Location: 2830 NW Market St
One of the things we’ve learned over the course of this Project is that there are more pieces of Old Ballard left than you might think. Fine dining and hipster hangouts have not taken over all of Ballard. Saturday night, J and I walked the length of Ballard from our apartment on the east side of 15th to visit one such holdout.
The Sloop Tavern has been a Ballard institution for over 50 years. Located near the Ballard Locks, the seaman themed painting on the side of the unassuming cinderblock building lets you know immediately who the clientele of the Sloop is, if the name didn’t already. The interior has that interchangeable community bar look that’s the same across the country. A long bar along one wall. Numerous TVs showing two or three different sports games. Tatty Formica tables and red vinyl booths or beat up wooden chairs. There are a couple of pool tables, a pinball machine, and a few video games opposite the bar.
The menu at The Sloop matches the décor. Typical pub fare. Burgers. Sandwiches. Fried seafood. They have 9 beers and one cider on tap. Their claim to fame is the ability for customers to “Sloopersize” their draft beverages to a 33.8 oz, frosty mug that may take two hands to lift.
It wasn’t busy at all when we went to The Sloop. Just a few people watching football or chatting. At one point, a couple dressed as Calvin and Hobbes came in, obviously for the Halloween party that was to take place later in the evening. The bartender, who also acted as waiter, was friendly and our food came out amazingly quick.
J and I chose to Sloopersize our Stongbow Ciders, a nice, dry cider. The mug was so heavy that I had to use two hands to lift it. It took us so long to finish our ciders that we were able to finish and write our preliminary thoughts about our meal.
J ordered the Fish and Chips. He said the fish was really fresh and surprisingly good considering he doesn’t usually like beer batter. Usually the batter overwhelms the flavor the fish but that wasn’t the case here. The fries were okay. He was glad he chose the seasoned fries option because otherwise they would have been rather bland.
I chose a BLT with a side of potato salad. This was BLT prime. The BLT from which all BLTs are descended. A BLT in its purest form. Lightly toasted, plain white bread. Mayonnaise. A pale tomato. The brilliant choice of shredded lettuce, thus keeping the other ingredients from sliding out from between the slices of bread. The salty bacon was fried to perfection. Crispy with just a slight chewiness. All it needed was a little yellow mustard. Was it a gourmet, fancy BLT? No, but it captured the essence of a BLT. The potato salad was a little too sweet. I think they used Miracle Whip rather than Mayonnaise. I added yellow mustard, salt, and pepper to make it more to my taste.
Sloopersize Strongbow Cider: 2 @ 6.50
3 Piece Fish & Chips: 8.75
BLT with Potato Salad: 8.75
We really liked The Sloop Tavern. It didn’t feel as insular and cliquey as the other old school Ballard bars we’ve been to over the course of this project. People were friendly. The atmosphere was comfortable. The food was better than most dive bars and a Sloopersized Strongbow Cider was awesome. We’ll definitely take the hike back.
Location: 5410 17th Ave NW
Tucked in a tiny space in the shadow of the Leva condos, Kelly O’Briens is one of the few bars located at the east end of Market street. It’s an Irish bar complete with Irish football jerseys, flags, and posters on the walls and a menu that includes shepherd’s pie and fish and chips. Along one wall is a huge, wood bar and on the other is high benches giving the place a cozy, pub feel.
The bartender/server/owner? gets brownie points for commenting on J’s D&D t-shirt, having played Vampire: The Masquerade and reading fantasy authors like George R.R. Martin and Patrick Rothfuss. Service was friendly and quick.
I ordered a cider, which turned out to be a Magner’s Irish Cider. Not one of my favorites since I prefer a dry cider to a sweet one.
J, as usual, chose a Long Island Iced Tea. After a sip, he said it was more like a Long Island Lemonade. J liked the lemonade quality but it just wasn’t a true Long Island.
I had the Shepherd’s Pie, ground lamb, peas, onion, and carrots topped with mashers. The tidy bowl of shepherd’s pie came out piping hot and remained so throughout our meal. The mashed potatoes were a bit dry and not nearly buttery enough for my taste. The stew part, though, was pretty good, with lots of lamb. The rich gravy needed a little salt due to the sweetness of the lamb and nowhere near as greasy as other shepherd’s pie I’ve tried … The Old Pequliar, I’m looking at you.
