Hot Cakes

tl;dr: skip the molten chocolate cakes and go for the grilled chocolate sandwich if you want a hefty dessert. For a light dessert, try any of the cookies or the chocolate almond rocher. The ultimate dessert experience would be alternating bites of the rocher and the grilled chocolate sandwich.

You would think that a restaurant’s namesake would be its best item, but at Hot Cakes, getting one of the molten chocolate cakes they are famous for is just about the only thing you can do wrong. That’s not to say they aren’t delicious. They are, for the most part, but after its inclusion on every single dessert menu from Chili’s to El Gaucho, it is unreasonably hard to impress me with a molten chocolate cake.

seasonal coconut pecan hot cake

seasonal coconut pecan hot cake

Much like fried chicken and cold sandwiches, the best version of a molten chocolate cake is very hard to distinguish from the worst version. There is not a lot you can do to make a molten chocolate cake impressive, though Hot Cakes does try. Their cakes are all served with housemade caramel sauce, which is good, but not good enough to save the cake from itself. Though the cakes are the reason the store was opened, they are not the reason to stop by. The reasons are everything else on the menu.

From a chocolate chip cookie with vanilla ice cream to a grilled chocolate sandwich, everything else at Hot Cakes is the best version of itself. The chocolate chip cookie is huge and warm, allowing for variety in texture from the crunchy edges to the chewy middle. The sprinkles of salt on top might feel like a stupid hipster addition, but I am a firm believer that salt on baked goods is a trend that should stick around. The salt is just plentiful enough to be interesting, but not distracting. The vanilla ice cream on top of the cookie does a great job melting into the chewy bits and creating a sort of raw cookie dough taste. It’s a shame that this item is the least interesting sounding thing on the menu, because it should get ordered way more often than I’m sure it does.

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for here or to go? – locations in ballard and capitol hill

The grilled chocolate sandwich is a great example of what happens when quality ingredients are allowed to speak for themselves. Excellent dark chocolate is melted between grilled sourdough, making for bites that play with texture and flavor. The crunchy, sour bread brings out notes in the chocolate that wouldn’t be obvious in any other application. The sandwich is entirely too big and entirely too rich for one person to eat on their own, which is a great reason to bring a friend and share it. If you’re feeling brave and want to tackle it on your own, a side of vanilla ice cream would work well as a palate cleanser.

The rocher is easily the best value on the menu. At $3.50, you get what is essentially a giant meringue with chunks of dark chocolate and candied sliced almonds folded in. The rocher is so large that the outside is crispy and light, but the inside is fluffy, almost marshmallowy. A bite of the super rich, melty grilled chocolate sandwich followed by a bite of fluffy, crispy, light rocher would be the ultimate experience of every single way a dessert can be good.

The lesson to take away from Hot Cakes is that often, the most popular dish at a restaurant is not the best thing on offer. Exploring the menu at a popular place, trying to find the best deals and underdog favorites, is more fun and more rewarding than just blindly ordering what everyone else recommends. Not only do you get to outhipster a hipster joint, (I ordered the rocher before everyone else found out about it) but you also get to treat every restaurant visit like a mission to hunt down the delicious underdogs. Ordering something just because it sounds interesting or is insanely cheap is the best way to tour a menu, especially in a place like Hot Cakes where you know that the worst item on the menu is still dessert.

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King’s

tl;dr: Order any of the burgers with fries. The wings and nachos are good too, but Hattie’s Hat is next door if you want the best wings/nachos in Seattle.

If you own a bar like King’s, you could easily forget about making good food. You’re within one of the best food neighborhoods of Seattle (right next door to one of our other vaulted fat locations, Hattie’s Hat), you’ve got bartenders that can throw down some delicious drinks, and your covered patio is the best place to hang on a beautiful Friday night. You’re all set. You could serve up some halfhearted french fries and ranch and call it a day.

