One thing I love about the Seattle food scene is the collaboration that occurs among its players. So I was optimistic about the opening of Sunset Fried Chicken Sandwiches (1610 12th Ave., 577-3045) inside the Capitol Hill location of Rachel’s Ginger Beer, run by Monica Dimas of Tortas Condesa.
Sharing space with the 12th Avenue Arts center, the RGB spot (opened last year) is pretty fly—open and airy with huge plants draping down walls or hanging from oversized baskets, and plenty of seating inside and out where you can enjoy a frosty summer slushy like the Tropical Storm (ginger beer, rum, and coconut), which tastes like the very best piña colada you could ever have (slightly sharp, not too sweet); a Moscow Mule on tap, maybe with a seasonal flavor like rhubarb; or any number of fruity, boozy concoctions. Because it’s smart to wash the liquor down with something substantial, RGB had already drafted Dimas to create a small menu of fried items, including thick-cut french fries and veggie tempura. Now she has expanded and added a window within where the focus is on fried-chicken sandwiches—four of them.
These are not your average fast-food chicken sandwiches. Instead they’re heaped with meat, exceptionally moist inside, fried to a dark glaze on the outside, and served between toasted buns. The Picante, though billed as spicy, is not screaming hot. Rather, it gets a breath of heat from pickled jalapeños and chili mayo. Tangy cabbage slaw, beautifully crisp, brings vegetal brightness. The OG is essentially the same sandwich, but less spicy; the mayo has no chili and dill pickles replace jalapeños. The GT, the sandwich I was most excited to try with its “spicy General Tso fried chicken,” was actually the most disappointing. Though it has the popular Chinese dish’s signature sweetness, the sandwich lacks, at least to my tongue, any of that dish’s other iconic elements, like ginger and rice-wine vinegar, thus making it a bit one-note. The sandwich is, however, perked up by the addition of fresh daikon and cilantro—which also gives it some Asian flair.
While I didn’t try The Charleston, the vegetarian sandwich of fried green tomatoes and pimento cheese, I can attest to the fried green tomatoes themselves, served as one of four side dishes (including tangy slaw, hand-cut fries, and hush puppies). These are some of the best fried green tomatoes you’re likely to find in Seattle, or even down South. The tomatoes are just unripe enough to retain the requisite sourness, and able to stand up to a cornmeal coating that’s not a bit greasy and that occasionally flakes off into tiny crumbles you can eat with your fingers. They are also smartly cut in nugget-sized chunks, rather than served as a whole sloppy tomato, which often has trouble keeping the crust intact. Though you can dip them in the side of spicy mayo, I’d say they’re too good to slather with condiments.
Of the two salads on the menu, the kale salad needs some serious work. The kale itself looks just-picked; with its thin, white veins running through the dark, glossy leaves, it could serve as model for a beautiful still-life. But unfortunately it’s saturated by an anchovy dressing that tastes very little like anchovies and more like pure sour citrus. It was practically inedible, though I wonder whether adding chicken (for an extra $2.74) would offset the alarming tang.
Besides offering Rachel’s Ginger Beer fans some tasty noshes, Sunset also speaks to our town’s growing trend of better-quality fast food: Josh Henderson’s organically sourced meat at Great State Burger; Mamnoon Street’s phenomenal Middle Eastern manaeesh sandwiches; superb Hawaiian poke salads at 45 Stop n Shop & Poke Bar. As high-end restaurants continue to open throughout Seattle, it’s refreshing to know that affordable, convenient food is turning up everywhere too—and that you can feel good about its provenance.