One of the restaurants I review for the June issue is Brimmer & Heeltap. I’ve known proprietress Jen Doak for years, back when she managed The Tasting Room in Post Alley. It’s been fun to watch her career grow. And when she landed the former Le Gourmand space in Ballard, I was incredibly excited to see what she’d do with the place, alongside business partner (and former Revel chef) Mike Whisenhunt. For about six months, from the time she got the keys to the time she opened, it was like watching in slow-motion someone’s dream come true. I talked to Jen and Mike at length before writing the article. Here's what ended up on the cutting room floor.
What does this restaurant mean to you and to the neighborhood?
Jen Doak: The greatest sense of satisfaction for me is when strangers meet [in my restaurant], exchange numbers and become fast friends. The vehicle for that neighborhood connection is food and drink, but it’s much bigger. Probably 80% of our business is people who live really close. Knowing that our role as a restaurant, some days you get no interaction because it’s determined by the guest, but if there’s repeat and repetition, then it builds on this base of…it’s communal. It’s very touching.
Tell me about the menu development.
I trust [Mike] 1000% on the food. I think the other thing that’s pretty flattering is the not super adventurous diners. The menu kind of freaks them out a little, but then they end up loving everything. Mike says that [Revel owner] Rachel [Yang] taught him that he doesn’t have to list everything on the menu, so that when things come out, there’s a little bit of a surprise, like, “Woah! I wasn’t expecting that!"
Why don’t you put the late night offerings on the regular menu?
We really wanted to have a separate menu to draw a late-night crowd. The most room for growth is the 10 p.m. to midnight category. As a neighborhood spot, we might have to change it over time. We wanted to get in here and see what people wanted before we make changes.
And I see you have a magnum of bubbly on the menu for $110...
Selfishly, I love champagne, so any excuse to pour more. It’s value-oriented, too!
How did you construct the menu?
Mike Whisenhunt: I just picked things I knew I liked and flavors that I really liked and things that I had seen or done before, so I wasn’t trying to recreate the wheel. Everything on the menu is up for change/evolution.
What kind of feedback have you gotten so far?
Some people really love it and are crazy about it, and some people don’t get certain things or don’t understand where I’m coming from with it so they don’t like it. But I think it’s more like 10-percent that don’t like it, and maybe it’s just one thing they don’t like, but I think most people really enjoy it and want to come back.
I want to evolve the menu. Seasons change and people’s palates change. I want them to keep coming back and finding something new. The abilities in small kitchen plays into everything. As we evaluate longevity of our large party menu, we’re open to folding it into the regular menu.
Side note: Brimmer & Helltap recently opened up outdoor seating. The former Sambar patio has stayed much the same, with seating for about 20. The shady oasis doesn't see too much sun, but if you can find a seat under the giant tree sprouting bushels of bay leaves, do it. Grab a glass of rose or Bordeaux blanc to pair with a side of steak tartare or Dungeness crab trifle and you'll have yourself quite the lovely evening.