We knew No Anchor’s co-owner Chris Elford knew his beer, but the restaurant is also serving robust, elegant, complex food that enhances the drinks.
I’m not a beer geek, but No Anchor could make me one. The warm hospitality, the ethos of sustainability and the subversive sense of humor afoot at this Belltown beer bar is a large part of its appeal, but mostly, I’m besotted with the way the food and drink are so simpatico.
No Anchor’s owners, Chris and Anu Apte Elford, are a beverage power couple. She has owned the highly regarded cocktail den Rob Roy since 2009. His career took him from Virginia to New York City and then, after meeting Anu at a Kentucky distillery, to Seattle. He tended bar at Canon while they made plans to launch No Anchor and a tropical-themed bar in the same block called Navy Strength, set to open early next year.
They smartly tapped Jeffrey Vance, formerly chef de cuisine at Spur Gastropub, to head both kitchens. Vance uses forthright flavors with a subtle hand, creating robust yet elegant food that enhances a thoughtfully curated list of beers and ciders you’ve probably never heard of. The lineup changes daily, sometimes several times a day. There are cocktails, too. They all manage to incorporate beer or some ingredient related to it. One, dubbed “End of Days,” is a bittersweet blend of tequila, lime, Campari and IPA that is dispensed from a tap into a tall glass filled with crushed ice. It’s guaranteed to take the edge off any approaching Armageddon.
No Anchor ★★★
2505 Second Ave., Seattle
Reservations: not accepted
Hours: noon-1 a.m. Monday-Friday, 11 a.m.-1 a.m. Saturday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Sunday
Prices: $$$ (snacks and finger food $3-$12; boards and plates $14-$28)
Drinks: ever-changing roster of craft beers; beer cocktails; rotating list of spirits
Service: friendly and informed
Parking: on street or in nearby lots
Credit cards: all major
Access: no obstacles
The brews are served in racy, Italian-designed Teku goblets that look more like a vessel for wine. The wide-bottomed bowls curve upward to a straight-lipped rim. The ritual involved in filling them from taps mounted on the white-tiled wall behind the zinc bar is mesmerizing to watch. Bartenders wet the inside of the glass with small water spritzers to assist the physical separation of liquid and gas. They whisk a foam-scraper across the rim to achieve just the right head.
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“The head of a beer does wonders to release aromatics,” says Chris Elford. “The way that we pour beers takes some patience. We let our beers ‘settle out’ instead of letting the foam keep running off. This allows more carbonation to escape and generally makes the beer slightly less filling to drink.”
Elford knows all this because he’s a certified cicerone, which means he’s studied beer from the brewing process to its ideal food pairings and passed a rigorous written exam and a blind tasting. What sommeliers are to wine, cicerones are to beer. If you need guidance on what to drink with, say, your beetroot pelmeni dumplings or mint-glazed lamb sweetbreads, trust the staff, all of whom are serious enough about beer to be studying for their own cicerone certification.
The pelmeni and the sweetbreads are two knockouts among the larger plates. Both are sautéed in brown butter. Fresh sorrel and pickled turnips added welcome astringency to the cheese and potato-filled dumplings, tinted ruby-red with beet juice. Salt-preserved cabbage does the same for the fork-tender offal nestled among melted leeks.
An intriguing tension between acid and fat, sour and sweet, crisp and creamy is often at play. Sauce soubise (a sweet, creamy onion sauce) underpinned pan-roasted cauliflower, grilled apricots and pickled beech mushrooms. Slices of crisp-skinned duck breast lounged on a raft of grilled Belgian endive amid dollops of tart pomegranate curd. Parsnip crumble, parsnip brittle and maple fro-yo agreeably disrupted the smooth intensity of a chocolate custard dessert.
The dinner menu’s priciest plate is a grilled wagyu steak classically paired with pomme purée and sautéed chanterelles. The richly marbled zabuton, a cut not commonly found, is worth the $28 splurge; the portion is small, but the flavor is superb. Both the duck and the beef are brined and cooked sous vide, before being respectively seared and grilled. The results prove Vance a master of those techniques.
Seafood is smoked, cured, pickled or, in the case of Dungeness crab, made into a lemony, chive-flecked salad packed into a Tall Grass Bakery pretzel roll and served alongside ketchup chips (fresh potato chips dusted with dehydrated, house-made ketchup).
About our restaurant reviewsStar ratings: Assigned by Seattle Times restaurant critics ★★★★ Exceptional ★★★ Highly recommended ★★ Recommended ★ Adequate no stars: Poor Average price of a dinner entree: $$$$ — $25 and over $$$ — $15-$25 $$ — $10-$15 $ — Under $10
Cultured cream, sharp mustard and pickled beets dot a wooden board holding a trio of fish: lightly smoked sable and sturgeon; and salmon cured in IPA with spruce tips. Burnt garlic aioli made a wickedly good sauce for smoked and pickled mussels, but a thinner herbed aioli served with tempura-fried hen of the woods mushrooms could have used more punch.
A few guests have taken the restaurant up on its suggestion to “Eat The Entire Menu” for $120. It’s actually a 10-course tasting menu with an optional $40 beverage pairing. Sharing it is not only allowed, but encouraged.
Sounds like a good deal to me, but you’ll need endurance to sit for a couple of hours on a wooden swivel stool while you consume all that. Most of the seating is bar-height. The few low tables are set against a tufted banquette, beneath lighted, glass-fronted curio cabinets filled with oddities Elford scavenged from all over. (Customers occasionally add to the collection.) A broad sidewalk patio doubles seating capacity when the weather cooperates.
When it comes to sustainability, “everything is scrutinized,” Elford says. They wash and reuse the jaunty striped straws that poke from bottled cocktails. Old menus are cut up and used as coasters, or shredded to use as packing material when people purchase glassware. They use spritzers to wet the inside of the glasses because it’s less wasteful than the glass-rinsers bars typically use.
“We put a lot of effort into designing a place that was energy efficient, water-friendly and responsible,” he says. “Our beer waste actually runs through a line back into the cooler into an airtight container where it is reused in the kitchen or turned into beer vinegar.” Now that’s some creative recycling.