Archive for April, 2011

Portage Bay Café-4/23/11


Location: 2821 NW Market St.


Mon-Sun: 7:30am – 2:30pm

The Portage Bay Café is the antithesis of Bad Albert’s. Bright and airy as opposed to dark and worn. Organic, fresh and/or imported ingredients listed right on the menu rather than listing the ingredients with little fanfare. A place where the turn-over is so numerous that, while friendly, the servers are a bit impersonal as opposed to a place where the servers know the regulars on sight. The popular place for the upper-middle class of Ballard … those I’ve come to call the “stroller and dog set” … rather than where homey, original Ballardites go to have a meal. These two restaurants showcase two sides of Ballard.

On the weekends, you have to get there early or expect to wait quite a while for a table. Especially if you have more than two people in your group. A few weeks ago, J and I had attempted to go there for a late breakfast. When we drove by there were so many people waiting that the line had overflowed outside. This time, having gotten up earlier than usual on Saturday, we arrived at the Portage Bay Café around 8:45. We didn’t have to wait for a table but even that early, we snagged the very last available table.

The Service:

Considering how busy the Portage Bay Café was the service was extremely fast. The server was friendly and very polite. In fact all the servers were amazingly un-frazzled and mellow even as the place became more and more crowded.

The Drinks:

J had coffee. I was happy to see that they offered Mighty Leaf tea, which I like so much that I buy it online for myself. I had a cup of the fresh, crisp Mint Melange.

The Food:

I ordered the Prosciutto Omelette, with an interesting combination of Italian prosciutto, roasted roma tomatoes, baby spinach, mushrooms and blue cheese and a side of breakfast potatoes. This was the lightest, airiest omelette I’ve ever had. The eggs almost melted in my mouth. The vegetables were fresh and not at all overcooked. If you have a craving for salt, this is the best omelette to take care of it. The prosciutto had a strong salted ham flavor, probably because it was imported from Italy. Very different than the prosciutto I’ve gotten from deli counters. In a surprising pairing, the creamy chunks of blue cheese complimented everything else deliciously.

The breakfast potatoes, on the other hand, were merely okay. I prefer my potatoes to have a bit more crispiness to them. A bit more char. The potatoes here, while well seasoned with a spicy mix that reminded me of something between dried ancho pepper and Chinese five-spice, were kind of mushy. It’s something I’ve noticed about nearly every side of breakfast potatoes I’ve had. The only place that cooks potatoes to my liking is the Hi-Life. The ones at Portage Bay Café weren’t horrible but just meh.

J craved something sweet for breakfast so he chose the Bananas Foster French Toast, challah French toast with organic bananas and topped with housemade Myer’s run, caramel sauce. The rum flavor of the caramel sauce was so strong (in a good way) that J thought I might have to drive home. The French toast had a nice crunch to it and was surprisingly light. When you order French toast or panacakes at the Portage bay Café, you’re able to add toppings like fresh fruit, nuts or whipped cream from their special toppings bar. J added strawberries, blueberries and a dollop of whipped cream to his French toast and was pleasantly surprised by how incredibly fresh his choices were.

He also ordered a side of pepper bacon, which was cooked very well with a nice crispness to it.

The Price:

Fonte Coffee: 2.75

Mighty Leaf Tea: 2.25

Bananas Foster French Toast: 12.00

Prosciutto Omelette: 13.00

Side of Pepper Bacon: 3.00

The Verdict:

The Portage Bay Café is probably the most expensive breakfast available in Ballard. Even more expensive than Volterra’s weekend brunch. But the quality is obvious in everything from the beverages to the very fresh ingredients to the topping bar. The menu overflows with interesting options that you would have a hard time finding anywhere else in Ballard.

Our verdict is that the Portage Bay Café is worth the money maybe once or twice a year. You just have to be prepared to get there very early or knowing you’ll be waiting a while. The breakfast we had was really quite good.

