Ballard Food Police:
The Year in Review
By Patricia Devine and Jim Anderson
2008 brought a lot of food action to Ballard, which sometimes seemed to mostly involve pizza. Veraci, Ristorante Piccolinos, and a host of competitors (Snoose Junction, Via
Verde, Zaw, Madame K's, Sopranos, the Pagliacci chain, Pizza Time, 206) fight it out as Ballard contends for the "Seattle neighborhood with the most pizza per capita" award.
Who is eating all of this pizza? Are the condo dwellers actually that pizza-crazy? The next year will show how well the condo-people can keep afloat the massive Ballard Pizza industry. Already, places are closing which probably came into Ballard banking on the condo surge. One example is Austin Cantina, the recently closed Tex-Mex joint on 24th Ave NW. While the NOMA dwellers may not have been as hearty chicken-fried steak lovers as thought, part of the problem may also have been the rag-tag, often downright untidy appearance of the cantina inside. Bring back the Dandelion!
A little farther south, Hamburger Harry's fills the space once taken by the bizarre and loveable Sea Breeze. Corporate in appearance and garish in signage, this is a different twist on the condo-magnet attempts in Ballard. Time will tell if the concept-heavy establishment will be the ticket for Ballard beef lovers, but for our money the Lunchbox Laboratory burgers reign supreme in all of Ballard for taste, execution, and just plain juiciness. Hattie's Hat is right behind, with their toasted bun, medium sizing, and hand formed gems akin to the kind of burger we ate 30 years ago. Ah, burger nostalgia...
Meanwhile, over on the artier side of things, Ocho is the most interesting new place to open in Ballard this year. It can be impossible to find a seat here in the spring and summer, and once you get a load of the Hongos de Jerez (sherried mushrooms, arugula, toast) for $3, you'll know exactly why it's so tough to sit down, unless you arrive early.
The Farmer's Market on Ballard Avenue continues to be one of the best food values in the city, especially in the less crowded Winter Sundays, with hot and fresh crepes from Anita's, hot dogs from the unstoppable Dante, and a variety of other items ranging from fresh soup, oysters, and pastries, plus the best and most durable organic greens in town courtesy of the Anselmo booth. The quesadillas, tamales, and grilled vegetables from the Patty Pan Grill's booth are practically free AND delicious, and Veraci pizza is always backed up. What could possibly be better on a 35-degree day than a steaming hot slice of fresh, wood-fired pepperoni pizza?
A discussion of the year's most exciting food options would not be complete without talking about Senor Moose on Leary, just a block from the market. If ever there was proof of a food god, this is it. With their authentic and generously portioned Mexican food, Senor Moose is one of those very rare places that where when you eat, you're struck by the integrity, the heart, and the fair economic-collapse-friendly prices that bring so many Ballardites back time and time again.
Smoking continues to be a flash point for bars and restaurants, as the industry heavily peopled by smokers battles to keep everyone happy. With the 25 foot rule clearly being disregarded by both establishments and the city, the best non-smokers can hope for is for establishments to hold the line on the "no one is looking, let's break out the ashtrays" movement. While the medical literature continues to pile up showing the remarkable and astonishingly positive public health impact of smoke-free establishments, we hope that bars, restaurant and patrons of all stripes will work to find a way to keep smoking out, even though it might mean accepting the "just outside the door" smokers. Running a gauntlet of smokers to get in a bar is one thing: it's easier to stomach when we know that once we get in, we're golden.
Dining out in all of Seattle, but particularly Ballard, will be a crazy thing in 2009. Bookended by a collapsing economy as well as a rapidly growing population, 2010 will undoubtedly see some shaking out of the Ballard food scene. Can the trendy and expensive establishments like Bal Mar and Volterra compete with the more budget minded spots like Thaiku, Than Brothers, Anne's and Scooters? Will the SUVs continue to roll onto Ballard Avenue, or will a more pedestrian-friendly crowd emerge, perhaps craving simpler, and more mid-priced fare, as well as less ostentatious vehicles? Stay tuned to Ballard Food Police, as we walk hand in hand with you into 2010. Let us know what you like, what you don't, and help us tell the story in the next year of the best, and the worst, restaurants. Happy New Year!
Know anything we should know? Tell the Ballard Food Police at firstname.lastname@example.org