After shuttering Golden Beetle, Maria Hines reopened the space as a gastropub. But that doesn’t deter her from her continued commitment to using organic, sustainable ingredients.
Maria Hines admits shedding tears over the decision to shutter her Ballard restaurant Golden Beetle in October, after five years of enticing diners with such Middle Eastern delights as bisteeya, muhamara and fries dusted with za’atar. In its place, that same month, she opened Young American Ale House. As a huge beer drinker herself, it’s an idea she’s long wanted to pursue.
“Ideally, Golden Beetle would have been a thriving restaurant and Young American Ale House would have been the next restaurant,” says the James Beard Award-winning chef. “Golden Beetle was a lot of people’s favorite restaurant, but it just wasn’t frequented enough. It’s not food people eat every day.”
Young American Ale House is definitely more mainstream. Stenciled along its front windows are the restaurant buzzwords of the moment: craft cocktails; local microbrews; wood-fired oven; organic.
Young American Ale House ★★½
1744 N.W. Market St., Ballard
Reservations: only accepted for parties of 10 or more
Hours: dinner 4-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 4-10:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday; lunch 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Monday-Friday; brunch 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday; happy hour 4-6 p.m. daily
Prices: $$$ (soup/salads/appetizers $5-$14; pizza/sandwiches $14-$17; dinner entrees $15-$24; brunch $7-$14)
Drinks: full bar; 10 local beers on tap, more by the bottle; original cocktails; variety of affordable wines by the glass or bottle
Service: attentive, relaxed
Parking: on street or in nearby lots
Sound: loud at full capacity
Credit cards: all major
Access: no obstacles
Inside you will not be surprised to find reclaimed Douglas fir paneling, tables constructed of Asian hardwood salvaged from shipping crates, and many Edison bulbs with wildly zigzagging filaments. The layout hasn’t changed, but the space feels brighter and cheerier. Booths bracket the rear dining room and a few high-top tables were added to the front dining area, bordering the windows and the bar.
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Hines was adamant about no TV screens until general manager Kurt Argys convinced her otherwise. “Guests expected it and I was trying to create something the neighborhood can enjoy as a community space.”
So as of this month, a 55-inch Samsung UHD Smart TV hangs above the bar whose 10 taps are devoted exclusively to Washington brews. Well-made, inventive cocktails and affordable wines from all over are no less a draw. A kids menu assures the pub is family friendly, but this is still a Maria Hines restaurant. Like her others, Tilth and Agrodolce, it is certified organic, committed to sustainable practices and to sourcing ingredients from local farmers and makers. Price points may inch higher than at your average neighborhood pub, but the quality of the ingredients rises several notches above the norm.
The executive chef is Marcus McHenry, Golden Beetle’s chef de cuisine for its last two years and a former sous chef at Agrodolce. Soup, sandwiches and salads are menu staples night and day. The dinner menu extends to pizza and a handful of entrees. Expect monthly changes to the roster.
The food is inspired by the frozen potpies, boxed macaroni and cheese, and the fast-food, jumbo, fried fish sandwiches Hines loved as a kid — but upgraded. She calls it redemption.
I didn’t try the mac ’n’ cheese bolstered with mushrooms and Brussels sprouts, but Marie Callender herself would envy the chicken potpie. A lofty ridge of puff pastry towers above the boat-shaped baking dish. Its buttery layers collapse into a vibrant stew made with a touch of cream, a little pancetta and lots of tender chicken, herbs, carrots and broccolini.
The fish sandwich boasts an inch-thick slab of panko-crusted wild cod. Its punchy condiments include mustardy rémoulade and the crunch of giardiniera, a pickled relish of chopped celery, red pepper and cauliflower.
Seafood, generally, is a very good choice here. St. Jude albacore tuna, aggressively salted, peppered and seared very rare, is among the lighter dinner entrees. I’m usually not a fan of risotto as a side dish, but the creamy Arborio rice with the fish had the proper firmness and the added appeal of delicata squash and pomegranate seeds as stir-ins.
Bacon, chives, tarragon and potatoes diced with noticeable precision elevate a shellfish chowder crowded with chopped clams and oysters. A finishing splash of sherry is offered at the table. Take it.
The menu is intentionally vegetable forward, and several dishes can be modified for vegetarians and even vegans. If I had to choose between the cheddar-scallion hush puppies or the avocado toast as a snack, I’d select the slab of Essential Bakery bread spackled with mashed avocado and sprinkled with peppery pepitas.
The house burger is made with wagyu beef. Though I’m a card-carrying carnivore, I was mighty happy with the veggie burger, a golden-crusted patty fashioned from white beans, walnuts, almonds and carrots. As with the fish sandwich, condiments — in this case Mama Lil’s peppers and kale pesto — take it to another level.
The price of sandwiches includes fries or a small Caesar salad. Beef-fat fries are the house default, but the kitchen has two deep fryers, one with canola oil. This means the poutine can also be made vegetarian. I had it with beef-fat fries, but the dish has so much else going for it — Beecher’s cheese curds, Gruyere and robust mushroom gravy — I imagine the difference would be slight.
Disappointments were few but significant. The pizza crust, made with a starter hundreds of years old and three kinds of flour, including emmer wheat, might work better with lighter toppings but it tasted like soggy cardboard under a heavy blanket of meat, tomato sauce and mozzarella.
Smoked pork shoulder was chewy and a little dry. At dinner it came with diverting companions: a crisp, kale-flecked kohlrabi slaw and plump, creamy Great Northern beans baked in a tangy-sweet, bacon-studded sauce. At brunch, it headlined a mushy hash topped with very loosely poached eggs.
Brunch had other issues: cool sausage gravy over a flaky but burnt biscuit; fresh doughnut holes mired in oily peanut butter “crème.” On the plus side, brunch libations include a large mimosa carafe for just $12 and cinnamon-spiked Irish coffee. And there’s TV.