Categories: Restaurants Tags: , , ,

Bad Albert’s Tap & Grill – 4/22/11 – Closed


Location: 5100 Ballard Ave NW


Mon-Thurs: 11-10

Fri: 11-11

Sat: 9-11

Sun: 9-9

Breakfast Served: Sat-Sun: 9-2

Happy Hour: 3-6 Mon-Sun

Bad Albert’s sits at the what was the industrial, unpopular end of Ballard Ave until the hipsterific Ballard Loft, Ethan Stowell’s Staple and Fancy and The Walrus and The Carpenter oyster bar moved in. Now gentrification is creeping down the street although I doubt it will ever affect Bad Albert’s.

In Ballard, Bad Albert’s is one of the remaining bastions of old Ballard. For a Friday night happy hour, the crowd consisted mostly of the retired, a few younger folk and blue collar workers from the industrial area that runs along Salmon Bay. The interior reflects its clientele, being a little worn but in a homey, well-loved way. If you become any sort of regular, the waitresses and the owner will remember you. Maybe not by name but enough to say “Hi” in a familiar way.

If you can tell already, J and I have a soft spot for Bad Albert’s. For a couple of years now it has been our go-to spot for weekend breakfast. We’ve been there so often that the waitresses bring our morning beverage (coffee and cranberry juice) along with the menu. Their fried egg and bacon sandwich, with what we’ve come to call “crack mayonnaise” for its deliciousness, is one of the best breakfast items in Ballard if not Seattle. It’s so good that it’s not only on the breakfast menu but on the lunch/dinner menu as well.

Oddly enough, we’ve never had dinner there. Sure I’ve had lunch a few times and J spent part of his bachelor party drinking there last year but never a true dinner. So when we started this project, we decided to make the effort to try Bad Albert’s dinner menu.

The Service:

When we came in the first thing out of our server’s mouth was “Wait. It’s not breakfast. How come you’re here now?”. This is indicative of the service at Bad Albert’s, friendly, familiar and relatively quick. As befits a place with a regular clientele, sometimes the service can be held up by the staff chatting with customers. Some may see this as a drawback but we’ve come to find it endearing and a sign of a certain comfort.

This is probably a good point to mention that Bad Albert’s is a bar and, as such, does not permit anyone under 21 in the place. While this may be a drawback to many people, when you’re recovering from a hangover or want a quiet breakfast, having a quiet place in Ballard to have breakfast is a huge plus.

Our server also gets points for insisting on bringing a basket of French fries when I mentioned that I had asked for them rather than the tater tots I received.

The Drinks:

As usual J ordered a Long Island Iced Tea, which he says was “Pretty dang tasty”.

I asked for whatever Hefeweizen they had on tap. What I received was a lovely, smooth Hefeweizen that tasted vaguely familiar. It turned out that Bad Albert’s carries my favorite local beer, Schooner Exact’s Gallant Maiden Hefeweizen. Only one other restaurant in Ballard (so far) offers this soft, mild beer.

The Food:

Since it was Happy Hour, we decided to try one of the half-off appetizers, the Cajun Crawfish, lightly floured and fried crawfish tails tossed in spicy chipotle sauce and served with blue cheese dip. When they came out, the crawfish tails looked like cocktail shrimp, little curled-up commas. At first taste, they were not at all what we expected. Much fishier than shrimp with a spicy, sweet coating. Even after the first few bites, the crawfish tails had such an odd taste that neither of us were sure if we even liked them. Gradually the little suckers worked some sort of mojo on us become delicious and addictive until they were completely gone. Next time we hit Bad Albert’s for happy hour, we’ll get them again.

For an entrée, I ordered the New Yorker, a seasoned Angus beef patty on a toasted garlic baguette with yellow mustard, tomatoes, pickles, white cheddar and a homemade grilled onion sauce and a side of fries. As befits a sandwich on a baguette, the beef patty was elongated rather than round and was flatter than a hamburger patty. The flatness allowed the flavor of the well seasoned beef to be more obvious as well as give it a little bit of a crunchy edge. The baguette was deliciously garlicky and toasted to perfection, not too soft or hard. The pickles were huge which made me think they cut them from whole dill pickles. The onion sauce was good if a little greasy. The french fries were obviously hand-cut, a rarity lately. They had that great mix of crispy outside and tender inside. Very good fries.

