With Altstadt, acclaimed Bainbridge Island chef Brendan McGill planted his flag in Seattle with a Bavarian beer hall in Pioneer Square in November. Five years ago, his choice of locale would have gotten him laughed out of town.
Down at the heels in recent years, Pioneer Square is having a moment, drawing the cool kids like chef Matt Dillon, who started the acclaimed Bar Sajor nearby; and coming soon, Mike Easton of Il Corvo will open a Roman-style street pizza joint in the summer and Josh Henderson, of Skillet fame, will open a sports bar this fall.
McGill isn’t shabby either, named just last week as a semifinalist for the James Beard award for Best Chef in the Northwest.
At Altstadt, if you look past the thick bierstube tables and the steins holding the silverware, what you have is a joint that mirrors the other sports bars along this historic strip, complete with the ubiquitous brick walls, splintered floor and lots of TVs.
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The bar food, as you would expect, is a few notches better than the others. Fries are crispy, coated in marjoram, with a moist, sweet, nutty interior, served with house-made ketchup — as good a basket of fries as you’ll find in this area for $4.
And don’t fear the fat: Slabs of salty bacon, applewood-smoked, are featured during happy hour, served slightly charred with sauerkraut. Steak knife and fork recommended. It will also taste better with a big malty brew. (You won’t find a hoppy beer among the 16 taps here.)
Or maybe you do fear the fat. Opt for the meaty Beirrocks, think hum bow buns stuffed with grassy beef and cabbage, to be mopped up with the sweet mustard.
Skip those dense pretzel brat sliders. You would do better in the frozen aisle of a grocery store.
It’s a shame because Altstadt does excellent case meat here. You’ll have to ask for the regular menu, though, for that. The bratwurst ($12) is best, a juicy, snappy bite of pork, beef and veal, served over a bed of fries with sauerkraut. It’s $1 cheaper than ordering the happy-hour sliders with fries and five times better.
McGill isn’t behind the burner here, leaving the daily operations to his two business partners. He’s got his acclaimed Hitchcock restaurant and deli to run on Bainbridge Island.
But he’s slowly extending his reach to Seattle. Come spring, he’ll open a deli in Georgetown featuring his line of charcuterie, with sandwiches, beers on tap and an outdoor seating area.
Altstadt, 209 First Ave. S., offers happy hour Monday-Friday 3-6 p.m. with $5-$9 bar food and half-liter beer and wine by the glass for $4 (206-602-6442 or altstadtseattle.com/Altstadt/willkommen.html).
Tan Vinh: 206-515-5656
or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @tanvinhseattle