How’s Rudolph Taste?

If God didn’t want us to eat animals, he wouldn’t have made them out of meat.

In many ways, Ed's Kort Haus is a quintessential Seattle dive. It's dark and spacious, with a pool table and horseshoe bar. It features an auxiliary station near the kitchen which seems to function more as a storage space for dusty rec-league trophies than as a beverage center. Televisions large and small are hanging from the ceiling and mounted in corners, seemingly at random. Whereas workaday bars in other parts of the country might feature one or two domestic beers on tap, Ed's features about 20 different handles, ranging from Rainier to the most obscure of microbrews—and there are a plethora of vegetarian options on the menu. What's more, there are indoor plants scattered haphazardly around the interior, and the exterior is painted a jarring shade of lime green.Ed Warrington, the owner for whom the Phinney Ridge establishment is named, puts in many a shift behind the bar to keep labor costs down. He's owned the Kort Haus for 27 years, and has a gregarious personality that makes even first-time customers feel like everybody knows their name. In other words, he flips everyone shit. If you can't take shit from a stranger, kindly leave. But when you're walking into a bar owned by that particular stranger, you're really better off taking it. It's all in good fun, and it'll eventually work to your advantage. Such is the transactional nature of giving and receiving shit.During a recent Tuesday happy hour, half-a-dozen regulars, most of whom appear to be in their early 40s, are seated around the bar. Warrington is working, and mentions offhand that the bar has been getting a free Playboy subscription for reasons unknown to them, and that the magazine usually shows up around the 3rd of each month. One of the regulars then inquires about the success Warrington has had selling his old fishing boat. He hasn't had much, but when one of them offers to buy it for $400, he replies that he recently doubled the asking price to $800. Spoken like a guy who, deep down, isn't quite ready to part with his baby.But the Kort Haus has a few quirks that'll make the average Seattleite feel like a fish out of water. For one, there are two arcade games devoted to buck hunting, with toy rifles mounted to the consoles, a predilection said to be native to southern Illinois (having lived back that way for awhile, I can vouch for the accuracy of this statement). Then there's the dry-erase board situated above one of the arcade games; on it are the names of a dozen or so wild animals: alligator, antelope, black bear, buffalo, spicy buffalo, camel, caribou, elk, spicy elk, kangaroo, llama, ostrich, reindeer, venison, wild boar, and yak (also listed are jackalope, unicorn, and elf, obviously the handiwork of a regular). This peculiar list comprises Ed's vast offering of exotic burgers.The hunting games, the wild burgers that could easily be confused with a list of endangered species, the quip on the menu that reads "Proprietor not responsible for missing animals from Woodland Park Zoo" (the zoo's a little less than a mile down the road)—if this isn't the biggest inadvertent fuck-you to PETA of all time, then I don't know what is.Warrington has his meat air-freighted in from all over the globe. He gets his buffalo from Wisconsin, his alligator from Asia, his reindeer and caribou from Alaska, his yak from Colorado and Wyoming, his kangaroo and camel from Australia, and his antelope and venison from a 2.5-million-acre ranch in Texas, where the animals are shot free-range from helicopters and prepared for delivery in a mobile butcher van. (Here, Warrington is careful to note that all the meat he buys is farm-raised and USDA-certified.)The Kort Haus hasn't always served exotic burgers. Warrington started offering them quite by accident when, on Father's Day some 10 years ago, he saw some ostrich in the meat department at Ballard Market. He bought a couple of pounds, combined it with a little ground beef, and fired some up for a few of his friends from the bar. Intended as a one-off experiment, his loyalists just kept clamoring for them."My customers asked me to bring in more," says Warrington. "The more I brought in, the more they wanted." And so he made the adventurous patties a kitchen staple.While I initially assumed Warrington's exotic burgers were more Bill Veeckian window dressing than economic engine, he says they account for fully 30 percent of all the burgers he sells. They've become something of a local curiosity, as younger, novice patrons can often be found ordering them with a shot and a chuckle. Is their curiosity typically rewarded? For the most part, yes.On my first burger-tasting excursion, both Voracious contributor Brad Hole and the Uptight Seattleite were in tow. I had the reindeer burger, Hole had llama, and the Uptight had alligator. Hole liked his llama and I liked my reindeer, mainly because they both tasted similar to normal hamburgers. Besides, as Hole says, "You can mask anything with ketchup and lots of salt." But the reindeer and llama were good to the point where the masking wasn't really necessary.The alligator burger, which tasted vaguely like chicken, was another story. "Getting into the spirit of the crazy meat adventure, you could eat the whole thing, but the cheese and mayo and lettuce and tomatoes couldn't mask the metallic, gamey, lemony taste," says the Uptight. "The texture was like a dried-out sponge. And mixing gator with tequila is something you should only do if you have the stomach of a movie cowboy."The buffalo and ostrich burgers ranked as similarly disappointing on a return visit, but this might have had to do with a couple of mitigating factors. Mitigating factor number one: The Kort Haus was slammed like it had never been slammed before. Mitigating factor number two: There was a rookie chef in the kitchen. This second factor compelled me to send my kangaroo burger back, because it was cold. But once it was cooked properly, it was delicious—although two of my tablemates had to get up for a smoke while I consumed it, because they thought it smelled like the passage of gas.My friend Jeff equated his undercooked ostrich burger to "a bad high-school cafeteria burger," and SW intern emeritus Keegan Hamilton, in town from St. Louis, said of the buffalo burger: "Somewhere a Native American wept because of the complete and utter squandering of buffalo meat that was my cold, soggy burger."Yet the second trip was not without its highlights. For one, the Kort Haus cooks a tasty basket of tater tots, offered as a French-fry alternative with every burger (why more places don't follow suit is one of life's great mysteries). The wild-boar burger was also plenty good, attests Hole. In terms of service, the bartender, who covered the entire floor by his lonesome, remained relatively unflustered and super-personable (and apologetic, when appropriate) in the eye of a storm. And lastly, and most surprisingly, the veggie chicken nuggets were, according to my friend John, who has an aversion to eating flesh from the bone, "pretty fucking awesome."On my most recent visit, I had the yak. The regular cook was manning the burners, and his preparation of the burger was exceptional. The patty was enormous and juicy, the pepper jack cheese, pickles, and grilled onions generously heaped on, and the bun soft and yielding. It was a sensational burger by any standard, the sort of impeccability Warrington is hoping to import east of the mountains to the Bonfire Grill in Chelan, which he very recently took over—and is already about out of kangaroo.mseely@seattleweekly.com

 
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