Even with many restaurants reopening dining rooms across the city, the Seattle pop-up scene is thriving. Some are celebrating a year in business while others are still refining what they want to do as we emerge from the COVID-19 era. Others, like Jacob Helmholz-DeLay, are just beginning to test the pop-up waters.
Helmholz-DeLay held his first pop-up, a concept called Scoundrel (in honor of “Star Wars'” Han Solo), in mid-November at Manolin. The menu celebrates the “Pacific” in Pacific Northwest cuisine: a bonito Caesar salad with ikura (cured salmon roe), roast potatoes with kombu and hijiki seaweed, and braised daikon with dashi. Helmholz-DeLay is currently a cook at Rupee Bar (Manolin’s sister restaurant in Ballard) and, while November marked his first official pop-up, he has been working on the concept for a while.
“We had friends over the week before the [March 2020 dining-room] shutdown to talk about it,” Helmholz-DeLay said during a recent phone call. The pandemic put his plans on hold — instead he focused on work and family (he and his wife recently had a baby) — but now, it’s finally time to bring Scoundrel to life.
Helmholz-DeLay has been refining the menu since March 2020, drawing inspiration from techniques he’s learned over the years. Prior to working at Rupee Bar, he spent a summer on Orcas Island at Hogstone and nearly four years at Revel.
“A lot of these ingredients — most of which I have read about but really got to experience working for Rachel [Yang] — bonito, kombu, using soy to season rather than just put on rice — I fell in love with and I think are a very important part of the Northwest,” he says.
The braised daikon ($14) had an incredible texture — soft yet still firm with a kiss of wood smoke from the grill. Paired with a bright, tangy mustard and the grassy, slightly crunchy chrysanthemum greens, each bite delivered on big flavor. On a slightly bitter, spicier side, the Brussels sprouts ($12) were roasted to a nice char and coated in chili crisp, burnt onion and Parmesan.
My favorite dish was the SzechuanStrami ($18), tender pork belly coated in Szechuan pepper served with a tangy caraway kraut and creamy housemade “1,001 Island Dressing,” served with Helmholz-DeLay’s hand-formed sourdough pinch buns.
The pinch buns looked a little rough on the outside, but they had a wonderful chew and flavor that melded perfectly with the pork-belly pastrami.
Helmholz-DeLay says his No. 1 priority is still Rupee Bar, but he hopes to host Scoundrel pop-ups monthly. The menu will change slightly as things evolve — Brussels sprouts replaced by something more seasonal — but the SzechuanStrami is here to stay. He does say the pinch buns might be further refined.
“I want to keep playing and experimenting. Nothing is ever in its final form,” he says.
Keep an eye on Instagram for details of the next date, or check the Scoundrel website.
Elsewhere, you’ll find an ever-changing pizza pop-up and one of the few places in the area to get Malaysian eats.
I first met Charlie Midencey a year ago when digging into Seattle’s secret pizza scene. At the time he was doing pizza that was a mix of Neapolitan and tavern: a leopard-spotted sturdy crust with a vibrant sauce that punched you right in the taste buds.
Since November 2020, Midencey has tried a lot of different things — even changing the name from Chachi’s Pizza Co. to Chachi’s PNW to better encapsulate his offerings. He hosted pop-ups that featured burgers, burritos, chalupas, nachos and breakfast sandwiches, sometimes even collaborating with other chefs on specialty items. Now, he’s squarely back in pizza territory (although he also mentioned he’s perfected a chicken Parm so who knows), but Midencey — a mad genius of evolution — has changed styles yet again.
Currently he’s offering a crispy, crunchy pan pizza. That amazing sauce is the same, and he’s got classics like pepperoni and cheese, but he’s also offering a few specialty pies. I got the Chachi ($28), loaded with garlic, spicy sausage, red onion and fresh basil. This pizza has real main character energy, and if for some reason you’ve got leftovers, it will reheat like a champ in a lightly oiled skillet on your stovetop.
If pan pizza isn’t your thing, wait a few months and I’m sure Midencey will have something else to tantalize — I even heard there might be a Connecticut clam pie in the works, so keep an eye on his Instagram for the latest. You can usually find him slinging whole pies and slices at Belltown Provisions Friday or Saturday nights.
Safira Ezani and her mom, Masitah Hamzah, started popping up as Masakan in October 2020, bringing their family recipes to life, from beef rendang and curry puffs to Singaporean fried tofu salad. I grabbed food from their one-year-anniversary pop-up, which featured lemang, a savory glutinous rice roll wrapped in banana leaf, and rendang, a spicy beef curry with lemon grass ($20); curry puffs ($9) with spicy, curried potatoes and cilantro; and pandan cake ($5).
If you love lemon grass as I do, this rendang is hard to beat. There’s heat, but there’s also cardamom, garlic and ginger to create depth. It was a perfect accompaniment to the lightly floral rice rolls. Unfortunately, the pandan cake and curry puffs were sold out by the time I got my order in, but I’ve got something to look forward to the next time I see Masakan popping up — that and more beef rendang, of course. Pop-ups run on a monthly schedule; check Instagram for the next event.