When new things happen in Ballard, they usually get done well, but they don't often get done big. Kickin' Boot Whiskey Kitchen, the new concept from the boys behind Matador, makes its presence known from the get-go in a big way: a large neon cowboy boot giddy-upping off the side of a former mill house that looms large over the Ship Canal. The hulking building sat vacant for years until Zak Melang and Nathan Opper came along, the first ones willing to tackle a lemon full of structural issues to turn it into their own concoction of boozed-up industrial-strength lemonade with heavy, industrial décor to match.
The duo has seven Matador locations and counting across Washington, Oregon and Idaho; with their latest endeavor, a concept 10 years in the making, Melang and Opper have harkened back to the Melang's North Carolina roots with a menu that shines the spotlight on Southern American fare and serious barbecue.
You can get a plate of their dry-rubbed, slow-smoked baby back ribs with two sides (the collards are fantastic) in either a half-rack ($17) or full-rack size ($24); and a fried chicken plate that includes a breast and a leg with mashers, gravy, slaw and a buttermilk biscuit for $13. There will also be a selection of small plates like pulled pork or beef brisket brioche sliders ($8-$9), fried green tomatoes ($6) and smoked cheddar with tasso grits sticks ($7) that are sure to be a hit with the happy hour crowd.
A lunchtime takeout counter will offer sandwiches featuring all of the aforementioned house-smoked meats ($9-$10), as well as a fried catfish po'boy ($11), a chipotle pork cheeseburger ($12), and “the smokestack” ($13), a terrifying meat extravaganza of pulled pork, sliced brisket, jalapeno and cheddar sausage with horseradish slaw and house sauce on a potato roll. It probably won't be ordered by anyone who has anything else to do for the rest of the day.
The real fun happens at the table with the condiments: each has a permanent fixture of five sauces that you'll end up mixing and matching with your food until the last bites: sweet, spicy and traditional versions of their house-made barbecue sauce, plus a tangy honey mustard sauce and a creamy white.
Whereas Matador's happy hour draws a crowd for its food, Kickin' Boot is shifting the deals over to the drink department for its happy hour, which will happen both early and late. Heritage cocktails like mint juleps and old fashioneds use nothing less than Evan Williams as their well bourbon. “We took a long time deliberating what we wanted in our well,” said beverage manager Niles Peacock. “We decided we wanted cult products – stuff you'd have to ask for that's something you really want to drink.”
If the inclusion of the word “whiskey” in the name of the restaurant doesn't convince you of where their liquor loyalties lie, one look at the stunning floor-to-ceiling pyramid of brown spirits certainly will. Peacock has been given his proverbial candy store here, with extravagances like custom-made stainless steel julep mugs and a freezer that produces special two-inch square ice cubes. They'll only be used in a grand total of two drinks, but for those two drinks, hey – that ice has just got to be big.
Kickin' Boot Whiskey Kitchen is scheduled to open to the public Thursday, August 16 at 4pm. 5309 22nd Ave NW, 206.783.BOOT, kickinboot.com