Running the streets and paths of Portland has its benefits. I stay fit. I get to see different neighborhoods. But most of all, I get to plot my next hashcapade as the miles roll past and the minutes become hours. And so it was during my 21-mile benchmark run that took me past Lair Hill Bistro on SW 1st. “Say, this is the spot that Charles talked about where the hash is so amazing. Well shut my mouth and damn my eyes!” I mused to myself as I ran past.
As we walked through the doors of the bistro, my son pointed and said with excitement, “Dad, there’s another cat!” The fluffy Siamese cat, aptly named Siam, blinked at us as if to say, “Welcome, have a seat and I’ll be right there.” Surveying the charming, cozy bistro (and market) separated in the middle by racks of wine and a self-serve coffee nook, I felt instantly at home. Too bad I didn’t bring my slippers!
We sat down at a table by the window and sure enough, Siam ambled up to our table to check us out. Then, our waitress, Augusta, came over to provide menus and see what we wanted to drink. I introduced myself and explained that I blog about hash as I offered her my card. She was only too happy to oblige and even offered to have the owner, Richard Varner, stop by. I could tell this was going to be a fabulous hashcapade!
Siam then jumped up on an empty chair to further inspect us and make sure we were worthy of Lair Hill’s brunch. The conversation went something like this: “I hope you tip decently and vote. Say…..I like your camera! Does the kid come with it?” purred Siam curiously. “No, you cannot have my camera or my son, but I’ll spot you some half and half,” I countered. Siam’s gorgeous blue eyes beamed, “Deal!”
While we waited for out breakfast, I gazed out the window and soaked in more of the Lair Hill neighborhood’s eclectic vibe – multi-hued Victorian-style houses with impressively ornate woodwork dot the area. Turns out that Lair Hill was named after William Lair Hill, a lawyer, historian and one-time editor of The Oregonian from 1872-1877. I then started to daydream about early settlers when my hash arrived.
What a sumptuous looking hash! Pork loin, crispy, seasoned Yukon gold potatoes, with a killer rosemary, sherry, chipotle and balsamic reduction sauce, red pepper and two poached eggs – are you kidding me?!?! My first bites was measured as I sampled the individual components. My second bite was like an excavator dumping a shovel full of dirt into a dump truck – I basically started to pig-out! Fortunately for me, a giant of a man walked up, sat down and introduced himself, “Hi, I’m Richard.” With my face stuffed full, I managed to say my name and shake his massive hand.
While I continued to eat my hash at a more civilized pace, Richard recounted his journey from Portland, to Los Angeles, to San Francisco and back home to Portland. Restaurant bus boy, assistant manager, chef, general contractor and now proud owner of Lair Hill Bistro. He bought the house in 1995 (lives upstairs with his wife, Cheryl) and opened the bistro in 1997.
A seasoned restaurant veteran, the hash was his invention – what alchemy! As it turns out we had both done riffs on Emeril Lagasse’s considerable repertoire of spice mixes. We also discovered a mutual acquaintance (we’ll call him Chip) and a mutual interest in travel. Barcelona is on Richard’s itinerary – so I offered a few tips on Barri Gotic and recommended Restaurant Moo.
Chatting with Richard was like spending time with an old friend – very comfortable, good conversation and a true pleasure. As I mentioned before, Lair Hill Bistro feels like home – cozy, friendly, casual and care-free – the type of place that hearkens back to simpler, less hectic times. Tucked into a fabulous Portland neighborhood, a hidden gem, I’ve found a second home that will refuel your soul and your belly!