Maybe the best way to understand Hash—one of Portland's newest breakfast and lunch emporiums—is to regard its petite lending library. Represented on its few take-a-book-leave-a-book shelves is a good deal of science fiction (Frank Herbert's Dune, Harlan Ellison's Deathbird Stories) and heady intellectualism (Jean-Paul Sartre's No Exit, Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead). It would appear that Hash's clientele is a thoughtful lot; so, it only figures they'd brunch on thoughtful food.
Situated deep in the heart of Sellwood, Hash has the feeling of a remote breakfast outpost—a place neighbors would rather keep to themselves. High ceilings give the dining room a bright airy feel, while large windows allow midmorning sunlight unfettered access to sleepy eyes and newspapers. There is a smallish bar, a few high tables for two, and a comfy banquette that spans the northern wall. But Hash is small—a party of six could easily cause gridlock, leaving other groups to wait in the cold.
Weekend visitors should expect a wait, which is likely what necessitated the lending library in the first place. It's as if the bookshelf is telling you, "This is not a magazine- or alternative weekly length wait; it's a novel-length wait." Rest assured I'm suffering pangs of remorse by likely contributing to it, but the wait is the restaurant's biggest flaw. Or rather, the flaw is in the fact that those keeping vigil for a table aren't offered coffee, water, or anything to pass the time, aside from Harlan Ellison and Ayn Rand.
Still, the wait is worth it. Hash is serious about what they're serving. A wordy mission statement on the menu is absolutely earnest about localism and seasonality, but don't read it: You honestly don't need that kind of gravitas when approaching the small list of dishes—they speak well enough on their own.
The French toast is enough to understand Hash's thoughtfulness. The half-inch thick squares of house-made brioche are topped with a shocking white slick of whipped crème fraîche, and accompanied by a generous smear of thick marionberry syrup. Looking at the plate, you might imagine that the two golden brown slabs will hit your stomach like a brick; but the first bite is like a cinnamon cloud, dissolving on the tongue with a sweet little sigh.
The signature dish here is, of course, hash. Four options are present on the menu: a straight-ahead corned beef hash, a duck hash, and two vegetarian hashes (root vegetable or mushroom). These are simplicity at their best. The basic hash presents corned beef brisket, shredded and placed nest-like on a bed of perfectly diced potatoes and onions, topped with a poached egg. The meat is tender, with a touch of sweetness and smoke, but tastes more of roast than corned beef. Still, it's refreshing to have such a delicious and reasonably portioned hash with ingredients that you can count on one hand. But even a reasonable portion may overwhelm when enjoying the ultra-rich duck hash, topped with a poached duck egg. Breaking the yolk and allowing it to ooze into the hash creates a creamy and deeply ducky pile of goodness.
Another simple brunch revelation comes in the form of the carnivore two-egg omelet. Though it arrives on the plate looking a bit puny, the folks at Hash have loaded it with huge flavor. The combination of sausage and two types of bacon yields a flavor that made me wonder if the bright yellow egg parcel had just been plucked from a BBQ smoker. This is an omelet to take your sweet time with, and should a brunch companion have ordered the eggs benedict—so much the better. When they're not looking, you can sneak a forkful of omelet into the luxurious hollandaise sauce, with its mellow hues of buttered artichoke heart and lemon. Or skip the middleman and just order a side of the stuff to use at your own discretion.
It's easy to see why people might camp out after getting a table at Hash—after a long wait the food almost demands to be savored, doted upon, and loved. It would be nice if the servers were a bit more prompt with coffee refills and table visits, but that's only a very small annoyance after you've been seated.
Hash also has booze for the adult, pre-noon drinker, offering a very competent and super celery-laden Bloody Mary with a lovely salt and pepper rim. Also consider the mimosa and the screwdriver, won't you?
If you happen to find yourself waiting at Hash someday soon, don't bother looking for the Harlan Ellison—I took it home with me. But I swear when I come back (and I will), that I'll bring a book to leave in that cute little library. Maybe something like Kurt Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions. Yeah, that would fit right in.