FROM THE OUTSIDE, it may seem like nothing's changed since last time we checked in with Jason French's little technophobic outpost on NE MLK—except maybe the size of the woodpiles out front. In some ways, that's true—dinner is still consistently fantastic, the ambience is about as cute and charming as I can stomach, and the food is still prepared entirely in the wood-fired oven left over from the space's previous tenant, a pizza joint. There's still no stove on site. Everything that established Ned Ludd as a force on the scene and created a cult of loyal patrons is still there in spades. But dig deeper, and Ned Ludd's made a few substantial changes.
Back in November, French's partner, Ben Meyer, parted ways to start Grain & Gristle, a (fantastic) gastropub collaboration with Upright Brewing. Since then, French has cut the lunch menu and revamped a few of the dinner entrées. The most welcome change, of course, is the addition of weekend brunch.
There's something about late-morning light that transforms the space. When I've been in at night, the raw wood and dim chandeliers create that rustic-chic feel that's so prevalent in Portland right now. In daylight, it feels far more pastoral—a little more country and a little less rock 'n' roll. I was surprised, but not at all disappointed.
If you've had the pleasure of eating at Ned Ludd in the past, you'll notice some overlap with the dinner menu—frankly, as industrious as these folks are with what comes out of that brick hearth, they are a little bit limited. But just as I would if we were talking about dinner, I implore you try the charcuterie board. It's tough to pick a highlight—pork rillettes, bacon, pork and chicken liver terrine—all of it is made in house and nothing will be left sitting on that slab of wood, but I was especially blown away by the porchetta di testa. If you're okay eating boiled pig's head, you can expect a melt-in-your-mouth consistency and rich garlicky flavor. I can obviously understand why this dish isn't exactly a deli standby, but Jesus—it should be. I imagine it varies seasonally, but our board was accompanied by pickled apples, cauliflower, and mushrooms, a few hearty pieces of bread, and spicy mustard. At $14, the charcuterie is on the expensive side, but six of us split it, and while I could have picked at those meats forever, we were more than able to sample everything.
The menu is heavy on the appetizer side. It's a nice place to go with a group—I'd rather not have to choose between the mac 'n' mornay or the meat pie—but it's a different way to approach brunch, and I can certainly see it being off-putting to some. But the way to truly experience the restaurant is to start out with a couple small plates to share, while your waitress tops off cup after cup of Heart coffee.
The highlight of the entrées section, to me, is unquestionably the vegetable hash with smoked trout ($12). Roasted carrots, brussels sprouts, and other winter-friendly vegetables you might not normally associate with breakfast seem to be made for French's wood oven, and with a just a hint of chili flakes, I couldn't be more pleased—until I get to the trout, that is, which pairs perfectly with the flavors and textures of the hash.
The creamed greens with oven-fried eggs ($11) were delicious—especially piled on a piece of brioche toast—but a little too rich for me to make it all the way through. Again, I recommend sharing dishes with your tablemates.
Call me old-fashioned—or an alcoholic—but no weekend brunch is complete without a good Bloody Mary, and I'm happy to say that Nedd Ludd has its bases covered. Just spicy enough and garnished with an assortment of pickled goodies, it's tough to stop at one. If tomato juice isn't your thing, but you don't want to be the square at the table, they've got a couple other morning cocktails, including an interesting-looking mimosa variation made with Clear Creek brandy.
Sometimes a Sunday brunch is a way to balance out whatever you did to your body on Saturday; you balance the delicate levels of grease, caffeine, and alcohol before the headache really hits. For that kind of morning, you're better off elsewhere. But when brunch is the event of your weekend, Ned Ludd is there to provide an experience on par with the dinners they've come to be known for.