The man who peddled street food from a vintage Airstream trailer so successfully that he made Skillet into a nationally known brand name has turned an old corner tavern in Woodinville into a prototypic American roadhouse for the new century.
Josh Henderson and his team at The Huxley Wallace Collective are the creative forces behind The Hollywood Tavern, part of a larger complex that includes Woodinville Whiskey’s new distillery and tasting room.
The original building — now the bar — dates to 1923, when it opened as the Hollywood Corner Service Station. During World War II, the place became Mabel’s, a juke joint known for cheap beer. You can still get a cheap beer here ($3 for a pint of Olympia lager; $2 at happy hour) as well as low-priced (by today’s standards) cocktails for $8-$10. Some of them make good use of the next-door neighbor’s wares, as in the Oil Can, a high-performance blend of rye, amaro and root-beer bitters.
The dim, snug barroom nods to history, whereas the big, bright dining room winks at it. Two dozen lampshades, no two alike, are suspended from the high ceiling; any might have hung in granny’s parlor. A thermos collection fills a shelf above casement windows. A fascinating two-dimensional art installation, by Seattle’s Electric Coffin studio, colorfully evokes the patchwork topography of Woodinville’s agricultural past.
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But the shiny, stainless-steel kitchen, exposed all the way back to the dishwashing sink, is wholly modern, as contemporary as the food.
Brian O’Connor, formerly of Skillet Diner, is executive chef. Daytime and evening menus have a good deal of overlap among sandwiches, salads, snacks, shareable plates and entrees. The daytime roster includes some brunchy items; the dinner menu’s $31 New York strip “au poivre” seems an outlier.
As a snack you can’t beat fried pickles in crispy cornmeal jackets, or bright-green, just-tender, charred Brussels sprouts, blooming in a Thai-style sweet-chili sauce.
Under “Dirt Candy” look for honey-sweetened fried cauliflower with pickled golden raisins and piquant, almond-thickened romesco sauce, a vegetable dish robust enough to be an entree.
Among salads, a thick whip of yogurt and feta gathered roasted pink and gold beets, fresh pear slices and spiced walnuts in its tangy embrace. A sweet-tart swipe of persimmon preserve rocked a bouquet of butter lettuce, its tender heart unfurled, whole leaves dewy with hazelnut vinaigrette and dotted with pomegranate seeds, watermelon radish and candied hazelnuts.
Pan-fried trout was lovely, butterflied and piled high with arugula and chorizo crumbles tossed with sherry vinaigrette, but oddly garnished with potato chips. Despite a dab of salsa verde, roast chicken languished in a puddle of whipped ricotta that had curdled.
Fried chicken is the way to go. Have crunchy boneless chunks stuffed into a soft hoagie roll with shredded lettuce and spicy, pickley mayo. Or have them on a tender biscuit made with duck fat buried under a white wave of sausage-studded gravy and topped with an egg (any style) and cheese sauce. (Do your heart a favor and share the latter.)
Exceptionally good hand-cut fries accompany all sandwiches, including the terrific burger made with pickle slices sandwiched between two beefy patties cloaked in a rich melt of house-made American cheese. It seemed as if some of the same cheese found its way into soul-satisfying mac n’ cheese, joining smoked Gouda, caramelized onion and roasted cauliflower. Over the top, in every sense of the phrase, is a crust of crumbled Ritz crackers.
One of my visits was on a busy Sunday night, the end of a frantic four-day weekend, the waitress said, that spanned the official opening of Woodinville Whiskey’s tasting room and Valentine’s Day. By early evening the kitchen had run out of the roast-pork sandwich, duck-leg confit and Orlin’s Drunken Clams (spiked with you-know-what from next door).
The front of the house was having a hard time keeping up, too. The young staff, though full of good cheer, are less efficient than they might be, not quite in sync as a team yet, even when they aren’t slammed. With a little training and more experience, they’ll soon be as smooth as the chocolate and vanilla soft-serve ice cream that is the one dessert here you don’t want to miss. Make it a swirl.
Providence Cicero is The Seattle Times restaurant critic. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.