J ordered the Fish and Chips, Guinness battered cod with batter tossed French fries. The cod was merely okay in both flavor and portion size. The fries, on the other hand, were great. Hand-cut potatoes tossed in a little batter to give them extra crispness. Crunchy on the outside and creamy inside.
Magner’s Irish Cider: 4.00
Long Island Iced Tea: 8.50
Shepherd’s Pie: 8.00
Fish and Chips: 8.00
We really liked the neighborhood bar feel to Kelly O’Briens even though the food was just typical pub fare. We’ve had better and worse in Ballard. They could definitely improve on some of the food … J likes the fish at Market Arms better … But the French fries were great.
Considering that Kelly O’Briens is nearer to our apartment than most of Ballard’s bars, we’ll go back at some point. J and I are curious about the happy hour menu which includes a few items, like mini corn dogs, curry fries, and lamb sliders, not found elsewhere in Ballard. And the bartender is a fantasy, gamer dude, which automatically gives the place extra points in our book.
Location: 4609 14th Ave NW
On our continuing search for the best burger in Ballard, J and I stopped in at The Counter, one of the newest of Ballard’s burger joints.
The Counter is a national gourmet burger restaurant located in the Ballard Blocks, next to Trader Joe’s. It’s large, open interior is sparse with white walls, metal chairs and tables and a bar along the far wall.
They specialize in burgers with gourmet ingredients. When you order, you’re given the choice between constructing your own burger from a list of meats, cheeses, veggies, sauces and buns or pre-constructed burgers. They also offer various styles of French fries, soda, a full bar and milkshakes.
J and I were there for a late lunch so there were very few people in The Counter. Our server was friendly, helpful and the burgers came out pretty quickly.
Both J and I chose bottles of Ace Apple Cider, a crisp, dry hard cider that is one of our favorites.
As an appetizer, I chose the Fried Dill Pickle Chips, thick sliced dill pickles dipped in a corn meal batter then fried with an apricot sauce on the side. I liked the idea of fried slices of dill pickle as opposed to the fried dill spears I’ve had at the People’s Pub but the batter was too thick and a little tough. The molten hot slices kept sliding out of the batter coating and burning our chins. The dipping sauce was nothing special. In fact, I ended up dipping the dill chips in the sauce that came with my burger instead.
French fries come a la carte at The Counter so J ordered the Parmesan Fries, shoestring French fries tossed with Parmesan, rosemary, parsley, and garlic aioli. Fabulous. Amazing. The huge pile of fries were brought to us on a large, hot plate that kept the fries hot for longer than I expected. Tossing the garlic aioli, herbs, and cheese with the still hot fries was a brilliant idea that made sure that each fry was coated with salty, cheesy goodness. We are already planning on returning to The Counter for a drink and these fries sometime in the future.
I chose the Market Select Signature Burger, a 1/3 lb. lamb burger topped with fried pepperocinis, roasted red pepper and feta spread, mixed baby greens, red onion, tomato and tzatziki. A pretty good burger. The delicious lamb patty was so juicy that it squirted juice all over my shoulder with the first bite. The fried pepperocinis were and interesting addition like spicy onion rings. The tzatziki sauce tasted clean and refreshing with notes of dill. While the roasted pepper and feta spread was okay, I thought it could’ve been executed better with a couple of slices of roasted pepper and chunks of feta. The toasted bun wasn’t quite sturdy enough to stay together through the entire meal though. Next time I might choose a heartier bun or go with their “burger in a bowl” option.
J ordered the Counter Burger, a 1/3 lb. beef patty topped with provolone, crispy onion strings, lettuce blend, sautéed mushrooms, and tomato with sun-dried tomato vinaigrette. The patty had a good beef flavor that stood up well to all the toppings. J liked the use of the lettuce blend rather than a full lettuce leaf because the blend kept the burger together rather than sliding all over the place.