But if you own a bar like King’s, you’re not the kind of person who forgets about food. You’re Linda Derschang, and you give a fuck about everything in that bar. Nothing is a mistake. Everything is important, but it can’t seem like anything is important.

Everything in King’s gives you the impression that this all just kind of happened. Nothing is forced, no one is bending over backwards, and it just sorta seems like good luck that this bar is exactly what everyone in Ballard is looking for. Then, you get a burger and you realize that this isn’t just a fluke. This was planned, and planned well.

King's

The King’s burger is easily in my top three favorite burgers in Seattle.* It has four of my ideal burger components.

Shredded iceberg. Oh come on, Erika. Lettuce? The lettuce is your first reason this burger is great? Frankly, fuck yes. Lettuce is an essential burger ingredient, and shredded iceberg is the best possible choice. The lettuce on a burger serves as a mid-bite palate cleanser. It lends a refreshing subtext to all the meat, cheese, and hopefully bacon coming at you. A solitary leaf of lettuce only serves to get hot and wilty, and doesn’t lend any texture. Shredded iceberg, however, gives you another layer to sink your teeth through. It has this distinctly junk food taste to it, reminiscent of dollar menus and drive thrus. As little structural bonuses, shredded iceberg also does a really great job of soaking up any grease or sauce that burger might be trying to give up, and it also provides a bit of traction so the other ingredients don’t slide around. So hell yeah, the lettuce is my first reason.

Thousand island. I am a mayo girl through and through. I love it on every single sandwich, but thousand island belongs on a burger because it can stand up to everything else going on. Mayo can sink into the bun, ketchup and mustard are too distracting. Thousand island is the best of both. The flavor isn’t going to disappear into the bun, but it’s also never going to outshine the beef, bacon, and cheese.

Bacon. I can’t have a flabby strip slipping out and slapping me in the face, but I also don’t want bacon croutons on my burger. The key to great bacon is to have bacon that isn’t fried too hard, so that when you bite into it, the bacon still gives up a little grease. On the bacon spectrum, from Chewy to Crunchy, King’s is smack dab in the middle of Crispy territory, which is the perfect type of bacon for burgers. It’s the Goldilocks of bacon texture.

Bun. I believe that a burger lives and dies by its bun. Cold bun? Get the fuck out of here. Ciabatta? Who the hell can bite through that tough bullshit? Low-quality, disintegrating Wonder bread? Great, my burger is a magic act and the bun is its disappearing assistant. I gotta have a burger bun that is easy to bite through, but still has some substance and flavor. It should be toasted enough that the crunch of the edges is detectable in the first bite. If that bun is toasted in actual butter? Well, that’s just the cherry on top. King’s bun is a perfect example of an excellent bun. Well toasted, squishy but not soggy, able to stand up to whatever this burger throws at it.

As a huge bonus, King’s fries are incredible. Ordering tots here is a mistake. The fries are what would happen if Dick’s fries were twice fried. Some squishy, some super crunchy, a bunch of those crispy ends, all super dark brown. Ketchup is just a distraction.

You could walk into King’s, act like a cool kid, and just get a drink. That’s what King’s is expecting you to do. But if you’re a true fat (and if you read my thesis about lettuce and kept going, you’re a true fat), you walk in and you order a burger. A burger this good shouldn’t be hidden behind a veil of hipsters and dark wood, but it is. And that’s fine, because true fats will always find good burgers.

 

http://www.kingsballard.com/

 

*Red Mill bacon deluxe with cheese and Dick’s Deluxe are the other two spots in my top three.

Hattie’s Hat

tl;dr: good for vegetarians, and also savage beasts. Get the spinach casserole, nachos, spinach salad, and HOLY CRAP THE CHICKEN WINGS.

I love when a place lets everyone be themselves, without pandering to any specific crowd. At Hattie’s Hat, you can tear through a pile of wings like the savage beast you are while your friend wrecks a stack of spinach casserole. No one has to pretend to like alfalfa sprouts just because they’re a vegetarian, or act like boneless chicken wings (side note: this phrase drives me absolutely bonkers) will satisfy their need for skin and sinew.