J had the Albert’s Burger Dip, a seasoned Angus beef patty on toasted garlic baguette with smoked provolone, grilled Guinness onions, bacon, a small bowl of au jus and a side of tater tots. He loved it. He described it as “homey”. Like something your mom would make. Very unpretentious. The au jus dip was so awesome that I was dipping my sandwich in it. So rich and beefy. Personally we both would be tempted to order a side of au jus with anything we ate there. A big win all around from J.

The Price:

Long Island Iced Tea: 8.00

Gallant Maiden Hefeweizen: 3.50 (Happy Hour price)

Crawfish Tails: 4.75 (Happy Hour price)

The New Yorker: 11.00

Albert’s Burger Dip with Bacon: 11.50

The Verdict:

Of course we’ll be going back to Bad Albert’s. Their breakfasts are awesome. So, rather, I guess the question is whether we would go back for dinner. Yes, the food was so different than the fare we’ve had thus far in Ballard. Homey with interesting selections and combinations. I want to try the gorgonzola chicken sandwich and a few of their other options. Since they also offer my favorite beer, I think we’ll be going back sooner than later. Bad Albert’s may just become one of our go-to places not just for breakfast but for lunch/dinner as well.

The Hi-Life – 4/16/11


Location: 5425 Russell Ave NW


Sun-Thurs: 8:30- whenever

Fri-Sat: 8:30-whenever

Happy Hour:



The Hi-Life is located just off Market Street in what used to be a firehouse. It still retains much of the original firehouse feel. Brick exterior. Huge sliding doors that are opened when the weather gets nice. A bell tower type structure that now has a neon sign reading “Eat” at the top. The interior is open, light-filled and airy with a bar area separated from the main dining room and a huge open kitchen.

It’s one of the few places in Ballard that can accommodate large groups. All one has to do is make a reservation at the front desk. After our wedding last year, J and I invited the small wedding party to lunch at the Hi-Life so we do have a certain fondness for the place.

The Service:

Since it was Happy Hour on a Saturday, the place was nearly at capacity when we arrived and there were people waiting to be seated when we left. Considering this, we were seated, ordered our meal and served in record time by a friendly, polite and amazingly not frazzled server. Huge kudos for the service.

The Drinks:

I ordered an Alpine Hefeweizen. The hoppy flavor was a little stronger than I like in my hefeweizens but it was okay. J had the Happy Hour drink special, Whidbey Island Iced Tea, coke, soda, lemon and Absolute Wild Tea. He deemed it so refreshing that on a hot day he would easily down a few of them.

The Food:

For an appetizer, we couldn’t resist the Spring in a Blanket, asparagus, portabella mushrooms and prosciutto wrapped in pastry served with roasted garlic-lemon goat cheese. Even though I found the pastry to be a bit under-done, these wraps were very tasty. The asparagus was cooked just right with a surprisingly aggressive flavor. The goat cheese dip was a perfect compliment to the rest of the ingredients with a light, springy herb flavor.

I also ordered a small, Happy Hour Caesar Salad. While not the best Caesar salad I’ve had thus far in Ballard, it was perfectly acceptable. The dressing was a little bland with none of the anchovy taste I prefer.

As an entree I chose the Rosemary Chicken, a pan seared half chicken with roasted mushrooms, served with grilled mascarpone polenta and an arugula salad. I should have noted the arugula salad when I ordered which led me to having double the roughage with dinner. Overall, I found this entrée just okay. The arugula salad and the roasted mushrooms were both a bit over salted and I love salt, so this is saying something. Other than the saltiness, the mushrooms were well cooked with a fine, meaty texture. The chicken was moist and relatively flavorful though I tasted not a hint of rosemary. One would think if they’re going to call it “Rosemary Chicken” it should have some sort of rosemary flavor. Not their best effort, to be honest.

J ordered the Brown Butter Gnocchi, with fennel sausage, grape tomatoes and topped with an arugula-fennel salad. He’d never had a brown butter gnocchi before and found it really different and flavorful.

The Price:

Alpine Hefeweizen: 3.00 (Happy Hour price)

Whidbey Island Iced Tea: 5.00 (Happy Hour price)

Small Caesar Salad: 4.00 (Happy Hour price)

Spring in a Blanket: 8.50

Brown Butter Gnocchi: 15.50

Rosemary Chicken: 16.50

The Verdict:

Despite the slight failure of my entrée, J and I will gladly return to the Hi-Life. As one of the few places in Ballard that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, 7 days a week, it’s a go-to place when we can’t decide what we want to eat.

