eggs, and Niko had the Kayne’s Kids Meal of toast, eggs and bacon.

Simply listing “lemon crepes” or “pumpkin spice pancake” doesn’t do any of the meals at Smithfields justice, because each dish is complexly arranged. For instance, the former dish is actually made up of lemon crepes, pears, strawberry coulis, yogurt and candied ginger brittle. The latter is composed of a pumpkin-spiced flapjack, blood-orange curd and cinnamon whipped cream.

We waited briefly for our food to arrive, sipping on coffee and tea, while Niko was placated with puffs, an extruded carb masked as healthful for kids because some powdered broccoli is blended with the grains. Regularly, Niko would grab the pig and sheep off the cold, copper table and throw them onto the floor until we took the sheep away and the pig slid under the feet of another patron, never to be seen or heard from again.

I really didn’t know what to expect with my plate and was taken aback to see a cut of roasted pork belly the size of a Thomas Pynchon tome sitting atop the pancake and topped with a perfectly wobbly poached egg. There’s nothing more satisfying than breaking into a poached egg and watching the yolk sauce up the rest of the plate — except for the first bite that comes afterward, which was almost indescribable.

Biting into the pork released savory drips of fat that soaked into a thick and airy piece of sage pancake, now saturated with yolk and, more importantly, the maple mustard vinaigrette — an altogether enigmatic flavor. The sweetness of the maple reminded me that I was eating a pancake with syrup, but the mustard flavor threw my tastebuds — and mind — for a loop. It was a wholly original elevation of dipping sausage in syrup that one might expect in any of the fine dining capitals of the world, but found right here in Ashland and for only $13.

My wife, Danielle, paused, searching for the right word when she tasted the dish.

“Brilliant,” she said. “And not in the way that British people call things ‘brilliant.’ It’s just a brilliant dish.” The flavor made her wish she’d been more adventurous with her own order.

That isn’t to say the steak and eggs were not just right in their own way. Dressed in Bearnaise and sitting aside a duck-fat fried potato cake and toast, the hanger steak was the definition of tender with a smoky char. The potato cake, egg and Bearnaise supported one another such that eating them together was a required task. Though relatively simple in comparison to the meal I had, the result was a $17 sumptuous triumph over the traditional template of steak and eggs.

Unfortunately, Niko was too preoccupied with puffs to enjoy his eggs and crispy pieces of bacon. The sourdough toast, it turns out, came from Rise Up!, a bakery located in the nearby Little Applegate Valley.

Exiting the cozy interior of Smithfields with a decadently full stomach and into a sunny cloudless Sunday, I thought about how wonderful it feels to live in this quiet mountain town and wondered how many more such pleasant meals we’d have here.

Smithfields Restaurant is at 36 S. Second St. in Ashland. Brunch is served from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Dinner is served from 5 to 10 p.m. daily. Reservations are available at smithfieldsashland.com or by calling 541-488-9948.

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