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Mr. Smith's Sports Bar & Grill

Sandwiches, salads, sides and soups are what's on the menu at Mr. Smith's Sports Bar & Grill in Medford.

My boyfriend Rob and I — in our never-ending investigation of good burger joints in the Rogue Valley — occasionally stop in for lunch at the restaurant.

We like the burgers at Mr. Smith's. A couple of other eats also stand out at the sports bar: owner Dane Smith's potato salad and his clam chowder.

I've been a fan of Smith's potato salad since I was introduced to it at a family barbecue many years ago. The first time I tasted it, I was certain our host had worked all day on the dish. The potatoes and hard-cooked eggs were sliced so finely, then mixed together with a smattering of chopped green onions and a dressing that surely was made from one of her secret recipes. It was sprinkled with a little black pepper and tasted great.

When she told me she had picked the salad up at Mr. Smith's restaurant, I made a mental note to do the same for the next get-together.

Smith has served food at his sports bar for 38 years. He comes from a long line of restaurateurs. His parents, Stan and Thomasine Smith, owned and operated Cubby's Drive-In in Medford and the A&W drive-ins in Medford and Ashland during the '60s and '70s. Later they owned Mon Desir in Central Point and Bel Di's in Shady Cove.

The Smith family's knack for good food was passed down from grandmother Bessie Smith Johnson, known as "Nonnie" by her friends and family. Johnson baked homemade pies for the customers at Cubby's and the A&W restaurants.

A taste of the Smiths' history can be found in "The Smith Family Heritage Cook Book." Dane Smith's sister, Dana Tuley, has revised the original cookbook first drafted in 1980 by Johnson and Thomasine Smith. Copies were printed this year in celebration of Oregon's sesquicentennial. Recipes such as My Grandmother's Pioneer Sour Cream Pie — a prize winner at the Jackson County Fair in 1900 — and Grandpa Ralph Smith's Pear Custard Pie can be found in the cookbook, along with some loving memories penned by members of the family.

Though the fare isn't as elaborate as that of Mon Desir and Bel Di's, simple and good seem to be the rules at Mr. Smith's. The burgers range from a regular hamburger ($6) to the "Big Ass" burger ($8.25). Other choices include turkey, ham and Malibu chicken sandwiches, along with patty melts, BLTs and a grilled turkey and bacon sandwich.

You can also order hotdogs and chili dogs. All of these menu items are served with a choice of fries, green salad, soup, potato salad or chips. Prices range from $6.50 to $7.25. The clam chowder is served only on Fridays. The potato salad can be ordered to go in a variety of quantities.

As luck will have it, the recipe for Smith's potato salad is a secret after all. I found no mention of it in the family cookbook. However I did spot a recipe for Smith's Boston Cream Clam Chowder. The soup is richly made with milk and bacon or salt pork.

Mr. Smith's menu also offers chicken strips, fish and chips, chicken gizzards (some people like them), and a variety of meal-sized salads. Prices stay right around $7.

There are several television screens and a couple of pool tables at Mr. Smith's. The restaurant has been smoke-free since Oregon banned smoking in bars and other public places in January. While cigarette odor is hard to remove and lingers in some places, I didn't detect any trace of it while I ate my lunch.

Be certain to take cash or your checkbook when you visit Mr. Smith's because the restaurant does not accept credit or debit cards.

— Laurie Heuston