In Sodo, Ethan Stowell’s Derby is attached to The Shop, a garage and clubhouse for car owners. Sit here and munch on some wings, a hefty burger or some poutine while you pick your dream car of choice.
Ethan Stowell Restaurants’ newest venture, Derby, is a classy pub paneled in corrugated metal and reclaimed wood from Boeing shipping containers. It’s attached to The Shop, a garage and clubhouse for owners of classic cars. I went to Sodo to give it a test drive.
Call me chauvinist, but I expected Derby to be a guy magnet. Males definitely outnumbered females one Blue Friday afternoon (though that wasn’t the case in the evening). Most sported clothing with the Seahawk insignia. Many ordered a burger. Derby sauce (aioli with a horseradish kick) slathers the bun, which holds a grilled-to-medium patty draped in white cheddar, stacked with lettuce, pickles and a slice of decent tomato. It is a very good burger, neither sloppy nor overwrought, sleek but not showy, like a Porsche 356.
Parked at Derby’s bar for lunch that day, I watched football highlights on a flat-screen TV and got happily messy with some “Dynamite” wings. Roasted, fried, then finished with a fiery sauce (it involves Frank’s Red Hot), those wings are as flashy as a ’60s-era Cadillac DeVille. I was grateful for the pool of cooling chive yogurt — and for the wet wipe packet.
2233 Sixth Ave. S., Seattle
Hours: lunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Friday; brunch 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; dinner 5-10 p.m. daily; happy hour menu 3-7 p.m. daily
Prices: $$$ (small plates $5-$16; lunch salads and sandwiches $9-$18; dinner mains $15-$26)
Drinks: full bar; classic and original cocktails; 10 local and other beers on draft, more in cans; eclectic selection of wines by the glass and bottle
Service: cordial, casual
Parking: on site and on street
Credit cards: all major
Access: no obstacles
Next to me at the bar, a guy struggled with his steak salad. His knife skidded while trying to cut the meat. Lettuce was thrown from the shallow bowl. The debris sat there until he surreptitiously swept it up between two cocktail napkins.
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I sympathized. I’d had my own issues with a Cobb salad in another too-crowded bowl that made it impossible to toss and distribute the scant buttermilk dressing. Like the original invented at The Brown Derby in Hollywood circa 1937, this Cobb has the classic striping of meat, cheese, hard-cooked egg, avocado and tomato over a bed of lettuce. It needed salt and pepper but otherwise was nicely tricked out. Both the chicken and the crumbled blue cheese are smoked. Cayenne-spiked, honey-glazed “bad-ass” bacon, however, lost some of its attitude when chopped into cold, clammy bits.
Adding smoked chicken to a Caesar salad is an option worth considering, but even unembellished that Caesar fires on all cylinders, revved up with anchovy croutons and grated pecorino.
Chef Thomas Dodd, previously at Liam’s and Marjorie, displays a knack for smoking food. Plenty of crisp bark was attached to the smoked brisket that topped a well-proportioned poutine. Turbocharged with agreeably thin, robustly seasoned red-eye gravy, it’s built on a crisp chassis of fries that supports soft, pudgy cheese curds as well as the cubed brisket. (Worth noting: A double-cut smoked pork chop is about to go on the menu.)
A brisket sandwich is among the lunch options. Lighter appetites might go for the seared tuna sandwich instead, souped-up with wasabi mayo, cilantro and pickled Fresno peppers. The peppers on mine were all on one side, which made for a much more exciting second half, sort of like a Seahawks game.
Kale and mushroom pot pie and curried pumpkin soup bow to the season — and to vegetarians. The soup is the better choice. It is actually vegan, smoothed with almond milk and detailed with toasted pumpkin seeds and scribbles of pomegranate molasses. The pot pie’s gravy tasted a little floury, and its golden puff pastry lid, though gorgeous, proved impervious to puncture by any of the means at hand.
At the checkered flag, desserts fell short, which is unusual at an Ethan Stowell restaurant. Buttermilk panna cotta with blueberry sauce would have been a winner minus the musty-tasting pine nut streusel. A brownie sundae with clumpy vanilla ice cream was like a Rolls-Royce with a doughnut spare.
Derby is a dream date for car geeks, but even those who can’t tell a Fiat from a Ford can see the value in a daily happy hour that goes from 3-7 p.m. Selected cocktails, draft beers and wines by the glass are discounted. So are the wings, burger, poutine and Caesar salad, as well as soft, warm pretzel sticks from Seawolf Bakery, a great vehicle for pimento cheese, and plump oysters encased in semolina and cleanly fried to a light, satisfying crunch.
You aren’t limited to the bar at happy hour. You could settle into the not-quite Corinthian leather upholstery of sofas and chairs grouped sociably in the lounge. Many tables in the dining room are positioned near windows with sight lines into The Shop’s garage. Have fun picking out your fantasy ride from among the Lamborghinis, Land Cruisers, muscle cars and motorcycles on view. For a closer look, inquire at The Club’s front desk opposite Derby’s host stand. In exchange for your email address, they’ll give you a quick tour.