Start with a beer and some pickle fries at the restaurateur’s latest in Ballard. You won’t be sorry.
With Bramling Cross, Ethan Stowell Restaurants continues its march up Ballard Avenue. The restaurant opened last September in the former Portalis space, within a couple blocks of sister restaurants Ballard Pizza Company, Staple & Fancy and the soon-to-open Marine Hardware (formerly Chippy’s).
Named after a British hop said to have “a distinctive American aroma,” Bramling Cross is rather the reverse: an American-style gastropub with a distinctly British air. More tavern-ish than Stowell’s Goldfinch Tavern downtown, Bramling’s interior is an appealing set piece, classy and clubby, with dark walnut tables and pale, painted wood moldings that partly obscure the building’s original brick walls. Ghostly white, faux taxidermy peer out over tidy shelves displaying sets of vintage encyclopedias and growlers monogrammed with the pub’s initials and crest.
Almost all of the 50 seats are cocooned in booths. Couples will love the seclusion afforded by several intimate two-tops near the entrance. Roomier accommodations lie deeper in, opposite the 10-seat bar and the open kitchen. (The noise level ascends accordingly from front to back.)
Bramling Cross ★★★
5205 Ballard Ave. N.W., Seattle
Hours: dinner Sunday-Thursday 5-11 p.m.; Friday-Saturday 5 p.m.-midnight; brunch Saturday-Sunday 10 a.m.- 2:30 p.m.
Prices: $$$ (small plates $5-$15; larger plates $16-$28)
Drinks: full bar; cocktails; local draughts, broad selection of beers and ciders in bottles or cans, including large formats; moderately priced Northwest/European wine list
Service: varies from perky and polished to perfunctory
Parking: on street or in nearby garage
Sound: moderate up front; louder toward the back
Who should go: beer enthusiasts and their buddies; couples will appreciate the many booths-built-for-two
Credit cards: all major
Access: no obstacles
The food is as polished and smart as the room. It’s rich, robustly seasoned fare, well-matched to beer — or booze in general. There are plenty of brews on offer — many, but not all, local — as well as creative house cocktails. The wine list, culled from Europe and the Northwest, has much to offer in the $50-and-under range.
Start with an order of pickle fries. To be clear, these are not fried pickles, but dilly fried potatoes. Compound that with pickley aioli and you have a dream team.
For a little extra you can swap pickle fries for the regular fries that accompany the towering Bramling burger. That plump, juicy, American-cheese-draped patty comes preloaded with crunchy house-made pickles. More pickle juice punches up the aioli brushed on the soft, toasted Macrina Bakery potato bun. Another killer combo.
So is pork osso buco with Dijon spaetzle. The mustard adds a subtle kick to the nubbins of dough, lightly sautéed to a golden brown. The hefty shank of meat gets a rubdown with herbs and spices, then a long simmer in pork and duck fat, until it needs little nudging with a fork to fall into moist shards on the plate.
On the lighter side, a red wine demi paints circles around a perfectly grilled Arctic char fillet, cushioned on white bean puree beneath a glorious salad of chicories, radish and pear. Another salad of beets, beluga lentils and watercress, dressed in sherry vinaigrette, provides sharp, earthy counterpoint to lightly smoked Idaho trout with horseradish crème fraîche.
Caramelized cauliflower gets all dolled up with tangy yogurt, sweet sultana puree and a dusting of dukkah, a pungent spice blend that tastes most prominently of hazelnuts, cumin and coriander.
“Seattle hot wings” are lavished with Frank’s Red Hot. They’re fried oysters, not chicken, and it would be a clever conceit, if the heavily breaded bivalves didn’t taste like fishy chicken nuggets.
The real fried chicken is aptly dubbed “dynamite.” It’s a whole Mad Hatcher Farm bird, cut into eight pieces, each with a dark-brown jacket that makes a resounding crunch. The dark meat is almost as pale and juicy as the boned hunks of breast meat. The package deal for $38 includes a side of grits flooded with butter and collards slow-cooked with bacon and vinegar.
Props to the server who brought fresh plates and silverware before the chicken’s arrival, and wiped the table clean before dessert came. Throughout the evening, she was personable and informative, thoughtfully addressing food and beverage questions. On a different night, service was less engaging, more cursory.
Pickle fries $6
Beet salad with smoked trout $13
Bramling burger $16
Grilled Arctic char $24
Pork osso buco $27
If you have the bravado to order dessert, consider the cast-iron baker of warm chocolate-chip cookie topped with salted chocolate gelato. The banana split could use a redo: I’d ditch the mushy, flambéed fruit, keep the peanut brittle and the surprisingly good beer gelato, maybe add some chocolate sauce, and call it a sundae.
Just after Valentine’s Day, Travis Post replaced Bramling Cross’ opening chef, Michael Gifford. A Culinary Institute of America grad with a diverse New York City résumé that includes Cru, Yunan Kitchen and Buddakan, Post has been cooking for the past six months at Staple & Fancy. Big changes to the menu aren’t likely at Bramling Cross, says Stowell, but will “happen organically as we shift into spring and summer.”
Meanwhile, Gifford, who worked with Stowell at his first restaurant, Union, and who returned to the fold to help open Ballard Pizza Company, is moving down the block to Marine Hardware. Word is he’ll share that kitchen, at least some of the time, with the boss. A deep bench, and the ability to attract talent and deploy it among his 11 restaurants, is a key to the 41-year-old Stowell’s success. It’s one reason he was recently named — for the second year in a row — one of 20 semifinalists for Outstanding Restaurateur in the nation by the James Beard Foundation.