July 8, 2020

Calamity Jane’s

You know those restaurants that are all about their fresh ingredients and healthy preparation? Georgetown’s Calamity Jane’s is SO not that restaurant. It’s more in the style of down home cooking, with favorites like the catfish sandwich and biscuits and gravy, with the occasional Seattle-y entrée (a la the grilled portobello sandwich) thrown in for good measure. And perhaps the best part? One of the options for sides, along with more traditional things like soup and chips: Cheetos. I saw an unmistakable flash of bright orange at the next table and thought, oh YEA.

Happy hour at Calamity Jane’s is perhaps best epitomized by one of its drink offerings: PBR Tall Boys for $1.50. Sure there are cool neighborhood-brewed draft beers for $3.50 (I sampled Georgetown Brewing Company’s Choppers Red Ale) and a buck off wine and liquor, but somehow PBR seems a most fitting accompaniment for the menu.

On our visit, we made our way through the spread of deliciousness you see below: pulled pork sliders on hotel rolls with American cheese and BBQ sauce, gyoza dumplings with chili garlic and citrus soy dipping sauces and without a doubt the most fun item of the evening, the G-town smokies simmered in Manny’s Pale Ale and the house made mustard. Check out the tiny glass keg holding the party picks — I love it!

Lest you get the wrong idea, and think that there isn’t a green in sight at Calamity Jane’s, the menu is really quite diverse. And salads? You betcha. In fact, it’s probably the spinach salad that I’ll have on my next visit, with fresh spinach, strawberries, almonds, shallots and chevre, served with a poppy seed dressing. Just one of the salad offerings on the menu, so you could even have your PBR Tall Boy AND a delicious salad all at the same time.

Calamity Jane's on Urbanspoon

Volunteer Park Cafe

Volunteer Park Café sits on one of those wonderfully leafy, lovely corners in north Capitol Hill, near its namesake Volunteer Park. It’s a neighborhood spot that just happens to have very fresh, delicious food, as evidenced by our two lunch choices on a recent visit.

This summer bean salad of crispy pancetta, tomato, roasted summer squash, parmesan, mixed greens and the most enormous corona beans I’ve ever seen.

The herb roasted chicken and arugula panini was a crisp on the outside, melt-y on the inside combo of chicken breast, fresh mozzarella, sundried tomato, basil, aioli and fontina. Delicious!

I can already picture myself ensconced at the big communal table with a latte, a slice of quiche and a section of paper, settled in for breakfast. The tall wine rack, though I couldn’t make use of it for this particular lunch, also reminded me that I need to keep Volunteer Park Café in mind for dinner as well. I hear it’s the case and imagine it to be true — VPC is a good bet no matter the time of day.

Volunteer Park Cafe on Urbanspoon

Sitka & Spruce

Am I the only one who just couldn’t manage to visit Sitka & Spruce in its previous location, in the miniature strip mall on Eastlake? I wanted to, and had been assured that once inside you forgot all about how you got there, but it seemed too sharp a juxtaposition between that and all of the great things I had heard about chef Matt Dillon and his exquisite food.

Thankfully, with its new home in the Melrose Project on Capitol Hill, Sitka & Spruce has the beautiful location it deserves. Very recently renovated, the building houses two hip retail spots, Velouria and Sonic Boom Records, and a bunch of fantastic foodie options. There is Still Liquor around the corner on Minor, and Calf & Kid (yum… cheese), butcher Rain Shadow Meats and Marigold & Mint (fabulously urban flower stand) all in the open arcade space. Also joining the arcade will be another Matt Dillon joint, wine and oyster Bar Ferdinand, and in a Melrose-facing spot a second location for Homegrown Sustainable Sandwich Shop.

The L of windows and shiny red sliding doors beckon you back to the corner of the arcade, to the light-filled space occupied by Sitka & Spruce. Once inside, it’s a succession of contrasts between light and dark, rustic meets refined. The exposed brick, big dark beams, tall open ceiling and what look to be the original warehouse windows lend the restaurant a bit of grit, all well-balanced by the white coat of paint on some of the bricks, lots of stainless steel and a judicious use of red accents. The few tables are augmented by an 8-seat counter that looks west toward downtown, as well as the butcher block table that is a 12-seat extension of the kitchen island. That was Matt Janke, by the way, formerly the namesake of Matt’s in the Market and soon to be launching a new venture called Lecosho, sitting at the kitchen table the night we were there. You know that you’re in the right place when another chef whose food you admire is dining just a few seats away.

We both agreed that our first dish of the night was the best: liver pate on toast with morel mushrooms and sorrel, topped with a raw egg. Salty and gooey and rich and wonderful.

Next came the salad of tom thumbs, radish, new onion and Kurt’s cheese. (That last item is one of the fabulous cheeses produced by Kurt Timmermeister at his farm on Vashon Island, who also happens to be host of one of my favorite experiences, Sunday dinner at Kurtwood Farms.) In addition to being beautifully composed, the greens were deliciously fresh and the dressing of 25-year balsamic vinegar with a touch of anchovy a nicely earthy complement.

