The only way Bourbon & Bones (Fremont, 4350 Leary Way NW; 206.582.2241; Facebook, “Bourbon and Bones”) could feel more like a roadhouse is if there was a gang of motorcycles lined up outside. But don’t let that intimidate you.
This smoked-meat shop, in the former home of Anita’s Crepes, is a virtual barbecue welcome mat. The first thing you’ll see when you walk inside is a case of food oozing with that Southern gas station charm. There will be ribs, pork, mac and cheese, collard greens—everything on the menu is in this case, which the staff refers to as the “heat merchandiser.” It instantly deflates any pretentiousness, since it’s all laid out for you to see. There’s also a printed menu and a menu written on butcher paper hanging above the register. Chicken comes by the bucket or piece, ribs by the half or full rack, smoked brisket by weight or plate. It’s sort of confusing, but basically you can get anything you want. And once you place your order at the register (there’s no table service), your food arrives on trays within minutes.
The mastermind behind all of this is Mike Law, who made a splash when he became the chef at Wandering Goose—the tiny Capitol Hill spot that made him and his fried chicken locally famous. Not surprisingly, the fried chicken is one of the highlights at Bourbon & Bones; it’s a two-day process that makes it so good. There’s the marinade, some secret dry ingredients and then the actual cooking, which creates a moist chicken with crispy skin and seasoning throughout.
Before coming to Seattle, Law spent 10 years in and out of New Orleans. “I grew up in North Carolina—they have smoke houses that are 150 years old. You have restaurants down there that have been there forever, so you have this culture. I wanted to bring some of that back here.” In January of this year, Law opened Bourbon & Bones to bring “proper barbecue”—pork shoulder, sausage, bacon, smoked brisket—to the area, because, he asserts, “In Seattle, there’s really no good barbecue.” Just as incredible as the fried chicken are the pork ribs—big, juicy, fall-off-the-bone tender, and not so messy that you can’t eat them on a date. Law cures his own meats—coppa, sopressata, prosciutto—but the creamy texture and flavor of the chicken liver mousse was the standout on the charcuterie board (certainly the most precious-looking dish on the menu). The sides are less memorable, although the collard greens and the vinegar slaw complement the fatty, smoky meats. And, after 10 p.m. on weekdays, everything in the heat merchandiser is half off.
But even more enjoyable than that is the in-your-face gritty vibe of this place. It’s got an energy to it as if you accidentally caught the staff unwinding after service. The music is loud (sometimes deafening) and usually always rock (Van Halen, Kiss). It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s intentional; the tunes keep the staff’s spirits up, and it shows. Their good time is contagious and it puts people at ease. Bourbon & Bones is just as much about good casual food as it is about camaraderie and real-life neighborhood characters. Says Law, “This isn’t just a place on its own. People make the place.” And there lies the charm.