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Smithfields chef sets sights on Pub & Pies eatery

Written by Sarah Lemon for the Mail Tribune

October 14, 2015

“Good, honest cooking” is Neil Clooney’s motto at Smithfields.

Simpler still is the chef’s latest venture, inspired by his boyhood dream of owning a pub in the English countryside.

“It’s not quite as country as I imagined,” jokes Clooney. “I’m more excited about this.”

Smithfields Pub & Pies is less than a block away from Smithfields on Ashland’s South Second Street. Set to open Tuesday, Oct. 20, the casual eatery combines the concepts of Britain’s traditional watering holes and traditional pie shops.

“Every high street has a pie shop,” says Clooney.

Just as Britain’s “high streets” share much in common with American “main streets,” the former country’s meat pies are akin to the latter’s potpies. Both dishes place a savory filling inside or under a pastry crust.

Historians trace Britain’s pies to the 13th century. An iconic example, the Cornish pasty, was crafted as portable lunchtime fare for workers in the ancient English tin mining region of Cornwall. The turnover filled with beef, potatoes, swede (rutabaga) and onion is so beloved that it was awarded Protected Geographical Indication status in 2011 to discourage imitators, according to a recent article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Britain’s humble pies started gaining status again in the 1970s and ’80s, says Clooney. In the past decade, says Clooney, Pieminister has turned pies into a hot commodity served in its 20 restaurants and pubs across London and other British cities.

Rather than open a second, full-service restaurant, Clooney says he wants to offer a streamlined dining experience at Smithfields Pub & Pies. A half-dozen pies anchor a menu of bar snacks, including nuts, olives, sausage rolls, deviled eggs and pickled vegetables. Clooney also plans to roast pork skin for “scratchings,” as they’re known in Britain.

The meat-centric philosophy of Smithfields will carry over to the pub and pie shop, where the signature dish will be a steak, cheddar and Guinness pie that Clooney adapted from a Jamie Oliver recipe. Ham hock, chicken curry and halibut are other meat mainstays. Parsley liquor, an herbaceous sauce traditionally made with eel stock, will accompany each.

Sweet potato and spinach constitute Smithfields’ vegetarian pie, while potato will replace pastry in its gluten-free pie. Otherwise, Smithfields’ pie crust contains about two-thirds butter and one-third lard, sourced from Willow-Witt Ranch near Ashland, which sets aside its “leaf lard,” or pristine fat around a hog’s kidneys, for Clooney’s restaurants.

“It really gives it that really awesome, flaky texture,” says Clooney.

The pies’ preparation primarily will take place in the larger Smithfields kitchen across the street. At the pie shop, ovens that combine microwave technology and convection heat will cut cooking time from 30 minutes to about three minutes, says Clooney.

“We’ll just be finishing the pies over here,” he says.

Starting a meal at the pie shop’s bar is a perk for Smithfields customers waiting for tables in the main, full-service restaurant, says Clooney. Oregon craft beers and English beers will be on tap. Also on the list are warm, uncarbonated cask ales ubiquitous in Britain, says Clooney. Formerly home to Paddy Brannan’s Irish Pub, the venue will retain much of its former vibe, hosting live music and trivia nights, says Clooney.

“We’ve created more space in this tiny space,” he says.

Located at 23 S. Second St., Ashland, Smithfields Pub & Pies will be open from noon to midnight daily. Call 541-482-7437 for takeout and more information.