2 Bottles of Ace Cider: 4.25 ea.
Fried Dill Pickle Chips: 4.29
Parmesan Fries: 5.29
Market Select Signature Burger: 11/49
The Counter Burger: 10.79
The Counter offers a darn good burger. The meat and toppings were fresh and very flavorful. The Parmesan fries alone will bring us back. They were that awesome. The Counter also offers something called “Adult Shakes”, which I assume are milkshakes with liquor in them. I am intrigued by this idea …
J still likes the burger he had at Hamburger Harry’s better but I preferred The Counter’s Greek style burger. We both think King’s Hardware has the best burger in Ballard so far but the best French fries, so far, are at The Counter.
Location: 2817 NW Market St
Mon-Thurs, Sun: 11-11
J took the day off on Wednesday so we decided to do a rare lunchtime review at Kiss Café, a sandwich place at the west end of Market Street, in the same warehouse/strip mall as Portage Bay Café. It’s a small restaurant with a bar, some tall bar tables and a handful of regular tables. The most interesting thing about the restaurant is the monthly rotation of art on the walls that coincides with Ballard’s Second Saturday Art Walk . When we visited large, colorful pet portraits adorned the walls.
Kiss Café’s menu features sandwiches, wraps, salads and a few breakfast items. Their real specialty is a huge selection of microbrews. In fact, the first thing you see when you enter the café is two large coolers of bottled and canned beer.
Kiss Café is a seat yourself place. Once J and I found a table, the friendly and knowledgeable server took our drink then food order quite quickly. Both of us commented on how fast our food came out once we had ordered.
I had a glass of Fox Barrel Blackberry Pear Cider, which was crisp and tart.
J chose the Original Sin Hard Cider. His comment about it was “Passable” but he did like the tall, cold glass in which it was served.
A note about the water at Kiss Café. They place a slice of cucumber in the water carafes so the water tastes a little odd. Both of us thought the water was off until we realized it was just the faint taste of cucumber.
I ordered the Famous Angus, roast beef, provolone, bleu cheese, lettuce, tomato, and green bell pepper on a toasted hoagie roll with Maui onion chips and house made dill pickles. The sandwich was so large that I ended up taking half home. The roast beef was tender. The veggies were fresh although I could have done without the sharpness of the green bell pepper. The flavor of the provolone was lost against the thick bleu cheese dressing. Overall it was an okay sandwich but not something I would order again.
The winner, though, was the house made dill pickles. The server brought us a jar of thick pickle chips with our sandwiches. These crisp, vinegary chunks of pickle were amazing. Fresh tasting and still looked like cucumbers. I had a very hard time not emptying the entire jar. As it was, I took some home with my leftover sandwich.
J chose the Fun Guy, a hot roast beef, provolone, and mushroom sandwich with au jus and potato chips. He felt the meat was a bit dry but the au jus helped with this problem. Overall, an okay sandwich but he’s had better.
Fox Barrel Blackberry Pear Cider: 4.50
Original Sin Hard Cider: 4.50
Famous Angus: 10.50
The Fun Guy: 11.00
Kiss Café was okay. Other than the good service and fabulous pickles, Kiss Cafe wasn’t that memorable. The food was merely okay. We’ve both had better sandwiches elsewhere in Seattle for a significantly lower price. I think that was part of my issue. The prices seemed really high compared with other sandwich places in Ballard.
J doesn’t think he’ll go back. He just felt there is no reason to. I, on the other hand, may go back someday for a beer and a jar of pickles because they were that good.
Location: 5105 Leary Ave.
Sun-Thurs: 10am – 10pm
Fri-Sat: 10am – 12am
Café Mox opened a couple of month’s ago in conjunction with Card Kingdom, Ballard’s new and only game store. Card Kingdom stocks every manner of game from role playing games like Dungeons & Dragons, to card games to board games to puzzles. In Café Mox, the coffee/beer/wine bar attached to the main store, you’re allowed, if not outright encouraged, to have a seat, order a beer and play a game. In fact, Card Kingdom has a library of games for you to try out before purchasing. Café Mox is that rare type of bar where you’re far more likely to find Ghostbusters or The Fellowship of the Ring playing on the TV than some random sports event. Since their opening, during the evening the place is packed with people playing games to the point where they had to extend their hours on Fridays and Saturdays.
