Good company

Food is always made greater by good company. There isn’t a single dish that benefits from being eaten alone. Since starting this blog, regular meals have become occasions, and I’ve experienced the great fortune of having friends get excited about this little thing I’m doing here. When you share what you’re excited about, people become excited to experience that thing with you. People want in on whatever intoxicating bit of life you’ve found. When that bit of life is food, you get the chance to experience some great meals with some excellent people.

A friend I’d lost touch with reached out with a couple restaurant recommendations after reading my posts, and we decided to use one of her ideas as an reason to get together. At Some Random Bar in Belltown, glasses of limoncello cider and plates of nachos (both crab and brisket) were enjoyed on one of those perfect Seattle summer nights. The nachos were expertly crafted, piled high after being baked in a single layer for maximum chip coverage. The tortilla chips were either made in house or sourced from somewhere that does them well. Thick, but not too crunchy, able to hold a mound of crab and cheese without incident. The crab was the star of these nachos, but the supporting players all did their part to help it shine even brighter. A drizzle of cilantro pesto, a sprinkle of Aleppo pepper, and a giant pile of guacamole would all have been great without the crab, but with it, the nachos became greater than the sum of their parts.

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After an 85 degree day, the evening had cooled just enough, leaving a pleasantly warm breeze even after dark. The deck outside Some Random Bar sits on the street, and cars occasionally whip by fast enough to halt conversation for a second. We lingered over our meal, covering everything we’d missed over the last year and a half of losing touch.  We sat back with our glasses of (showstopping, not too sweet, slightly tart) limoncello cider. We made jokes with the next table while they had a bit of trouble taming their adorably mischievous puppy. We made a promise to keep in touch this time, to actually schedule that next meal, to use this blog to give us reasons to keep catching up. To cash in on this great city and enjoy the ridiculous meals it has to offer way more often.At Sisters and Brothers in Georgetown, my sister and I recovered from a (not really) near death experience at good old Wild Waves. Sitting in the sun at a picnic table, we chased away the roller coaster anxiety with a Rainier buzz, followed by Nashville hot chicken and waffles. A couple cold cans settled my nerves, and the meal revived them.

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Normally, I require my chicken to have skin, but Sisters and Brothers doesn’t fry real chicken until dinner, so strips it was. A damn good rendition, especially considering my disdain for skinless fried chicken. It was everything a strip should be: crispy, juicy, and easy to eat. The decision to only serve strips at brunch made more sense once I realize how convenient the execution was. Each bite had a perfect combo of crust, meat, waffle, butter, and syrup. The ease of eating this dish was only beaten by the easy flow of conversation.
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When you’ve been not only siblings, but also best friends for 26 years, sentences are rarely finished. The meaning behind each phrase is completely understood before all of the words can exit your mouth, and the next topic is already broached. The conversations I have with my sister are wildly efficient, and frankly, slightly annoying to anyone listening, but to me they feel easy and refreshing. To enjoy a meal alongside one of these conversations is one of my favorite things in life.A couple weeks later, I met a friend at Sisters and Brothers to buy some boots from her and shoot the shit. Like a pro, she offered to order something different than me and to split whatever we ordered so I could learn more about the menu. She ordered the braised pork sandwich with a side of fried green tomatoes, and finally I got skin-on fried chicken with a side of mac and cheese. The Genesee cream ale we ordered showed up in hilariously big 24 ounce cans and totally hit the spot. Armed with a buzz, we dissected the food in a methodical manner, taking bites and discussing what was in front of us.

The braised pork was the underdog winner, with a surprising amount of mustard seeds strewn throughout, giving each bite a crunchy pop. The meat was tender and well-seasoned, pairing well with the zucchini sauerkraut on the sandwich. Fried green tomatoes were addictive. Sour, crunchy, and the only thing we thought about ordering more of. The chicken and mac and cheese were exactly what they should be, the former having an intensely crunchy crust, the latter having a fantastically creamy sauce. The meal was well done, a good way to spend a Tuesday night, but the conversation was what made that trip to Georgetown worth it.

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My friend took it upon herself to meet me at my level. She was excited about the experience of having a meal for the sake of the blog, which fed my already heightened excitement about food. Our conversation twisted and turned around food, starting with what we ordered that evening and quickly turning into a recap of our respective food histories. I learned about what it was like to grow up in the South and what food meant to her family specifically. I learned about manners and traditions in the South, and about Beach Road fried chicken. This meal gave us the opportunity to share where we came from and why we are who we are, which is one of my favorite things about sharing a meal with a friend.

I talk about the taste and experience of actually eating food more than anything else, and for good reason. Eating food is one of the great experiences we are afforded in this life. But man, there is nothing better than sitting down to a meal and having a great time with the person across from you. The greatest thing about food is that it brings us together. It gives us a reason to meet, a reason to sit down for an hour or two and just enjoy life. It punctuates our day with tiny vacations, glimpses into the good things that make the slog worthwhile. I get excited about food for the act of eating it, but these meals have reminded me about getting excited for the experience surrounding it.

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/

The Pine Box

tl;dr: I don’t know jack about beer, but this place has a lot of them. My favorite item on the menu is the pretzel bread pudding, but the soft pretzels themselves are pretty fantastic if you don’t want dessert with your beer.

So, this is going to be the first of many posts wherein I tell you to go somewhere based simply on one single item, which most of the time won’t even be their specialty. I love going to restaurants and finding hidden gems, starting off by ordering what they’re known for and moving on to what I like. This is the case of what happened at The Pine Box. The Pine Box is known for their beer, and rightfully so, they’re owned by the same people that own Brouwer’s in Fremont. Problem is, I’m not so much of a beer drinker. I stumbled upon this place after trying to find a sweet happy hour to hang out at before seeing a show at the Paramount. Our first visit of the evening was good enough to warrant a return after the show. And though the first visit was good, the second visit is what I want to tell you about. Because the second visit is where I encountered pretzel bread pudding.

Let me make it clear what’s happening here. This is bread pudding, which is already one of the best desserts on earth. Made out of soft pretzels, which are already one of the best items on the menu at The Pine Box. The bread pudding is made different each time, but when I ordered it, it was german chocolate.

German chocolate pretzel bread pudding.

The bread pudding itself was chocolate strewn throughout the pretzel pieces, and the whole thing was topped with this ridiculous coconut-caramel sauce that could very possibly be made of only two ingredients: dreams and wishes. There are things in life that you stumble upon and you never knew that you needed them. That is how I feel about this dessert. Of COURSE soft pretzels should be used in bread pudding. This type of genius is what gets me really stoked on a restaurant or bar, and this sort of thing is what makes me think that there’s another hidden gem on the menu.

http://www.pineboxbar.com/