Brave Horse Tavern in South Lake Union brings together a lively crowd that hoists pints and bottles of quality suds and devours sandwiches, burgers and sinuous pretzels.
South Lake Union’s sidewalks, so lively by day, are nearly deserted at night. All is quiet on Terry Avenue until you near a two-story brick building. A renovated remnant of old Seattle in a crook of Amazon’s new headquarters, it houses a triumvirate of Tom Douglas restaurants. The rambunctious clamor that exhales from the open casement windows upstairs doesn’t come from dim, romantic Cuoco or tiny Ting Momo. It’s the sound of Brave Horse Tavern, South Lake Union’s rumpus room.
Inside (and lately outside on the heated patio) a hip crowd hangs amid weathered wood and rustic ranch paraphernalia. Their attire runs from fashion forward (four-inch platforms) to fashion backward (ball caps). Crowded companionably at long communal tables, or around the bar, or at bar-height counters, they hoist pints and bottles of quality suds; devour sandwiches, burgers and sinuous pretzels; and engage in low-tech pursuits like shuffleboard. So many personal communication devices are parked on tables, the condiment caddies look like docking stations.
Those caddies contain assorted mustards to embellish hot-from-the-hearth pretzels that are reason enough to giddyap on over to Brave Horse. The glossy brown, salt- studded twists are as supple and chewy as a New York bagel, with a pronounced malt flavor. They are as good plain as they are dunked into the oniony, lager-laced liquid bathing oven-roasted Penn Cove clams. Had Elvis tasted one of these dipped into creamy peanut butter gritty with bacon, he never would have left the building. But he might have suffered pretzel envy. I did when I noticed my neighbor’s clam-dipper was twice as big as mine; at four bucks each, size matters.
Other noteworthy noshes include deviled eggs, wings and “cannibal crostini” (aka steak tartare). Anchovy aioli anchors those thin crostini bearing a load of rosy raw beef vibrant with capers and onion. The eggs, scattered with bacon bits and pickled green garlic, overflow with creamy, mustard-sharp filling. Crumbled ramen noodles cling to whole bronzed chicken wings, adding savory crunch to a sticky, Thai-inspired glaze that chases sweet with sriracha heat.
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Burgers offer more ballast. The basic Painted Hills chuck burger is great, but the Dahlia Workshop bun fell apart short of the finish line, perhaps having absorbed too much of the barbecue-like sauce. Vegetarian, turkey and tuna variations are available, too. Add-ons worth considering: bacon, a fried egg or a whole pasilla chili lightly battered and fried.
Sandwiches showcase a rotating roster of house-smoked meats. I wish pastrami had a permanent visa. Thick-cut slices topped with sweet bread-and-butter pickles stuffed a toasted hoagie roll spread with green garlic aioli. It wowed not least because it comes with extra pickle juice on the side. (Apply with gusto.)
Caramelized onions and sweet-tart cherry compote were ideal companions for beer-braised smoked pork belly that practically melted into the soft embrace of a brioche bun. But I abandoned the over- toasted, impossible to bite ciabatta bread encasing bland fennel sausage, a jumped-up wiener redeemed by a gorgeous sauté of red peppers and bitter greens.
Among sides, I encountered splendid fries but soggy coleslaw too finely chopped. Salad-eaters are rare here, but for those so inclined, consider the roasted turkey chop salad, a refreshing confetti of moist fowl, iceberg lettuce, apple, asparagus and shaved turnip tossed with fresh goat cheese in spunky Green Goddess dressing.
This is a beer-friendly menu and beer dominates the beverage list, though a dozen inexpensive but well-made Northwest wines are offered, too, plus Kitsap-brewed Silver City root beer and ginger ale. Beer even creeps into cocktails like the invigorating “Beergarita” with barrel-aged La Folie ale providing the drink’s sour-citrus backbone.
Servers I encountered knew their brews, impressive with two dozen on tap and an equal number in bottles spanning a range of styles from cider to stout. They are gung-ho cheerleaders for the food, too. “I eat here way too much,” one admitted, after citing half the menu as her favorites. A pony-tailed runner in shorts who delivered a dainty cherry tart a la mode wore his heart on his sleeve — or rather his ankle, tattooed with a beer-drinking alligator.
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