Since J not only works for a game company but also loves play various types of games, Café Mox has naturally become a regular haunt. I think we’ve gone at least one night a week since they opened. It’s basically become the Cheers for the gamer set in Ballard. They offer local microbrews, wine, cider and espresso drinks along with a small menu of appetizers, salads and sandwiches.
Lately on Sundays while I’m at the Ballard Farmer’s Market J goes down to Café Mox since he dislikes farmer’s markets in general. When I met him last Sunday, we had a couple of sandwiches while playing the World of Warcraft trading card game.
Since Café Mox has only 10 or 11 tables, the servers act as baristas, bartenders as well as servers. At busy times this means the service might be a little slow. On the Sunday we were there, it was fairly slow so the service was pretty quick. Everyone who works there is very friendly.
Normally I’ve been ordering Odin Brewing Company’s Freya’s Gold Kolsch, a nice light beer but on Sunday both J and I chose the Ace Cider Company’s Joker hard apple cider, a crisp dry cider.
J chose the Tuna Melt, tuna with cucumber, roasted red peppers, olives, tomatoes and red onion topped with spinach and gruyere cheese. Instead of being a traditional sandwich, the tuna melt came as two sliders on herbed buns. He said it was very good.
I ordered their special sandwich, the Garibaldi (I like to think it’s named for Babylon 5’s chief of security, Michael Garibaldi), which has Genoa salami, pepperoni, prosciutto, roma tomatoes, banana peppers and pepper jack cheese on fresh foccacia bread. Delicious. The meats used were obviously of high quality with a greater depth of flavor than store bought deli meats. The banana peppers, a favorite of mine, added an unusual spicy compliment to the rest of the ingredients and the foccacia bread was far softer than most foccacia bread I’ve had. A great sandwich.
Ace Cider: 2 @ 12.00
Tuna Melt: 5.50
J made an interesting observation about Café Mox. When playing at home, most gamers do not eat and drink well. Mountain Dew, Cheetos and fast food are the usual choices. The owners of Café Mox know this. They’re gamers themselves. Yet they chose to offer a higher quality of food and beverages. The use quality ingredients like breads from the great local bakery, Macrina. The microbrews on tap rotate frequently. Even the items offered are more creative than typical gamer fare, including an appetizer of pineapple and water chestnuts wrapped in bacon. Café Mox could’ve gone the easy route with their menu but chose not to and they’re not afraid to change things if they’re not working out.
Café Mox is a neat little place. It’s a friendly, comfortable café where it’s easy to lose track of time. You can sit and nurse a drink while reading a fantasy novel or playing Magic with friends or while making fun of the cult movie on the TV or you can just sit there and hang out with your friends. You can even rent a private room to game while being able to order drinks and food from the Café.
Would we order food again? Yes, the food is pretty good and well priced. I’m curious to try some of the other items on the menu. Yeah, some of the beers can be a bit pricy but you just make those choices accordingly. For every slightly over-priced beer, there’s a reasonably priced alternative.
Will we go back to Café Mox? Of course we’ll go back. In fact, you’ll probably see us there.
Location: 2401 NW Market St
After a meh phone interview, J offered to console my job woes with a dinner out. I chose the Market Arms because I happen to like their food and 20oz pints of Strongbow cider.
The Market Arms sits at the west end of the main part of Market St, located in what used to be an antique furniture store. When refurbishing it as a British style pub, the owners incorporated the huge display windows and the open interior to great effect. It really is one of the nicer bars in Ballard, with a British theme that doesn’t get too twee. Lots of dark wood and dark green walls. Plenty of seating, along the walls, at round tables in the center and stand-up tables nearer to the bar. There’s a pool table near the back, TVs that play soccer whenever there’s a game and a great juke box filled with 1980’s British music, when it’s working. Even when the juke box isn’t working, there is always ‘80’s Brit pop playing. The Market Arms is still the only place I have ever heard The Housemartins played.
On Fridays and Saturdays the bar can have a “meat market/douchtastic” vibe but the rest of the week it’s a comfortable place to have a pint and some thoroughly bad for you British style pub grub. Due to its size, the Market Arms is also a great place for group events and you can reserve tables for groups by calling the number on their website.
