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The Worst of the Ballard Restaurant Project 2011

Here we go, the five Ballard restaurants that served us our least favorite meals of the Project. Unless these places step up the quality or change hands, we won’t be eating at these places again.

Neither of us enjoy giving a restaurant a bad review. We tried very hard to go into every place with an unbiased mind. Yes,  we had some negative, preconceived opinions of a few places but as we tried each restaurant, we hoped to be pleasantly surprised. Case in point, Ballard Smoke Shop Restaurant. From the outside, it looks like a seedy, greasy spoon but the great service and good, cheap breakfast changed our minds.

In the end, there were four places over the course of the project that were just not good and only one that was truly horrible. J and I aren’t posting this “Worst of” list with the idea of putting these places out of business … although one has already closed. Honestly, we kind of hope these restaurants read our reviews and try harder. That is really the common denominator of our least favorite Ballard restaurants: it seemed like these places just didn’t care about offering good food.

5. Smokin’ Pete’s BBQ

On this list because Smokin’ Pete’s was the biggest disappointment of the Project. J and I have had perfectly good BBQ at Smokin’ Pete’s before doing our “official” review but that day it seemed like they just didn’t care. Dry, tough meat shot through with gristle. Bland BBQ sauce. Mediocre sides that tasted like they came from the deli at Fred Meyer. Honestly, the BBQ warmed up in a microwave at The Viking was better. Considering the recent influx of quality BBQ available in Ballard (Bitterroot, RoRo BBQ, and The Boar’s Nest), Smokin’ Pete’s needs to step up their quality if they don’t want to be left in the dust.

4. Pho Than Brothers

Neither J nor I were fans of pho when we went to Pho Than Brothers for the Project and it did nothing to change our minds. Flavorless broth. Spongy, bland meat that only bore a passing resemblance to beef. We walked out of Pho Than Brothers not understanding, at all, the fascination with pho and remained that way until we had the outstanding pho at Pho Big Bowl.

3. Any Teriyaki Restaurant in Ballard

The teriyaki choices in Ballard range from okay (Anne’s Teriyaki) to just plain bad (Tony’s Teriyaki and Pho and Sunny Teriyaki). Dry, flavorless meat. Bland or overly sweet sauces. Limp salads. Since there are plenty of other cheap Asian food options in Ballard (Pho Big Bowl, Vietnam Cafe, and Uma Thai), J and I see no reason to ever get teriyaki in Ballard again.

2. Zesto’s

Yes, it is now closed but our meal at Zesto’s was one of the worst of the last year. Flavorless, obviously previously frozen beef patties. Lukewarm French fries. A burger that was barely a step-above McDonald’s. Once upon a time, going to Zesto’s was like taking a step back in time to the burger joints of the 1950’s but ever since they took the car off the roof, the quality disappeared. I have high hopes for RoRo BBQ which will be taking over the building and, supposedly, keeping the old Zesto’s charm.

1. Golden City Chinese Restaurant

Not only the worst meal we had in Ballard last year but the worst meal we’ve had in many years. Where to begin? An egg roll so over-fried that we couldn’t identify the ingredients. Two separate entrees that tasted as if they’d been cooked together. Pork fried rice so horrible that J described it thusly, “It tasted like it had been cooked in an old shoe … a week ago.” Golden City made Louie’s seem like the best Chinese food in Seattle. Unbelievably awful.

In retrospect, we didn’t have too many bad meals over the course of the Project. We’re lucky to live in Ballard where there are far more good to great restaurants than bad ones.

Next up with be our choices for “Best” types of food: burgers, fries, Italian, Long Island Iced Teas, etc.

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Ballard Restaurant News December 2011

Even though the official Ballard Restaurant Project is over, J and I are going to continue to review new Ballard restaurants,  places that were outside our self-proscribed boundry, review some non-Ballard places both in Seattle and elsewhere, and, on a bi-weekly basis, gather all the Ballard restaurant news. Considering how the restaurant scene in Ballard changes even on a weekly basis, I figured gathering info from various sources would be helpful.

According to their Facebook page, Bitterroot BBQ, on Ballard Ave next door to Old Towne Alehouse, is hoping to open by January 17th.

The Ravioli Station was featured on The Stranger’s “Happiest Hour”.

A look at Ballard’s newest and prettiest bar, Macleod’s Pub.

Bastille to start a $1 oyster happy hour on Monday-Wednesday.

