Bitterroots in Ballard

Come for the drinks, stay for the ribs.

The Watering Hole: Bitterroot, 5239 Ballard Ave. N.W., 588-1577, BALLARD

The Atmosphere: The sweet aroma of smoked meat hits your nostrils the moment you crack the front door to Bitterroot, and almost instantly that smell triggers a rumbling in the stomach that can only be quelled by a rack of ribs. This just-opened barbecue joint includes a handful of tables in its narrow front portion, and a bar area with a few booths and seating for maybe two dozen through a hallway in the back. The bar itself is smooth stainless steel, and the whiskey-laden liquor shelves are illuminated with desk lamps. Most people seem to be there for the food, but a handful of customers are just hanging out and sipping drinks.

The Barkeep: Trevor O'Dell, formerly of Frank's Oysterhouse and Champagne Parlor, is literally right at home on Ballard Avenue: He lives in the neighborhood and took the job when the place opened four weeks ago because he liked the prospect of walking to work. Sporting a sweet "Northwest" T-shirt from Ballard-based graphic designer Mike Klay, O'Dell says he has also tended bar at The Saint and Havana.

The Drink: I knew I was in for something unique when O'Dell turned around and began to gather ingredients for the drink, only to pause abruptly and ask, "You're not a vegetarian, are you?"

Informed that I am carnivorous as they come, O'Dell reached into a glass jar above the bar with the mouthwatering label "Bacon Jerky" and plucked out a crisply arched strip of belly meat. He broke off a half-inch-long bit and speared it to make a garnish.

The drink, called a Root Down, consists of Old Ezra bourbon, Campari, Cynar, vanilla syrup, a little bit of lemon juice, and a thick spurt from what looked to be a ketchup squeeze bottle. Thankfully, it's housemade grenadine‚Äďa viscous, crimson goo that spends a few hours acquiring flavor in the restaurant's smoker. Shaken and strained into a martini glass, the final product was frothy, pink, and surprisingly good. The sweet, smoky grenadine and pungent Cynar were the dominant flavors, with the citrus and vanilla becoming more discernible as I emptied the glass.

Left over was the little chunk of bacon jerky impaled on a plastic spear. The fat glistened pale white in all its unrendered glory, and with the marbled bits of meat still a deep red color, it almost looked raw. Somehow it was still crispy even after soaking in the drink for half an hour. But rather than having a crunchy texture, it dissolved on the tongue like a salty hit of bacon ecstasy.

The Verdict: Come for the drinks, stay for the ribs. My significant other and I split a half-rack of baby-backs that we soon sucked clean to the bone. They came slathered in sweet sauce (this is generally a no-no; the best barbecue is served with sauce on the side), and we made good use of the wet wipes stacked next to the bar napkins.

The bar carried a nice selection of microbrews, and boasted an impressive bourbon and rye collection for having just opened. In addition to the smoked grenadine, O'Dell uses smoked sugar cubes in some cocktails. He also seemed excited about the cook's plan to smoke a batch of kangaroo jerky. Assuming the 'roo meat gets used as a garnish, the drink he served me has to be renamed the Roodown.

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