Considering that there weren’t that many people in the pub, the service was kind of spotty. I had arrived well before J, who had some bus issues from work, and received my pint of Strongbow and order of Jalapeño Poppers fairly quickly. The service issues started once J arrived. I took a while for someone, a different server altogether, to take his drink order and then took an even longer time for our original server to take our food order. They have a tendency to be a bit understaffed.
A British pint of draft Strongbow cider. 20oz. Nuff said.
J had his usual Long Island Iced Tea. He has said that the Long Islands at the Market Arms are the best in Ballard and this one was no exception.
I have an inexplicable fondness for Jalapeno Poppers, those fried nuggets of breaded slices of jalapeno pepper stuffed with cream cheese. Just about the only place I can get these disgusting things is the Market Arms so I ordered a basket while I waited for J to arrive. Most of the time the cream cheese interior is molten to the point where I usually burn my tongue when I bite into the popper. Last night they were a just hair undercooked. Not cold but just warm and the breading tasted a bit doughy. I’ve had better … if you can define any jalapeno popper as “better” … there other times.
For my entrée, I decided on the Sausage & Mash, 2 British bangers served over creamy mashed potatoes with onion gravy. The bangers were great with a nice snap to the outer casing and a sweetish pork interior that held together when sliced. The “creamy” mashed potatoes weren’t exactly creamy. More rustic with chunks of unpeeled red potatoes. The potatoes tasted better when paired with the brown, thick onion gravy. The gravy was lovely with slices of caramelized onion and a slight vinegary taste.
J ordered the large Fish & Chips, 2 pieces of arctic cod dipped in beer batter with tartar sauce and fries. He’s said it’s one of his favorite fish & chip plates in the city. The fries are thick-cut, with the peel left on. Crispy on the outside and nice and creamy on the inside. The fish portions are huge … although, he claims they’ve shrunk a little since the pub opened …
20oz Strongbow Cider: $5.25
Long Island Iced Tea: $8.00
Jalapeno Poppers: $5.00
Sausage and Mash: $9.00
Large Fish and Chips: $11.00
When it first opened, the Market Arms was exceptional. The drinks were cheap and strong (for months J got $5.50 Long Islands there). The food was great, consistent and the portions were huge. The juke box worked. Now, while the Market Arms has its faults: spotty service and an occasional inconsistency with some of the food, we’ll go back. The atmosphere, the music and the British food on the menu make it one of our go-to restaurants in Ballard. I would definitely say take a chance on the food. Last week I had a lunch crab cake special there that was really quite good. It’s a good place to hang out with friends, eat some pub grub and listen to British music.
And, well, the 20oz draft Strongbow. I’d go back to the Market Arms for that alone.
Location: 5144 Ballard Ave NW
The Lock & Keel stands out as one of Ballard’s dive bars. Dark even on the sunniest of days. A mix of older, blue-collar workers, pool players (Sunday is free pool day) and guys watching whatever game happens to be on the TV. The décor is sea shanty chic. A huge racing boat with room for an 8-person crew hangs from the ceiling. The pool lights used to house outboard motors. It reminds me of the sailor bar in Airplane!
Oddly enough, instead of the usual bar fare, the Lock & Keel serves house-smoked barbeque. The smell of smoked meat assails you the minute you walk in. J and I had attempted to go here once before but made the mistake of hitting it on trivia night. This time, late afternoon on a Sunday, the place was still crowded but not packed. We fought our way past the crowd of people congregating at the bar to a table back by the pool tables.
The one thing to remember about the Lock & Keel is that you get bar service there. This means there are usually only two people working, the bartender and a server/barback. Do not expect quick service unless you’re seated at the bar. It took a while for someone to come take our order but once that happened, our server (the bartender) was relatively friendly. Our drinks and food came out in fairly quick manner as well. The only hitch was when we wanted our check but as I said before … bar service.
I ordered Strongbow cider, good as usual and draft to boot. J had his usual Long Island Iced Tea, which he said was a little too sweet.
