My husband and I arrived and where greeted at the door of Smithfield’s in Ashland, OR with, "Hey you are the one that taught Neil to make sauerkraut!" The waitress then seated us at a table by the window looking out upon downtown Ashland. It was after 2 pm on a Thursday right before they close to prep for dinner so it was pretty quiet, there was another couple and two guys practicing magic tricks over beers at the bar.
She told us the sauerkraut was making its debut today in the Rueben sandwich and then correctly assumed that was why we were here. Ordering was easy, two Reubens and a Wondering Angus Cider to share. When our plates arrived my eyes were drawn to the brown of the toasted rye bread, which matched the handmade perfectly crisp potato chips. The slices of in-house vinegar pickles stood out attractively like a bright green shrub on a desert landscape. Then our server gave my plate a little spin as she set it upon our table and I caught a glimpse of the beauty within.
This story began about a month ago when I spent the afternoon in the kitchen chopping locally grown cabbages with Chef Neil Clooney. He makes a noble honest house cured pastrami and he needed a sauerkraut to match.
There it was, between the bread layers of pastrami, blending with the melted Swiss cheese, separated by this first batch of sauerkraut. Crisp ferment surrounded by fried, melted and succulent beauty, not bad for a coming out party. But before I tried it, Neil brought out a ramekin of the sauerkraut, putting it before me to taste. I gave him the thumbs up. It was crisp, clean, not to salty, and pleasantly acidic. I couldn’t wait to savor the sandwich. But before I tried it, Neil brought out a ramekin of the sauerkraut, putting it before me to taste. I gave him the thumbs up. It was crisp, clean, not to salty, and pleasantly acidic. I couldn’t wait to savor the sandwich.
The pastrami was incredible and the sauerkraut in its cliché roll on a Rueben did what it was supposed to do; provided a crunchy, fresh and slightly sour counterpoint to the rest of the sandwich. Perfect. Our server returned part way through, smiling.
"It's good isn't it?" she asked. We both nodded our heads, mouths full and deeply enjoying our meal.