The specials on the menu change seasonally so there are always interesting choices available. Their weekday, $5.55 breakfast specials are extremely good for the price. My favorite is the delicious goat cheese and herb scramble. They also have a great French Onion soup. The Sunday Fried-Chicken Suppers are phenomenal. Their Happy Hour is one of the best in Ballard. Most of the food is in the $3-5 range and uniformly tasty as hell. Especially the seasonal petite pizzas and the BBQ sliders.

Plaka Estiatorio-4/14/11


Location: 5407 20th Ave NW



Tues-Fri: 11:30-3

Sat: 12-4


Tues-Thurs: 5-9

Fri: 5-10

Sat: 4-10

Sun: 4-9

The first date J and I had was on January 14. Best first date ever. A few months after that, we started a tradition of going out for a nice meal on the 14th of every month. This is a chance for us to celebrate that great first date and try new and interesting restaurants at the same time.

To celebrate the 14th, we chose the nice Greek restaurant in Ballard, Plaka Estiatario. Tucked just off Market Street, the exterior looks like any Ballard restaurant, big windows and rather plain on the outside. When you walk inside, you are transported to the Greek Isles. Wide open with rustic wood tables, cream painted walls covered with family photos. The open kitchen lines one wall with a small bar at which one can watch the food being prepared. After spending some time there and especially after trying the food, I wouldn’t have been surprised to look out the window to see colorful Greek boats bobbing along a cove of startlingly blue water. Plaka Estiatario feels authentically Greek without the kitchiness of other Greek restaurants (Costa Opa in Fremont comes readily to mind).

The Service:

Our server was extremely friendly, quick and helpful. He explained the various menus available, the main menu, the menu of specials for that day and the Seattle Restaurant Week menu that was going on for a limited time. The bus boy was also friendly, stopping to talk with us about how good our choices were and what else was good on the menu.

The Drinks:

I ordered the Rapsani Tsantali, a red wine, which was smooth and velvety. J chose the Tsantali Blanc, a white wine, which was, as he put it,  “very good indeed”.

The Food:

We started with the choice of three Voutes (dips), large spoonfuls of Revithosalata or Humus, Roasted Red Pepper and Feta and Melitzanosalata (roasted eggplant, tomatoes and onions). The humus was creamy with just a hint of olive oil. J says it was some of the best humus he’s had in a restaurant. The pepper and feta dip was amazing with a perfect balance of roasted pepper flavor and salty feta. The melitzanosalata turned out to be a great vegetable compliment to the creaminess of the other two dips. We were also served a couple of pieces of a softer, almost cake-like pita they called “angel pita” and a small bowl of inky black Greek olives.

For an entrée, J ordered the Yiouvetsi, a clay ramekin of baked hilopites (egg noodle pasta like orzo) with lamb and a side of greek vegetables. When the dish came out, the top was just the hilopites pasta with small chunks of feta sprinkled on top. J took the first bite, which encompassed all the layers and found the bottom layer was just lamb. Juicy, moist lamb chunks that he says was the best he’s had in any Greek restaurant in Seattle.

I decided to try Plaka Estiatario’s Seattle Restaurant Week menu, a three course price fixe meal. My first course was Avgolemono, a traditional egg and lemon soup with chicken and rice. Delicious. Creamy with the perfect mix of lemon to egg to chicken. Unlike many avgolemono soup I have tried, this one was not bright, fake yellow color, rather a pale, creamy yellow.

My main dish choice was the Kokinisto, braised lamb shank with square shaped hilopites pasta and mixed vegetables. This was probably the most dramatic looking dish I’ve ever had. The lamb shank was left on the bone so it looked like a gigantic, prehistoric leg surrounded by noodles, tomatoes and onions. The pasta was creamy. The tomatoes and onions had a lovely Mediterranean flavor I can only describe as lemony with hints of oregano and thyme. Once I sliced the lamb off the shank, I found the meat moist, flavorful with just a hint of gaminess. The only issue with this fabulous entrée was that, in spots, it seemed a little salty but his may have just been lamb shank juice run-off mixing with the pasta.