I had the Bum Steer, a shredded beef brisket sandwich with tangy BBQ sauce and potato salad. The sandwich was BBQ in its purest form. Just a Kaiser roll with meat and BBQ sauce. Nothing fancy. The Kaiser roll was soft enough to easily bite but hefty enough to not fall apart under the onslaught of BBQ sauce. The BBQ sauce was their milder choice. Tangy with a hint of sweet spiciness. I found the brisket just smoky enough with a hint of wood flavor. When paired with the sauce, the sandwich was lovely. The meat on its own, though, was a bit too dry for my taste. The potato salad was exceptional. Perfectly cooked red potatoes in a creamy dressing with celery, onion and just a hint of dill.
J ordered the Two-Step meal, shredded brisket and pork, spicy BBQ sauce, coleslaw and garlic mashed potatoes. He loved the garlic-mashed potatoes. A complete surprise for a dive bar. The coleslaw was nothing special. The spicy BBQ sauce was a good mix between spicy and sweet. The meat could’ve been much juicier. Even with the sauce it still was drier than he would’ve liked. He did like the mix of beef and pork though.
I’m having to backward engineer the price since we weren’t able to keep the itemized list and the Lock & Keel doesn’t have a website I can use to double check. Prices are estimated.
Strongbow Cider: $3.25 (Happy Hour price)
Long Island Iced Tea: $ 7.00
Bum Steer: $ 6.50
Two-Step: $ 8.50
The Lock & Keel is okay. We’ve both said it seems different than it was a few years ago. A little rougher maybe? The BBQ is okay but not good enough to go out of the way to brave the dinginess. Granted, it does have Strongbow on tap but even at that, I don’t see us going there again unless it’s with a group for a pub crawl or something.
Location: 1722 NW Market St.
The main thing to remember about The Old Pequliar is that it’s primarily a bar. On any given night, it will be filled with people, usually regulars, there to drink and watch whatever happens to be on the multiple TVs, so the clientele can sometimes get a bit douchey, as J would say. That being said, it’s an okay place to grab some bar food on an off night. They also serve brunch on Saturday and Sunday mornings.
The Old Pequliar is supposed to be an Irish pub, but other than a few Irish themed posters, it’s a regular, sometimes sports bar. It can get crowded during sports events and on Tuesday nights when they have what others claim is a really good trivia night. There’s also a separate room with a pool table, darts and a pinball machine. I’d say the uncommon thing about the atmosphere of the Old Pequliar is that nearly every time I have walked past at least one of their TVs is showing something other than sports. Usually it’s one of those horrible SyFy made movies but sometimes it’ll be one of the Lord of the Rings films or Spike TV. It’s just an oddity that I find kind of endearing.
The night we went it was great. The waitress was prompt and friendly. When J couldn’t decide what to get, she suggested the Shepherd’s Pie, which turned out great.
Having been to the Old P a number of times before, I’d have to say this was the best service we’ve ever had there. The consistently bad service one of the reasons I tend to avoid the place. It always seems like we sit there for ten minutes before someone acknowledges our presence. If their service has improved, as it seemed to be on the night we went, we’ll probably go a bit more often.
I had a Strongbow cider, which was good as always. J, as an aficionado of Long Island Iced Teas, ordered one. J’s opinion was it was tasty and strong.
J ordered the Shepherd’s Pie, a stew/pot pie made with beef, lamb and vegetables topped with mashed potatoes covered in cheddar cheese. He said the flavor was great and the covering of potatoes kept everything warm. It wasn’t as heavy as he thought it was going to be. He ate the whole thing and didn’t feel like a lead balloon was lodged in his stomach afterwards. All in all, a resounding positive review.
I ordered the Black & Bleu burger, a peppercorn encrusted burger topped with bleu cheese, caramelized onions and HP sauce, served with French fries. The French fries were hot, crispy and topped with just a hint of sea salt. Really good fries. The burger … eh, not so much.
The burger itself was good. I like peppercorn-crusted burgers and the burger alone was a good example. Not overwhelmingly peppery, for me (it may be for others) and the meat was tender. The misstep for this burger was the HP sauce.
For those who’ve never tasted this concoction, it’s the British “brown sauce”. It tastes like a mix of bbq and steak sauce. It’s okay as a condiment but the burger was drenched with the sauce. I could barely taste the onions and bleu cheese through this cloying, vinegary mess. I think the only reason I could taste the burger was because of the peppercorn crust. If they’d only lightly smeared the sauce on the bun, this would have been a pretty good burger but instead it was hard to get through. I did finally end up taking the burger apart and just eating the meat. This is definitely not something I would order again.
