The new restaurant from Volunteer Park Cafe’s Erica Burke anchors the ambitious Chophouse Row complex.
Chophouse Row is an interconnected retail/culinary conglomeration, bordered by a mews near 11th and Pike. Wander through and you might score dukkah-spiced macarons at Amandine Bakeshop, a bay leaf ice-cream cone at Kurt Farm Shop or an obscure bottle of wine at Upper Bar Ferd’nand. But Chophouse Row’s most visible tenant is Chop Shop, Ericka Burke’s appealing cafe and bar, which fills nearly 3,000 front-and-center square feet on two levels.
A more citified sibling to Burke’s country-cozy Volunteer Park Café, Chop Shop nonetheless employs a studied rusticity that blurs the building’s rough urban edges. Wallpaper printed with birds and botanicals covers a central wall, near an elegant arched cornice that rises above the bar. A latticed arbor hangs low over a long communal table.
Antique mandolines hang on a wall next to the kitchen, where chef Zach Chambers and his crew work in full view behind a wide maple counter stacked with the thick carving boards that will hold dinnertime’s “Big Bone” meats.
Chop Shop ★★
1424 11th Ave., Seattle
Hours: lunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday through Friday; brunch 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday-Sunday; dinner 5:30-11 p.m. daily; “Best Hour” 3-5 p.m. daily
Prices: $$$$/$$$ (lunch $10-$20; dinner small plates and salads $12-$14, mains $24-$36, shareable “Big Bone” dinners $42-$92)
Drinks: full bar, local and imported beers, wines from France, Italy and the U.S.
Service: warm, engaging, observant
Parking: on street or nearby lots
Who should go: convivial spot for brunch, a long lunch or a date night splurge
Credit cards: all major
Access: no obstacles
The counter became my favorite place to sit, in part because it was the warmest spot in a chilly house. Those sliding glass walls bordering the mews, so welcome last summer when Chop Shop opened, don’t insulate very well in winter. Before the recent addition of baseboard radiators, which help, I was grateful for something hot from the juice bar: apple cider spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg, and a gingery pumpkin spice concoction.
Chicory salad $12
Ricotta gnudi $24
Crispy half chicken $25
Grilled octopus $30
Bavette steak $34
All the fresh-pressed fruit and vegetable juices can be ordered hot or cold, I’m told. For something a bit more bracing, go to Sunday School — French-pressed Stumptown coffee with a shot of rye and a splash of Benedictine.
At brunch that coffee drink was garnished with a sugared doughnut hole, the work of pastry chef Amara Willingham. Among her inspired desserts are gingersnap-crusted sweet potato cheesecake and parsnip cake with brown butter buttercream and orange marmalade.
The weekend brunch menu does include granola and salads, but the majority of dishes fall on the downright indulgent side: square flaky biscuits that beautifully survive an onslaught of herby pork gravy; a fried duck egg astride a Dijon-jolted hash of diced root vegetables, dark greens and pork confit.
There is a vegetarian version of that hash, too. Meat-averse eaters have many options here. For lunch, I enjoyed ricotta gnudi, plump tender pillows tangy with goat cheese. They came with black trumpet mushrooms, escarole and chile threads in a savory mushroom broth and are also available at dinner.
At midday, a cup of sweet carrot soup, generously dosed with cardamom, accompanied a triple-decker grilled cheese sandwich that was all about the bread — a minimal amount of mozzarella and Gruyère cemented three well-buttered, inch-thick slices of Columbia City Bakery brioche.
Between lunch and dinner, Chop Shop’s “Best Hour” menu discounts a couple of cocktails and wines by the glass, and presents a handful of $8 plates, among them a fantastic grilled octopus salad that is also a lunch item.
Octopus ascends to entree status at dinner, and it’s not to be missed. Red chimichurri coats a pair of crisply charred legs. They are joined by roasted fingerling potatoes, pickled leeks and dollops of squid ink aioli in a green rivulet of extra virgin olive oil.
Cavatelli Bolognese is also among the dinner mains. I liked the robust sauce, but the noodles were heavy and hard, and the dish arrived tepid.
“Big Bones” are the dinner menu’s centerpiece. These are feasts meant for sharing: huge cuts of meat (or a whole grilled fish) served with family-style sides. Despite stunning presentations, both the double-cut pork chop ($42) and the two-bone veal rack ($88) disappointed. Each are cooked sous vide, then finished on the grill or in the oven — or both in the case of the veal. The process leaves the chops tough in some spots, tender in others; neither were juicy.
Their hefty price tag includes two vegetable sides. The sunchoke gratin was unquestionably the winner among the four choices. Those knobby tubers never tasted as dreamy as they do here, swaddled in béchamel speckled with thyme and oil-cured olives. Escarole sautéed with pancetta was great, too, but a smoky, chile-heavy haze overwhelmed roasted cauliflower, while fennel braised in a thin saffron broth simply tasted blah.
Dinner was a pricey roll-of-the-dice. Chop Shop’s kitchen seemed most adroit in the daytime. Night or day, I was impressed by the cordial staff. That’s important for a restaurant angling to be the neighborhood’s go-to destination, whether for morning juice, a lunch salad, an after-work beer or a big night out. But to fully succeed in an arena as wildly diverse and competitive as this one, Chop Shop may need to rethink its dinner strategy, or at least its execution.