Ballard’s Po’ Dog is going to actually be Po’ Dog, a Scandinavian themed restaurant called the Queen of Norway, and a dance club.

Nice article about the awesome, new BBQ joint, The Boar’s Nest.

Starbucks moving to Lombardi’s/5 Corner space on Market and 20th.

Bad Albert’s reopens with a completely refurbished interior and lots of the old favorites. I must say the Huevos Rancheros are amazing.

Smokin’ Pete’s BBQ – 12/3/11

Website

Location: 1918 NW 65th

Hours:

Tues-Sat: 11am-9pm

Sunday: 11:30am-9pm

Seattle has never been much of a BBQ town. For a long time, there have been just a handful of BBQ joints scattered all over the city. Smokin’ Pete’s, on the corner of 65th and 20th, has been the Ballard BBQ outpost for years. Housed in a bright yellow building, Smokin’ Pete’s is the place I always took my BBQ loving father. It’s a simple place with two glass deli cases flanking the cash register and a few tables. The menu, naturally, consists of BBQ meats, pork, chicken, and beef, along with sides like potato salad, coleslaw, baked beans, etc. They offer canned sodas, a couple of ciders, and beer.

The Service:

The guys at the counter were friendly and our orders came out pretty quick.

The Drink:

J and I each had a can of Faygo Root Beer.

The Food:

J ordered a small plate of Singin’ Man Pork Ribs, Memphis dry rubbed pork ribs with a piece of cornbread and mac and cheese. He found the meat dry and tough enough that it needed the thin, too sweet BBQ sauce to make it palatable. The cornbread was equally dry and rather flavorless. The mac and cheese tasted like the stuff they sell in the deli at Fred Meyer. Not quality BBQ.

I chose the Working Man’s Lunch, a slow smoked beef brisket sandwich with hush puppies. The beef was moist and had good flavor but had large, gelatinous chunks of fat running through it . The sauce was too sweet for my taste. The baguette, that the brisket was served on, was oddly greasy. The whole sandwich felt kind of thrown together. The hush puppies had the consistency of a white cake and was just as bland. I expect hush puppies to have a distinct corn flavor and some heft to them. These didn’t.

The Price:

Singin’ Man Pork Ribs: 13.75

The Working Man’s Lunch: 8.00

The Verdict:

We were disappointed by Smokin’ Pete’s. The sauce was mediocre. The meat was either too dry or too fatty. The sides were so generic that they might as well have come from a grocery store. We’ve eaten at Smokin’ Pete’s before and thought it was okay. Now, not so much. It seems like they got too used to being the only BBQ game in Ballard. They haven’t had any competition for years so it’s like they slacked off on quality. Now that not one, but two BBQ places have (The Boar’s Nest) or will (Bitterroot) open in Ballard, Smokin’ Pete’s needs to step up their game because, frankly, The Boar’s Nest blew them out of the water on all fronts.

The Boar’s Nest-10/23/11

Website

Location: 2008 NW 56th St

Hours:

Mon-Sun: 11am-9pm

Right after our terrible dinner at Golden City on Saturday night, we noticed that whatever had taken over the space next to Malena’s Tacos had opened. We investigated and discovered a BBQ joint called The Boar’s Nest. The delicious smells wafting out into the street made us decide to go back the next day to try it out.

The name, The Boar’s Nest, apparently comes from the name of Boss Hogg’s watering hole in the Dukes of Hazzard. It’s a tiny place with a distinctly southern flavor to the décor and three TVs playing sports. On one wall is a long chalkboard with the simple menu of various BBQ meats and sides and next to the order counter is a tall cooler filled with odd bottled sodas and beer. At each of the tables are five squeeze bottles of house-made, regional BBQ sauces.

The Service:

The guys at the order counter were friendly and knowledgeable about their menu and the sauces available.

The Drink:

J was pleasantly surprised to find Dad’s Root Beer in the cooler and I had a bottle of Shiner Bock, a nice, light beer.

The Food:

I chose the Smoked Beef Brisket Plate with fried pickles, baked beans, and cornbread on the side. The slabs of a little more than room temperature brisket had a pink smoke ring around the edges, something I don’t think I’ve ever seen in a BBQ joint in Seattle. The fork tender beef had a lovely, smoky flavor. Very good.