Long Island Iced Tea: $8.75
Strongbow Cider in a can: $5.00
Shepherd’s Pie: $9.50
Black & Bleu Burger: $9.50
The Old Pequliar serves serviceable bar food, with special mention going to the French fries and the Shepherd’s Pie. The place is nice when it’s not too crowded and it is novel to go to a bar where you might be able to watch Mega-Cobra vs Gatoroid.
Location: 5233 Ballard Ave NW
Hours: Sun-Mon: 11:30-10
Old Town Alehouse is tucked between Hattie’s Hat and an engraving/rubber stamp shop that seems to have been there since the Jurassic period. Their website says that the building has operated as a bar of some sort for 113 years. The interior is fairly bright and open with lovely hardwood floors.
It’s a nice, comfortable place for lunch or dinner. There are a couple of tables for largish groups and the dining area is family friendly. It’s one of the few places in Ballard that doesn’t change their menu between lunch and dinner. Also, they have a great collection of local and Belgian beers and usually have at least one hard cider available. In fact, they only serve beer and Washington wines. The Old Town Alehouse offers hot sandwiches, soups, salads, a couple of pasta dishes and the ubiquitous fish & chips.
When we first arrived, it took a while before someone came to our table. At first this kind of annoyed me but I realized later that we had come in during a shift change. Also, the drink and food menus are already at the table so I think they tend give a little extra time so your order for drink and food can be taken all at once.
Our first server was very polite. When J ordered a pint of cider, she let him know that it was very dry which was fine with him. Our second server, who covered the last half of our meal, was equally polite and personable.
Another thing I need to mention is that our food came out incredibly fast. Both of us were shocked how fast it came out.
J ordered a pint of Anthem hard apple cider since he isn’t a fan of beer. It was a new brand of cider for him and he found it crisp and tasty. I tried a sip and would order it for myself if given the chance.
I had a pint of Schooner Exact, Gallant Maiden Hefeweizen, which I’ve ordered on previous visits to Old Town Alehouse. I’m a big fan of this beer, with its very light, citrus flavor with a slight floral aftertaste. If I could find this beer in the store, I could buy it all the time.
Salad: One of the things I always order at the Alehouse is their Caesar salad, one of my favorite Caesars in Seattle. A small order comes on a tiny plate, piled high with fresh romaine, just the right amount of a Caesar dressing that straddles the line between creamy and vinaigrette, fresh grated parmesan and, when requested, anchovies. My small salad had six, full sized anchovies.
I ordered the Ballard Beef Dip, roast beef with tomatoes, red onion, pickled cherry peppers, smoked provolone, mild horseradish spread and garlic au jus. I enjoyed my sandwich. Served on a toothsome Bolo roll, the sandwich had a large amount of moist, flavorful roast beef. The peppers and horseradish sauce had just the right amount of bite. Because the roll wasn’t too soft, it held up well when dipped into the au jus, which was tasty and not greasy as some au jus can get.
J ordered the Hot Turkey Pesto, smoked turkey breast with fresh basil pesto, roma tomatoes, onions and gruyere cheese. J isn’t a huge turkey fan but it sounded so good he went ahead and ordered it. He was not disappointed. He thought it was awesome.
Both sandwiches came with Alehouse Fries, their special fried, shoestring potatoes tossed in house spices and parmesan. These fries are great. Just the right amount of salt, peppery with the slight creaminess of cheese. The only problem with them is, as shoestrings, they have a tendency to get cold quickly. All the more reason to eat them quickly.
Dessert: After dinner, we debated whether to order dessert. A few years back I had tried their Turtle Sundae and sang its praises to J. We were full but figured that we wouldn’t get a chance to come back anytime soon. This sundae was well worth the food coma that came afterwards.
