Some of Seattle’s best food right now can be found at pop-ups (transitory restaurants operated out of anywhere with a kitchen) with first-time food business owners trying out exciting ideas in a low-risk environment. Here are three of the best we’ve tried recently that you can add to your list.
During the time Jhonny Reyes spent cooking Southern food in Seattle restaurants, most recently for four years at JuneBaby, he started seeing more and more connections between the American soul food he was cooking and the Latinx Caribbean food his Cuban and Puerto Rican family fed him as a kid.
Both cuisines, he came to realize, were products of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Both were shaped by enslaved Africans who brought their vegetables, spices and cooking techniques to the Americas and wrought new cuisines while working under brutal conditions on plantations in the Caribbean and the American South.
After doing some research, Reyes realized the two cuisines could work in harmony. When his hours were cut at JuneBaby due to the pandemic, he launched Lenox in May 2020, a food pop-up Reyes describes as Latinx soul food. And after The Seattle Times reported on sexual misconduct allegations by 15 women against JuneBaby chef Edouardo Jordan in June, he quit his job, along with almost all of the staff at Jordan’s restaurants. He now focuses on Lenox full time.
For now, he serves food at Great Notion brewery in Ballard on Thursday and Friday every week, though he says he plans to have pop-ups at Future Primitive Brewing in White Center and Cake + Trees, a cake and plant shop on Capitol Hill, in August.
Reyes says he makes a lot of Latinx Caribbean dishes using Southern-style smoked meats, like ropa vieja, a Cuban dish typically made with roasted lean steak, with smoked brisket. But when I went to Lenox on a recent Thursday afternoon, I ordered the pollo frito sandwich ($11) and the steak encebollado ($17).
The fried chicken sandwich combines a bun, harissa aioli and pickles with a piece of fried chicken richly flavored with Caribbean and Southern spices. Reyes says it’s brined for 24 hours in a marinade of sofrito (onions, garlic and peppers), cilantro, culantro (a more pungent version of cilantro), and spices like cumin, cloves and allspice. The meat is filled with complex spice flavors, reminiscent of Indian curry powders, with coriander and cumin at the forefront. The batter is super light and crispy, the texture similar to that of Asian fried chicken.
Reyes’ steak encebollado, a traditional Puerto Rican steak-and-onions dish Reyes says his grandmother made for him growing up, is served as flank steak at Lenox over rice and beans with fried plantains. He says he marinates his steak with sofrito and sazón, a spice mix containing achiote, a spice with an earthy, smoky flavor. And though the dish is often made with stewed steak, Reyes grills his and serves it with chimichurri. The result is a light but satisfying meal, the slightly smoky lean steak brightened by herbs and acid in the chimichurri.
Reyes says he plans to keep doing pop-ups at breweries and cafes for now but hopes to get a food truck at some point so he can serve food in different areas of Seattle.
Find Lenox at Great Notion in Ballard, 5101 14th Ave. NW, Seattle, most Thursdays and Fridays from around noon to 10 p.m. Check Lenox’s Instagram for pop-up times and locations.
My Friend Derek’s
The Detroit-style pizza from My Friend Derek’s, a business Derek Reiff runs out of his studio in Fremont, might be the hardest pizza to score in Seattle.
Reiff bakes pizza three times a week in the kitchen of his studio, just 25 pizzas per night. On Mondays, he normally opens up preorders on his website. He says they normally sell out in two hours.
Reiff says he’s a web developer by day, but in the past few years, he became seriously obsessed with pizza. Five years ago, Reiff was eating a lot of Domino’s to get enough calories while training for marathons. One day, he wondered if he could make something better himself. He started with Neapolitan pizza, and says it took him a year before making a dough he’d “consider edible.”
Then sometime in 2019, Reiff tried his first Detroit-style pizza, known for its square shape and cheese that melts over the edges of the crust, forming a crispy shell. He was a changed man.
Since then, he’s been making strictly Detroit-style pies. He started selling pizza to his friends in April 2020. Two weeks later, he made an Instagram account for his business, bought a $6 ad and says he’s sold out every week since.
The hype is well-deserved. The pepperoni and mushroom pizza ($25) I picked up on a recent Friday evening was the best pizza I’ve had in at least a year. The crust was thick, with an even crumb and the signature crispy Detroit-style shell. The bottom of the crust was also a bit crispy, slightly fried by the generous splash of olive oil Reiff says he puts in the pan. Everything else was soft. The blend of mozzarella, fontina and Monterey Jack — engineered to mimic the hard-to-source Wisconsin brick cheese Detroit-style pizzas are traditionally made from — fused into the dough, under (not over, as in some styles of pizza) the thick layer of slightly sweet tomato sauce.
In the future, Reiff says he hopes to buy a bar to sell his pizzas out of. For now, go get your pizza from Reiff’s studio, but plan ahead and keep refreshing that website on Monday afternoons to get your order in before everybody else.
Find My Friend Derek’s at 3601 Woodland Park Ave. N, Seattle. Pizzas are normally ready 5:30-7:30 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Preorder at exploretock.com/myfrienddereks
Gold Coast Ghal Kitchen
Gold Coast Ghal Kitchen will be serving Liberian and Ghanaian dishes out of Gold Bar in South Lake Union every Sunday and Monday until Sept. 21.
Owner Tina Fahnbulleh was born in Liberia, then fled the Second Liberian Civil War with her family as a young child to a refugee camp in Ghana, where her grandmother cooked for her and other refugees until her family moved to the U.S. when she was 8. Growing up in St. Paul, Minnesota, she cooked with her grandmother and learned how to make Liberian and Ghanaian dishes. Fahnbulleh moved to Seattle in 2016, and to make new friends in the city, she started inviting people over to eat West African food. In 2018, she started doing pop-ups and created a catering business.
When I visited Gold Coast Ghal Kitchen on a recent Sunday, I ordered beef meat pies ($12), shrimp suya skewers ($14) and chicken stew ($16).
The meat pies were a satisfying snack, with flaky fried dough wrapped around ground beef and green pepper.
The suya skewers, dusted with a super spicy peanut and pepper powder, was served with a chili sauce made with a sweet but powerful pepper, the Scotch bonnet, that’s ubiquitous in West Africa, and habanero. The dish has a wonderful blend of pepper flavors, but it will leave the tip of your tongue burning, so order it with a drink from Gold Bar and prepare to sweat.
The chicken stew, though, was the star of the menu. The tomato, bell pepper and onion serve as a strong base for the meat, fortified by the warm flavors of allspice, turmeric, ginger, and a kick of smoke and heat from smoked paprika and Scotch bonnet.
Fahnbulleh says she hopes to keep cooking out of Gold Bar, or another bar, for the near future.
Find Gold Coast Ghal Kitchen at Gold Bar, 227 Ninth Ave. N, Seattle, 3-10 p.m., Sundays and Mondays until Sept. 21. Check goldcoastghal.com for updates.
Clarification: a previous version of this story mistakenly stated that Gold Bar is located at 227 Ninth Ave., Seattle. It is actually located at 227 Ninth Ave. N, Seattle.