The Fried Pickles were really good, better than any others I’ve had in Ballard. The breading was just the right consistency, being neither too thick nor too tough. The pickles were a little limp when bit into but that was evened out by the nice, vinegar flavor that went well with the spicy aioli that accompanied them. The Baked Beans reminded me of my mother’s with a little added heat. They were good but could have been improved with a dash of BBQ sauce. The Cornbread had a nice density, holding up well when sliced in half. It came with a honey butter that contrasted well with the corn flavor.

J ordered the Half-Rack of Pork Ribs with coleslaw and fried mac and cheese. The meat on the ribs was so moist that it literally fell off the bone. J said he could have easily eaten the ribs without sauce, they were so delicious. The coleslaw looked like it was homemade with nice, big chunks of red and green cabbage. He also mentioned the fact that the fried mac and cheese was the best he’d ever had, the filling being neither dry nor soupy.

Considering the selection of sauces available, I should mention our favorites. After trying all but the mayo based Alabama sauce, we agreed that our favorites were the Kansas City, which is the most traditional of the sauces, the Kentucky Bourbon for it’s sweet, whisky flavor, and the Memphis, a spicy sauce with a cumin aftertaste.

The Price:

Dad’s Root Beer: 2.50

Shiner Bock: 4.00

Smoked Beef Brisket Plate: 12.00

Half-Slab of Pork Ribs: 15.00

The Verdict:

The Boar’s nest is a fine addition to Ballard’s growing array of BBQ Joints. Better than the Lock & Keel and The Viking. The guys running it were friendly. Its location, interesting sides, different sauces, and moist, flavorful meats will have us returning to try more. I hope this place sticks around.

The Viking Tavern – 10/8/11

Website

Location: 6404 24th Ave NW

Hours:

Mon-Sat: 11:30am-2am

Sunday: 11:30am-12am

On the window of The Viking Tavern, it proudly announces “Opened in 1950”. Walking through the door feels a bit like going through a time warp. Vinyl booths line one wall with a row of mirrors and black and white photos of the Viking over the years above them. The bar runs along the other side with old school, spinning bar stools under the chipped counter. The Viking is another piece of Old Ballard that has managed to survive. On one wall near the entry is one thing I, as a former library worker, can appreciate, a shelf of spy, detective, and romance novels.

The Viking Tavern is a bar with food rather than a restaurant that serves booze. While their specialty is house-smoked meats, preparation isn’t of primary import since the food is warmed up in a microwave.

The Service:

When we came in, the bartender was acting as server as well. He was friendly and bus but the food came out fairly quick.

The Drinks:

I ordered the Silver City Hefeweizen, which was pretty good even though it had a slight, musty flavor that I’ve noticed in a few other Hefeweizens.

J had a Long Island Iced Tea that he could smell before even lifting it to his lips. It was so well mixed that he dubbed it the third best Long Island in Ballard.

The Food:

I chose The Number One, hickory smoked, thinly sliced beef brisket, with house sauce and served with Tim’s Cascade chips and a pickle. The brisket was fairly tender and nicely flavored, even if it was warmed up in the microwave. It was okay but I like my brisket a bit moister and in thicker slices. I liked the onion roll on which it was served. The sauce was just the right consistency, with a nice, delayed spicy kick. A good barbeque sandwich for the price.

J had The Number Two, slow-smoked, shredded pork butt with house pork sauce on an onion roll. He thought it was really good barbeque. The pork was less shredded and more like moist, flavorful chunks of meat. He was kind of surprised how good it was.

The Price:

Silver City Hefeweizen: 4.75

Long Island Iced Tea: 7.00

The Number One: 8.75

The Number Two: 8.75

The Verdict:

The Viking Tavern provides good barbeque and drinks at a very reasonable price in a neat piece of Old Ballard. We liked the barbeque better than what’s sold at the Lock & Keel, the only other barbeque we’ve had thus far in this project. The meat was smoky, fairly moist, and flavorful. The sauce was really good. Their Long Island Iced Tea, surprisingly, comes in at third best in Ballard.

Our opinions of the remaining Ballard barbeque joints (Smokin’ Petes and the maybe opening before the end of the year, Bitterroot) will determine whether we return to The Viking. It is a bit out of the way from where we live in Ballard but if it’s the best, we’ll be back.

Lock & Keel Tavern – 3/27/2011

No Website

Location: 5144 Ballard Ave NW

Hours:

Mon-Fri: 4pm-2am

Sat-Sun: 11:30am-2am

Happy Hour:

Daily: 4-7

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 Service:

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.

The Drinks:

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.

The Food:

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.

The Price:

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 Verdict:

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.