The Turtle Sundae was vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce, caramel sauce, fresh whipped cream and the best part, spiced pecans. It comes in a large, footed cup topped with whipped cream sprinkled with chocolate, caramel and the pecans. At first I thought all the pecans we would get with the sundae were the ones on top but as we worked down through the perfect vanilla ice cream and the hot sauces, we found a huge cache of spiced pecans at the very bottom. The sundae would’ve been overly sweet without the cayenne spiciness of the pecans.
Anthem Cider: $5.25
Gallant Maiden Hefeweizen: $4.75
Caesar Salad: $4.50/sm
Ballard Beef Dip: $10.75
Hot Turkey Pesto: $10.75
Turtle Sundae: $6.00
The Verdict: We’ll both be back. The service, sandwiches and beverages were all worthy of a return trip. I’ll be back anyway since I usually go there for lunch once every couple of months for the Caesar salad and fries alone. Definitely try this place.
Location: 1111 NW Ballard Way
Hours: Mon-Wed: 11:30-10
Fri – Sat: 11:30-12
Happy Hour: Mon-Fri: 3-6
A co-worker of J’s suggested we visit Maritime Brewery’s Jolly Roger Taproom as our next Ballard restaurant. He knew that J would be tempted by something that I think only this one restaurant in Ballard has, deep fried bacon. J loves bacon so he was sold immediately.
Since neither of us was particularly hungry for entrees, we decided to order a few items from the happy hour menu, all appetizers. The Jolly Roger is kind of known more for their beer, appetizers and sliders than for their entrees.
Supposedly the Jolly Roger is a pirate themed bar but other than a couple of flags and one customer who was wearing a pirate hat, it wasn’t overwhelming. The painted sea map that covers the entire floor of the restaurant is very cool.
Pretty good. The waitress suggested a pilsner when I asked for a lighter flavored beer and her suggestion was right on the money. She was fairly attentive even though by the time we left the place was almost full.
J got a Blackthorn cider since he doesn’t drink beer and I had the Portage Bay Pilsner. I really liked the pilsner and will probably see if any of the local supermarkets have it for sale. The Jolly Roger only offers beer, cider and wine. No hard liquor. J takes issue with no rum being sold at a pirate themed bar.
We ordered 4 appetizers.
Beer Batter Bacon: Bacon deep fried in your typical beer batter. Puffy batter that was good but a little greasy, at least in my opinion. That may have been from the bacon as much as the fry grease. The bacon they use is pepper crusted, which definitely helped the flavor. I would have preferred it be cooked a little longer but J loved it. The menu said it was a smaller number than their regular appetizer at 3 pieces. I could not imagine trying to eat more than the one and a half pieces I had.
Buffalo Clam Strips: We ordered this off the happy hour menu because it sounded interesting. Basically fried clam strips in a buffalo chicken wing batter. It was okay. Slightly spicy with good flavor and texture. The clams weren’t rubbery. The only issue was that they got cold rather quickly. We decided it was good to try but we wouldn’t order it again.
Smokers: Onion rings smoked over apple wood and hops then breaded and fried. In my opinion the best thing of the night. The smoked flavor wasn’t overwhelming but added a flavor dimension I’ve never found in an onion ring. The onions kept a snap to them and wasn’t slimy as we’ve found in other rings. It came with a tasty roasted jalapeno tartar sauce.
Lil’ Jolly Royal: Three beef sliders with cheese. I’m not usually a fan of sliders. To me they usually lack flavor and tend to seem thrown together. If I want a hamburger, I’ll order a normal sized hamburger. These were actually good. A nice flavor to the meat. Good portion of cheese with a bit of sautéed onion on top. The buns had a pretzel bread flavor to them that was very good. The stone-ground mustard that came as a condiment was okay. I like my mustard with a bit more bite.
Blackthorn Cider: $4.00
Portage Bay Pilsner: $4.50
Beer Batter Bacon: $3.50 (Happy Hour price)
Buffalo Clam Strips: $3.95 (Happy Hour price)
Smokers: $3.95 small order
Lil’ Jolly Royal: $5.75 for three
Good bar food. The Smokers are the best onion rings I’ve had in Seattle. I might try their lunch menu someday in the future but their dinner entrees seemed a bit pricey for a taproom. We will most likely go back for happy hour since the prices and food were good and even at smaller orders it was more than filling. Although next time I will order a salad to counteract all the fried food.