The Ballard bar features tasty food and an ambitious cocktail program.
Count Percy’s & Co. among the current wave of serious bars with food to match.
It’s named for Percy Sankey, who opened Sankey and Grub Dry Goods in this Ballard Avenue space in 1893. In 1915, he and his wife, Mabel, changed the name to Percy’s Men’s Furnishings, which was rumored to hide a speak-easy in the back during Prohibition.
The building has been a bar since at least the 1940s. It was the Old Town Alehouse, before Percy’s opened in August 2013. Last fall, co-owners Jeff Ofelt, Joe Petersen and Wade Weigel brought in Tim Baker to manage operations. Baker recruited chef Derek May and sous chef Sam West, who had worked together at Anchovies & Olives.
Percy’s & Co. ★★½
5233 Ballard Ave. N.W., Seattle
Reservations: possible for larger groups; call for information
Hours: 4 p.m.-2 a.m. daily; brunch 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday; happy hour 4-6 p.m. daily
Prices: $$ (appetizers and salads $6-$13; entrees $14-$17)
Drinks: full bar featuring house-made infusions, bitters and tinctures; small beer and wine selection
Parking: on street, if you’re lucky
Who should go: a grown-up hangout where you can geek out on botanical cocktails or freak out on fried chicken; good for groups
Credit cards: Visa, MC, Amex
Access: no obstacles
Petersen heads the apothecary bar program, concocting drinks made with fresh juices, aromatics, herbal infusions, botanical tinctures and other naturally derived ingredients thought to be beneficial to body, mind and spirit. A rooftop herb garden supplies many of the raw materials. Need a boost of “brain power” or “libido”? They have just the potion, which can be added to any drink. (There are classic cocktails, too.)
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Some find the drinks list daunting. After flipping through its many pages, I overheard a lady at the bar sheepishly admit to liking Cosmopolitans. The bartender was willing to make her one, but further conversation revealed the woman also loved pineapple juice. “I have a drink in mind I think you’ll like,” bartender said.
The customer’s face lit up with her first sip of the Awakened One. A blend of lemongrass-infused vodka, Lillet, pineapple juice, ginger and cilantro, it’s as cheerful and invigorating as a summer morning. At brunch you might pair it with the kale and Brussels sprout quiche, crusted with pecorino, or the “BELT” — a towering open-face sandwich of bacon, fried egg, whole lettuce leaves and fried green tomatoes (battered not breaded) stacked on Texas toast.
A version of that sandwich — minus the egg, on a brioche bun with bourbon jam — appears on the dinner menu, a brief roster that leans toward Southern-style and Creole fare.
I loved the buttermilk fried chicken. Like the green tomatoes, its batter contains fennel seed, bay leaf, chili flakes and star anise. I rarely prefer white meat to dark, but the breast was as moist and appealing as the drumstick. The two pieces came with a skillet full of plump pinto beans atop dirty rice, liberally laced with filé.
Shrimp and grits were utterly sublime. Leek and fennel joined the shrimp, which had been gently cooked and nestled in the creamy, cheesy grits. A deep, rosy pool of buttery shrimp sauce rimmed the bowl.
Gumbo was short on broth. The little I could bail with a spoon delivered big flavor and considerable heat, but mostly this was a bowl of rice populated with okra, over-stewed chicken and nondescript sausage crumbles.
Pork belly made a better impression, revealing soft striations of meat and fat beneath a crackling top. Beautiful baby carrots, carrot puree and a maple-y sauce wreathed the meat, a confluence of sweet flavors that too soon became monotonous.
Dinner is one way to go; drinks and snacks are another. Dive into a Spicy Tomate, a peppery, Margarita-like cocktail made with dill-infused blanco tequila and fresh tomatillo, rimmed with salt and star anise. The drink goes well with salt cod fritters, Percy’s answer to hush puppies, or crispy little flavor torpedoes of deep-fried pickled okra. Maybe share a trio of crostini topped with shrimp rémoulade, its dressing animated with fresh herbs, cornichons and jalapeño.
Salt cod fritters $9
Shrimp rémoulade crostini $12
Fried green tomato BLT $13
Fried chicken with red beans and rice $15
Shrimp and grits $16
Percy’s certainly doesn’t look its age. The dark paneling gleams in the diffuse light of large globe pendants. The bar has a marble top and butt-challenging stools fixed to the floor. Much of the seating is communal, at long, tall tables in the center of the room. A breezy back patio beckons in warm weather. A “please seat yourself” policy means that two of you can feel free to settle into one of seven, roomy, semicircular booths, each with its own mirror tilted to capture the scene behind you.
I don’t mind seating myself, but I do like to be welcomed; not even the guy checking IDs at the door on a Saturday night smiled. The sharp-eyed bartenders multitask better than some servers, who were friendly and accommodating, when you could flag them down. Percy’s is a bar, but one with aspirations. Anticipatory service should be part of that.