For my dessert course, I ordered the Diples, a sheet of dough rolled up, lightly fried and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar and walnuts and drizzled with Greek honey. While I wish they had spread the cinnamon sugar over the dough before rolling up it up so it ran through out the huge, rolled up dessert, the honey seeped through, giving what could’ve been plain dough a light, sweet flavor.

J, feeling jealous of my dessert course, ordered Baklava. What came out was the biggest, thickest piece of baklava I’ve ever seen. It could have easily served two or three people. We were told that they use a mix of 5 different nuts in their baklava rather than the usual one or two. Even through it was huge, J ate nearly all of it because it was so good.

The Price:

Rapsani Tsantali: 9.00

Blanc Tsantali: 7.00

Voutes (dips): 3 for 10.00

Yiouvetsi: 18.00

Baklava: 8.00

Three Course Menu: 28.00

The Verdict:

Dinner was a little pricy but considering the quantity and the quality, I’m sure we’ll go back. The portions were so big that we took home enough leftovers to have a full dinner, for both of us, the next night and it tasted just as good. This is some of the best Greek food I’ve had not only in Ballard but also in Seattle.

We’re planning to return at some point for lunch, since their lunch menu, which I’ve tried, is just as good and cheaper. Their gyros are huge, flavorful and made with really fresh ingredients. The Greek salad is huge and delicious.

We will not be surprised, at all, if Plaka Estiatario turns out to be in our top 5 Ballard Restaurants at the end of this project. The authentic, fresh flavors mixed with the lovely atmosphere and friendly staff makes this a restaurant we will happily suggest our friends and family try. Trust us, you won’t be disappointed.

Vera’s Restaurant-4/9/11

No Website

Location: 5417 22nd Ave


Mon-Fri: 7am-2:30pm

Sat-Sun: 8am-2pm

I awoke Saturday morning with a craving for a Greek omelette. After discussing it a for few minutes, J and I decided upon the most likely location for such a thing: Vera’s Restaurant.

Vera’s is an old school diner. A leftover from Ballard where the old school, Scandinavian, blue-collar workers out numbered the hipsters and the stroller and dog set. It only serves breakfast and lunch. The interior looks like a grandma’s kitchen with its floral wallpaper and vinyl benches. Vera’s is a no nonsense sort of place. The fanciest the menu gets is in their omelette selection and even the omelettes are translated through a white, European filter.

The Service:

The first half of the service was great. We got seated, ordered and got served in record time. The waitresses were polite and friendly. It went downhill when we were ready to leave. It took forever to get our check. Waitresses kept walking past our table even though we had our dirty dishes piled up at the end. I think waiting for our check took longer than it took to eat breakfast.

The Drinks:

I had cranberry juice. J ordered coffee, which was “actually good”.

The Food:

I ordered the Greek Village Omelette, eggs with mushrooms, tomatoes, scallions and feta, with sourdough toast and hash browns. The omelette was great. Fully cooked with crispy edges. The mushrooms weren’t mushy. The scallions were almost caramelized. The feta tasted like real, Greek feta, salty, briny goodness. The only off note were the mushy tomatoes but that’s to be expected in April so I can’t really fault them.

As to everything else, the hash browns were almost burnt on the outside but incredibly mealy inside. Greasy, nearly tasteless and probably came out of a bag. The sourdough toast was limp and barely toasted.

J tried the Biscuits and Gravy Special, with hash browns, and two eggs over medium. His opinion, “meh”. The biscuits were nothing special. The gravy tasted like it came out of a jar. He ordered his eggs “over medium” but they arrived over easy. A good over easy but not what he ordered. He described it as akin to a typical, low price hotel breakfast.

The Price:

Cranberry Juice: 1.95

Coffee: 1.95

Greek Village Omelette: 9.95

Biscuits and Gravy: 9.95

The Verdict:

My Greek omelette was really good. Completely satisfied my craving. It’s just that the rest of the breakfast was over priced for what we received. We have had better and cheaper breakfasts down the street at Bad Albert’s. Other than the omelette and the coffee nothing tasted fresh or even that appetizing.

I highly doubt that we’ll go back unless it turns out that Vera’s is the only place in Ballard where I can get a Greek omelette.

Categories: Restaurants Tags: , , , ,