Though I’m always at Hattie’s Hat for the chicken wings, I appreciate a restaurant or bar that has vegetarian options that aren’t on either extreme of the veggie spectrum. Most places will do one of two things. They either act like all vegetarians are health monsters who will only choke down the whole-grainiest of foods, or they completely forget vegetarians are a giant part of their customer base and offer fries and salad as their only options.

Hattie’s Hat is smack dab in the middle. Their bar food is a split between veggie and meaty, with chicken wings on one side and black bean nachos on the other. If I had to pick a favorite veggie offering from the Hat, it’d be a tough match up, split between the nachos, the spinach casserole, and the spinach salad. Though the nachos seem like an easy third place because of their status as a standard addition to bar menus, the Hat does them well. Tortilla chips fried in-house, layered wide and flat on a platter instead of mounded, I don’t think I’ve ever encountered an empty chip on their watch. The toppings are beyond plentiful, outlasting the chips every time I’ve had the pleasure of eating them, and the local hot sauces on the table are always worth pouring on top. The spinach salad is one of those salads you try to recreate at home because it seems so easy, but you quickly learn it’s best left to the professionals. Dried cherries, goat cheese, red onion, and pomegranate vinaigrette come together as way more than the shredded iceberg afterthought you’d expect to find in a bar. But really, if I had to give my heart to a dish other than the chicken wings, it’d have to be the spinach casserole. The name does not do the dish justice. A cheesy creamed spinach worthy of a steakhouse, this stuff takes the cake for indulgent vegetarian bar food. I’d heap this stuff into my mouth after a night of drinking and wouldn’t want for anything else.

Well, except for my favorite food in Seattle. I know what you’re thinking. Erika, you’re really gonna hand out that prize? There’s no way you have ONE favorite food. There’s no way a dish from a bar menu is the dish that fills the giant food hole in your heart. My friend, if you’re thinking that, then you’ve never had the chicken wings at Hattie’s Hat. These chicken wings are my gold standard. If I could never have them again, I might actually cry.

When they set them down in front of you, you might not notice much of a difference between these wings and any other bar. The only difference you might see is that they’re huge. Giant. Normally, I hate giant wings. When the wings are that big, at least one of them in always undercooked, and undercooked chicken is my biggest food bummer. I’ve never had an undercooked chicken wing here, which is also probably why they’re so crispy. Even after sitting in the sauce (oh god, the sauce) for fifteen minutes, the skin is still standing at attention, waiting for its moment to dazzle the fuck out of you. The Hat knows that flabby should never be a word that describes something you’re going to put in your mouth.

The incredible size and crispiness of the wings might be enough for most people. Throw some Frank’s on there, and you’ve got yourself a serviceable wing. But this is where the Hat shines. This is where they show off. I have no clue how they make their buffalo sauce or their blue cheese dressing, but they’re both in my top 5 liquids of all time. The buffalo sauce is nuanced. NUANCED BUFFALO SAUCE. This doesn’t happen. Ever. Buffalo sauce has three notes. Sour, spicy, and sometimes buttery. The Hat’s buffalo sauce could be described the same way a wine could. It has top notes, end notes, you could definitely drink it out of a glass. It’s perfect. And the blue cheese? As if the buffalo sauce needed a pal to help it out, the blue cheese comes in better than you ever knew it could be. There’s no chunks. This is normally a problem for me. Chunkless blue cheese dressing is a sign of crappy thin tangy mayonnaise. Not here. The blue cheese is blended into the mayonnaise. The dressing is tinged slightly blue-green because of the sheer volume of blue cheese blended into the dressing, which is perfect because who wants to try to balance a chunk of cheese on a wing for the best bite possible? I’ll do it, but it’s good to know I don’t have to. The Hat solves a problem I never knew I had, which is something I never knew I expected from a bar.

http://hatties-hat.com/