In the whey braised hazelnut finished pork and dandelion the bitterness of the greens contrasted with the tang of the sauce, and the pork was fall-apart tender. The Washington ling cod and accompanying asparagus just didn’t have quite enough oomph for me, though the sauce of tahini and honey was so delicious I made good use of the housemade slipperbread to ensure that none remained.

Unfortunately, the Melrose Project has suffered its share of difficulties in the process of renovating and leasing all of the space. This post from the Capitol Hill Seattle blog does a good job of outlining the dispute between Tamara Murphy of recently-closed Brasa and the developers of the Melrose Project. Sadly it looks as though Tamara’s new restaurant Terra Plata won’t be occupying the cool triangular corner spot, but according to CHS the fine folks of Ballard’s Bastille will be taking the space instead. Either way, I see a great foodie future at the corner of Melrose and Minor.

Sitka & Spruce on Urbanspoon

Travels East: Frank’s Diner, Catacombs Pub and The Cedars

Sometimes it’s all about molecular gastronomy at the coolest new restaurant in town, or eating a meal made entirely from ingredients raised/grown/cultivated within a 50-mile radius. Don’t get me wrong — I love these things on occasion and seek out the new and interesting whenever I get the chance.

But more than anything, for me, food means community. And the good times and even better memories that come from sharing a plate of something or other, how you got to the place where that plate appeared and what significance it had to you later. (And sometimes it’s just about an especially tasty basket of tater tots, right? No deeper significance needed.)

Remember my last trip home to Spokane, and the phenomenal food discovery of Sante? My most recent visit wasn’t about that kind of food — though dinner at Sant&eacute is one great memory recently made. Rather, it was about evoking past memories. And triggered by food? No surprise that’s the case for me.

Frank’s Diner is a restaurant of the classic train car variety, and it has long been a place that I considered my special go-to spot with Dad. The food isn’t extraordinary but rather dependably good, and as a good diner should, you always have the option of a breakfast that’s served all day long. On this particular visit as we sat at the counter facing the extremely narrow kitchen (train car, remember?) it was a patty melt, bacon cheeseburger and the pi&egravece de r&eacutesistance for this part of the world, a huckleberry milkshake. Reminds me of northern Idaho lakes, that last one.

Next on the trip down memory lane was a visit to Catacombs Pub, which is more about who opened it (a high school classmate) than the restaurant itself. Though I do love that they have preserved this piece of Spokane history, an expansion on the former boiler room and coal chute of the turn of the (last) century Montvale Hotel, reopened several years ago as a part of the building’s renovation. This elaborate metal plate was the perfect vehicle for a hearty meal of meatloaf, sautéed mushrooms and garlic mashed potatoes, and just the right accessory when dining in the hotel’s former coal chute, now the “cave.”

At the age of 12 or thereabouts my parents and I glided into the dock at The Cedars, at the very north end of Coeur d’Alene Lake, right where it meets the Spokane River. It was a late summer evening, absolutely pitch black, and as we listened to Debussy’s La Mer on the portable cassette player I thought it was the most magical night ever. I knew The Cedars to be a very schmancy floating restaurant, and we almost never made it all the way to this end of the lake on our summer boating adventures, so all of this combined in my head to make for one heck of a childhood memory. Turns out it wasn’t only fixed in my head that way, as dinner there with Mom brought back all of those same memories for her. Excellent salad bar (haven’t visited one of those in a while!), delicious prime rib and one of the tallest pieces of cheesecake I’ve ever had. Guess which berries graced this tasty, sky-high cheesecake? Huckleberries, of course.

The Noble Fir

The Noble Fir is a new spot in Ballard — just the sort of brew pub-y place the neighborhood needs, said my pal and ‘hood resident. It’s a medium sized restaurant with lots of medium hued wood in the interior, with a sort of grey-green tone to the walls. All very consistent with its outdoorsy theme — something I caught out of the corner of my brain, as I’m decidedly indoorsy so I don’t as easily clue into these sorts of things.

They offer a seriously large beer selection, something like 15 on tap and more by the bottle. I’m no aficionado, but it seemed to be an impressive array and anyone who classifies himself as such could likely find a few interesting beers to sample.

The list of eats, though modest, produced this lovely array of meats and cheeses. In the small plate section of the menu you’re given the option to select from the list any three, five or seven items. What you see here is the five-item plate, for us consisting of the Salumi signature salami, Salumi hot soprassata, naturally farm cured ham, a Spanish manchego and the St. Andre triple crème. That last is a heart-stopper of a cheese and should only be eaten with great restraint, but man it’s good. Add some toasted hazelnuts and honey, jam, spicy mustards and Macrina bread, and you have an excellent snack for soaking up all of that excellent beer.

I say that the NF has a good chance of becoming a solid neighborhood drop-by. Sure, it doesn’t have the grit of Hattie’s or the skee ball and taxidermy of King’s Hardware, but there is plenty of room in ever-evolving old Ballard for a brew pub of just this sort.

The Noble Fir on Urbanspoon