Booze of the Moment: Tequila
Don’t be like me. It took me years to recover from cheap-tequila-drenched trips to Mexico in college. And so I came late to the nuanced aromas of reposado, and I’m slowly exploring the smoky flavors of good anejo (they are pricey, after all). All over town, bartenders are harnessing the subtle smoke and floral, honeyed flavors of tequila to create inspired cocktails that celebrate the spirit.
But first, a primer: All tequilas are made from the blue agave plant (a succulent that grows in Mexico), but from there, the spirit can go in several directions depending on distillation and aging methods. Tequila blanco (also called silver or white; look for labels that specify “100 percent agave”) is clear and offers the purest agave flavor.
It’s the most common tequila in mixed drinks like margaritas. Reposado tequila is aged in oak for as long as a year, and therefore takes on a very light amber tinge and a light smoke from the wood. Anejo tequila is aged longer in wood, with a complex nose of spice and smoke. Like a good Scotch, anejo tequila is generally sipped rather than mixed. Curious? Do a tequila tasting at Barrio: three shot pours (one each of blanco, reposado, anejo; $22–$90). Here, I’ve chosen cocktails from three spots that use each of the different types of tequila to great effect.
Blanco: Moshi Moshi bartender Erik Carlson infuses tequila with shishito peppers, then muddles it with mezcal, cucumber, lime, grapefruit, agave and orange zest to create Sierra Madre’s Pride. ($12; Ballard, 5324 Ballard Ave. NW; 206.971.7424; moremoshi.com)
Reposado: At Liberty, the Penicillina will do more than go down easy—it might help to cure your November sniffles. With just-squeezed lemon juice, agave and fresh ginger, it’s practically good for you. ($8; Capitol Hill, 517 15th Ave. E; 206.323.9898; libertybars.com)
Anejo: At The Walrus and the Carpenter, the deep, smoky flavors of anejo tequila are enhanced by Cynar, Averna, bitters and especially the Laphroaig Scotch rinse in the Bearded Lady cocktail. ($9; Ballard, 4743 Ballard Ave. NW; 206.395.9227; thewalrusbar.com)
Carbs with a Twist
Soft pretzels have long been a fixture on local pub menus, especially at German-themed spots like Prost and Feierabend.
But barflies sat up and took notice when Tom Douglas’ Brave Horse Tavern (South Lake Union, 310 Terry Ave. N; 206.971.0717; bravehorsetavern.com) opened this spring with chef Brian Walczyk manning a dedicated pretzel oven. The pub’s wire baskets brimming with browned twists became as much a part of the ambiance as the shuffleboard tables. A single pretzel (pictured) is $4 and comes with mustard, but you’re going to want to investigate the menu of dipping sauces ($6–$15), which includes a smoky peanut butter with bacon bits, and a pimento spread that’s downright sophisticated.
Plenty of others are getting into the act, too, and not just pub venues. Mistral Kitchen chef William Belickis’ $3 pretzel plate features the most elegant cheese sauce in town (South Lake Union, 2020 Westlake Ave.; 206.623.1922; mistral-kitchen.com).
Bitters and Tinctures
If half of the ingredients on a drink list seem to be written in another language, you’re likely perched in one of Seattle’s many craft cocktail bars. Bartenders (ahem, “mixologists”) are pouring esoteric liquors you’ve never heard of—Cocchi Americano, cachaça, Aperol—and creating “tinctures” (an alcohol-based herbal or plant extract) and bitters (made from various roots, herbs, spices and fruit rinds).
It’s all in an effort to add complexity to your drink, but it’s nothing new: Antoine Peychaud created the famed Peychaud’s Bitters recipe approximately 200 years ago. Think of it as part of the greater old-time-y, made-from-scratch, convenience-allergic movement (see also: canning; pickling and preserving; Etsy; butchering classes; handlebar mustaches).
Sip and savor at Ballard’s Golden Beetle (1744 NW Market St.; 206.706.2977; golden-beetle.com), Sambar (425 NW Market St.; 206.781.4883; sambarseattle.com) and The Walrus and the Carpenter (4743 Ballard Ave. NW; 206.395.9227; thewalrusbar.com); Capitol Hill’s Poppy (622 Broadway E; 206.324.1108; poppyseattle.com), Tavern Law (1406 12th Ave.; 206.322.9734; tavernlaw.com), Canon (928 12th Ave.; canonseattle.com), Knee High Stocking Co. (1356 E Olive Way; 206.979.7049; kneehighstocking.com) and wherever Murray Stenson ends up backing the bar.
And we admit: Those rhubarb, celery, cardamom and even chocolate bitters do keep things interesting.
Corn dogs for Grown-ups
The latest comfort food to get upgraded: the humble corn dog. And this new version is nothing like the bland, greasy affairs dished out in cafeterias and county fairs.
West Seattle’s Porterhouse (2329 California Ave.; 206.932.2575; westcoastales.com) serves a hefty dog in a crisp stand-on-its-own coating of polenta batter, while South Lake Union’s Brave Horse Tavern (21 and older only; 310 Terry Ave. N; 206.971.0717; bravehorsetavern.com) serves a dainty trio with dipping sauces—in a custom-made corn-dog holder, no less.
Corn dogs have also popped up in kielbasa form for happy hour at Local 360 (Belltown, 2234 First Ave.; 206.441.9360; local360.org).
"Pickles" and Preserves
It isn’t just home cooks who have joined the “can-volution.” Chefs are preserving, pickling and fermenting every imaginable vegetable and fruit, adding pickly-tart and pungent accents to a plethora of dishes.
You’d perhaps expect kimchi at Revel (Fremont, 403 N 36th St.; 206.547.2040; revelseattle.com) and Joule (Wallingford, 1913 N 45th St.; 206.632.1913; joulerestaurant.com), both Korean-accented restaurants, but we've also enjoyed Joule's shiitake-cucumber and Asian pear kimchis.
House-made "pickles" can be found in dozens of restaurants, but most notably at Bottlehouse (Madrona/Leschi, 1416 34th Ave.; 206.708.7164; bottlehouseseattle.com), where pickled beets, carrots and other veggies are served with its extraordinary cheese and meat plates; and at Boat Street Cafe (Queen Anne, 3131 Western Ave.; 206.632.4602; boatstreetcafe.com), where Renee Erickson sells green beans in jars, as well as offering a gorgeous plate of pickled vegetables on the menu.
Preserved veggies can also be found at Poppy (Capitol Hill, 622 Broadway E; 206.324.1108; poppyseattle.com), where chef Jerry Traunfeld creates such seasonal, offbeat pickles as mango-strawberry-peppermint (in summer), or cauliflower-rhubarb (in spring), or carrots and beets and such during winter months.
Biscuits as the Main Event
Suddenly, it seems as though every restaurant serving breakfast has a biscuit on the menu. What’s more, the humble morning meal accessory is occupying the honor spot on the plate, drenched with sage gravy at Skillet Diner ($9; Capitol Hill, 1400 E Union St.; 206.420.7297; skilletstreetfood.com); or piled high with fried chicken, Tabasco black-pepper gravy and a runny egg at Tom Douglas’ biscuit bar at Dahlia Workshop ($8; South Lake Union, 401 Westlake Ave.; 206.436.0050; dahliaworkshop.com). At University District newcomer Nook (4754 University Way NE; 206.268.0154; nook206.com), owners Aki Woodward and Alex Green bake theirs with a crusty exterior, all the better to stand up to toppings like goat cheese spread, tomato jam or even green chile gravy and pork ($4–$6). Now, if we can just get Portland’s Pine State Biscuits to expand into our neck of the woods.