Brew Food

Some Seattle taverns and brewpubs are moving in on fine dining.

In these parts, beer is serious business. Too damn serious to be much fun, sometimes. Our region's periodic showcases of the brewer's art are cases in point: milling crowds of serious sippers shuffling from one sample table to the next, souvenir 3-ounce glass in hand. You'd never guess, looking on, that drinking beer's supposed to be enjoyable and sociable—even wine tastings are generally more fun. Hops on Equinox, the spring craft-beer festival at Seattle Center's Fisher Pavilion, may at last break the pattern, by diluting all that beer—70 brews this year, from nearly 40 breweries—with a modicum of food. Good food, too—not just pretzels and peanuts, nor gooey nachos and sticky drumettes. And about time, too, because Northwest pub food has evolved in recent years into something other than a fat-and-starch foundation for long-haul drinking. In retrospect, we should have expected such evolution. When brewers work hard and long to produce beers comparable in class to the finest traditional brews of Europe, it's only a matter of time until they start wanting the food consumed with them to be up to the same standard of subtlety. There's no point in tweaking your IPA painstakingly to perfection if it's going to be wasted washing down barbecue chips. Good food hasn't been a total stranger to taverns and brewpubs in the area. Rooted Seattleites have long heard tell of fine eating to be had at Fred's RivertownAlehouse in Snohomish, and Greenwood's 74th Street Alehouse was a pioneer in serious pub food as well as quality quaffs. But the trend is now beginning to reach critical mass, approaching the point that someone thinking about dining out might consider a spot like the Barking Dog Alehouse or the Elysian Brewery's TangleTown for the food, with availability of first-rate beer playing a minor role in the decision. Pub owners deserve particular praise for improving the product of their kitchens because, for the most part, nobody was asking them to do it. It's been a labor of love, born of the desire to offer food fit to match with the beverage they love. There's even been a kind of counter­pressure from some self-appointed brew aficionados, born perhaps of a feeling that if the food improves, taverns will lose their two-fisted manliness. Capitol Hill's Elysian Brewery has actually been criticized for trying to serve imaginative food; a contributor to the legendary bar-blog slammed it for following "that bizarre health nut/trendy Capitol Hill style where everything sounds like something that you would normally eat, but has all sorts of unusual ingredients that really you would rather avoid." Some of the dishes that will be offered at the Center this weekend might rouse that writer's ire. The 74th Street Alehouse offer its evergreen gumbo Saturday evening, and surely even a Real Man could have no objection to engulfing a Kobe beef meatball or two along with his 3 ounces of Rogue Brutal Bitter? But confirmed guys may waver a bit when confronted with Maritime Pacific's habañero pulled pork with Imperial Pale Ale mango slaw, and draw the line at such foofy preparations as Barking Dog's lobster bisque and Elysian's curry duck. This is an unfortunate but a fixed fact of life in the beer business. In America, wine owns the class image, beer is blue-collar; the average citizen takes pretension for granted when wine's the subject, but hoots in derision when anyone suggests that the aromas and flavors and mouth-feel of beer merit the same attention as wine's do. I sympathize with this reaction, because wine's taken-for-granted superiority is the biggest impediment to its enjoyment, for casual sippers and cognoscenti alike. It would be truly terrible if a band of beer snobs (oh, they exist, nowhere more flourishingly than right here at home) ever manage to acquire the influence over beer consumers that the wine mafia still wields. Could that happen? Probably not. With luck, the growing fusion of good brews and fine food will blow away the last lingering odors that gave the word "tavern" such seedy overtones for so long, without compromising the agreeably downscale image that still survives from the days when the tavern deserved to be called "the workingman's club." Women long ago broke down the invisible door of the club; it may be as much their emergence as a significant share of tavern clientele that has fueled interest in pub food that's, if not dainty, at least fit to eat. Who knows, maybe now that food is a growing element in their business, taverns will begin to fill more fully the function that pubs and bistros and trattorie and tabernai play in their respective homelands. Eating out among neighbors, lightly lubricated, preferably with the ankle-biters scuffling under the table, is a great way to spend time, an enrichment of experience a white-tablecloth restaurant can't offer. Hops on Equinox beer festival, Seattle Center's Fisher Pavilion, 206-633-0422, Fri., March 19, 5–10 p.m.; Sat., March 20, 1–10 p.m. $18 adv./$20. Barking Dog Alehouse 705 N.W. 70th St., 206-782-2974, BALLARD 20 beers on draft (one cask) Chef's picks: buffalo stew, panko-breaded halibut and chips, gumbo Collins Pub 526 Second Ave., 206-623-1016, PIONEER SQUARE 21 beers on draft (one cask) Chef's picks: house-ground beef burger, beer-battered fish and chips, turkey club Columbia City Ale House 4914 Rainier Ave. S., 206-723-5123, RAINIER VALLEY 16 beers on draft (21+ only) Chef's picks: fresh soups, halibut-cake salad special, Moroccan lamb pot pie special ElliotT Bay Brewing Company 4720 California Ave. S.W., 206-932-8695, WEST SEATTLE Six house beers and four "guests" on tap (two casks) Chef's picks: IPA fish and chips, fajita salad, grilled turkey, bacon, and Swiss sandwich Elysian Brewing Company 1221 E. Pike St., 206-860-1920, CAPITOL HILL 14 beers on draft (one cask) Chef's picks: "hot babe" pork sandwich, fish and chips, Thai lamb and red curry Hale's 4301 Leary Way N.W., 206-706-1544, FREMONT 12 beers on draft Chef's picks: Caribbean chicken sandwich, American classic pizza, wild grilled salmon Hilltop 2129 Queen Anne Ave. N., 206-285-3877, QUEEN ANNE 18 beers on draft (21+ only) Chef's picks: Reuben sandwich, chicken-fried chicken, house-made soups Hopvine Pub 507 15th Ave. E., 206-328-3120, CAPITOL HILL 12 taps, frequent rotations Chef's picks: three daily soup specials, pizza, seasonal salad Maritime Pacific's Jolly Roger Taproom 1514 N.W. Leary Way, 206-782-6181, BALLARD 13 beers on draft (two casks) (21+ only) Chef's picks: "smokers" (onion rings with jalapeño dip sauce), mini burgers, broiled pork loin chop Owl & Thistle 808 Post Ave., 206-621-7777, DOWNTOWN Nine beers on draft, one cider (21+ only after 8 p.m.) Chef's picks: fish and chips, clam chowder, Guinness beef stew Pig'N Whistle 8420 Greenwood Ave. N., 206-782-6044, GREENWOOD Six beers on draft Chef's picks: grilled chicken salad, rib platter, honey chicken sandwich 74th Street Ale House 7401 Greenwood Ave. N., 206-784-2955, GREENWOOD 16 beers on draft (21+ only) Chef's picks: fish tacos, gumbo, grilled red Reuben sandwich Sonya's 1919 First Ave., 206-441-7996, DOWNTOWN Three beers on draft (21+ only) Chef's picks: Philly prime rib melt, Sonya's burger, beer-battered fish and chips Tangletown 2106 N. 55th St., 206-547-5929, WALLINGFORD 16 beers on draft (two casks) Chef's picks: portobello mushroom sandwich, Southern cassoulet, mulligatawny soup

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