Photo by Deanna Duff
The Kickin' Boot's initial selection of whiskey stretches to the ceiling with 101 varieties with more to come.

Spice up your life: Ballard's new Kickin' Boot Whiskey Kitchen

Ballard’s newest eatery promises to be equally ideal for kicking up your heels or your boots. The Kickin’ Boot Whiskey Kitchen, scheduled to open today, August 16, focuses on Southern fare and excels at traditional comfort food with culinary twists. True to Ballard itself, the restaurant is a combination of nostalgia and forward thinking.

Kickin’ Boot is located in a former 1920s mill house majestically overlooking the Ship Canal (5309 22nd Ave. NW). Long in disrepair, it’s been refurbished from the ground up thanks to the vision of owners Zak Melang and Nathan Opper, restauranteurs of the Matador Restaurant and Tequila Bars. The space has old-world appeal thanks to exposed brick, the preservation of exposed, original Redwood beams and custom-made, eight-foot steel chandeliers illuminated with Edison bulbs. In a testament to the owner’s personal investment, Melang built many of the wooden tables himself as well as the herringbone wood art that decorates the walls.

The homey vibe is an appropriate backdrop for the cozy cuisine. The owners extensively traveled the South to develop the menu and Melang himself is a North Carolina native. The menu reflects various regions from Louisiana traditional gumbo to Texas BBQ and everything in between.

Pulled Pork Minis ($8) are a highlight from the small plate menu. Carlton Farms pork spends nine hours in one of the custom-built, Texas smokers infusing the meat with perfect, down-home flavor. On a brioche bun from Seattle’s Tall Grass Bakery and layered with horseradish coleslaw, the minis can easily satisfy light eaters.

Also make sure to sample the rack of house-made sauces. Must-try options are the House sauce (tomato-based with a kick of cayenne pepper) and the North Carolina-inspired Gold sauce (akin to a sweet-hot mustard). The Sweet sauce has a spicy edge that may surprise delicate palates who should opt for the White sauce (mayonnaise base with onion and garlic). The Spicy and Hot sauces (both with habanero peppers) deliver full heat.

The Fried Chicken ($13-16) is a hands-down winner. Mt. Vernon’s Draper Valley Farms chicken provides a meaty, moist base for the perfectly-balanced breading. The coating is not overpowering, but not too light that it becomes soggy. There is the slightest hint of spice making it tasty enough to eat on its own. Served with creamy mashed potatoes and gravy and a buttermilk biscuit, it’s a meal and a half.

“Coming in and smelling and eating this food brings me right back home,” says Melang who considers the fried chicken a Kickin’ Boot specialty.

The Kickin’ Boot hopes that the Baby Back Ribs ($17-24) will be another signature dish, but beware that they’re high on the heat factor. A few nibbles leaves diners sweating. Also, the dish as prepared does not arrive heavily sauced. It’s up to your individual taste to douse it with the side sauces or let it remain on the drier side.

Side dishes receive as much consideration as entrées. House potato chips (salt and vinegar or BBQ flavor, both served with creole onion sauce, $3) are perfectly fried, light as air and well-seasoned. Even four-cheese macaroni, somewhat standard on its own, is enlivened by a topping of bacon breadcrumbs.

One pitfall to avoid, diners should inquire about spiciness before ordering. The baked beans ($4) and collard greens ($3) pack a punch. However, if you can handle the heat, the collard greens are amazing. The “hot vinegar” - four or five chiles are steeped in the vinegar beforehand - creates a piquant flavor profile.

Of course, the affectionately nicknamed “hooch” selection is not to be missed. Whiskey is the Kickin’ Boot’s calling card with 101 carefully-curated whiskeys. Behind the bar, shelves reach to the ceiling and are stocked with everything from foreign to domestic, affordable to high-end varieties.

“We want the biggest collection we can have. We won’t stop building more shelves until there just isn’t enough space left in the restaurant,” says Melang.

Another perfect fit for the historic space is the dedication to heritage cocktails. There is a wide variety - Mint Juleps, Manhattans, Old Fashioned, Paper Airplanes and more.

“There is a lot of history in this country in terms of cocktails,” says beverage manager Niles Peacock.

Peacock is a sort of cocktail historian and his dedication to detail is evident in every drink. The Mint Julep will make you feel like you’re swinging on a Southern porch on a hot day. Bourbon, sugar, crushed ice and a sprig of mint make for a refreshing cocktail. The Old-Fashioned - peach, lemon and lime sour, fresh orange and cranberry juices and a wake-me-up amount of rye whiskey - is thoughtfully served with jumbo ice cubes, which keep the drink cool, but not diluted with quick-melting ice.

The Kickin’ Boot is family-friendly in the dining room and offers a range of non-alcoholic options including Scratch Lemonade, house-made Scratch Sodas, Orange Cream Sodas and more.

“This is a beautiful restaurant and kitchen to work in,” says Bo Maisano, Kickin’ Boot’s executive chef. “We look to offering great food for Ballard in a great building.”

Unlike most Ballard restaurants, the Kickin’ Boot will accept reservations. Make sure to visit before the summer sun completely disappears so you can eat on the outside patio. For the time-crunched diner, a to-go counter will be offered soon after opening.

Kickin’ Boot Whiskey Kitchen
5309 22nd Avenue NW
Ballard, WA 98107

We encourage our readers to comment. No registration is required. We ask that you keep your comments free of profanity and keep them civil. They are moderated and objectionable comments will be removed.