Steven Burnham met Nick Castleberry standing outside the Summit Pub and ended up writing this post for us about the chef's new gig.
The Summit Public House in Capitol Hill is a neighborhood pub known more for itsdown-low rep and devoted regulars than for serving up Kusshi oysters and hand-rolled pasta. But for the past two months, Nick Castleberry, once the chef de cuisine of Sitka & Spruce and Artemis (now a bar called The Lookout), has taken himself underground, using what he calls his "vagabond approach" to step inconspicuously into the confines of the pub's kitchen.
Castleberry worked a stint as a bartender here a couple years back after his departure from Sitka, befriending co-owner Sam Munguia. Munguia knew the chef's culinary reputation -- he estimates he has worked in 30 kitchens around town -- and the Summit was more than happy to take him in. Castleberry now fires things up every Thursday, Friday and Saturday, from 6:00 p.m. until midnight, with a menu of "local real food" (as Nick's homemade sign above the bar announces) that varies from week to week, using ingredients sourced from suppliers the chef knows well. "Cookin' ain't nothing but a feeling," he says. "I cook from heart, finesse as much as I can with what I've got to work with."
Somewhat elusive, Castleberry presents himself as a Southern gentleman, albeit one with a veil of tattoos that cover him from head to toe. His slight, hunched frame gestures assertively when speaking of his craft as "art in performance" -- and his cooking at the Summit caters to his versatility and his agility with the bare minimum.
A renegade aestheticist, with a modest kind of mischievousness, Castleberry concedes that his abrupt flight from Sitka a couple years ago is what spurred him into stepping out on his own: "I had hit this fame thing," he says, "but personally I needed a break. I wanted more depth -- to take the clout I'd earned and do with it what I want, call my own shots. I'm not a hippie, not a martyr," he says, "just aiming to keep shit cool."
The Summit Pub sits on a quiet corner in a cul-de-sac up on the Hill that has the feel of a little neighborhood within the neighborhood. Here Castleberry acts as one-man kitchen -- doing everything himself from the cooking, cleaning, and prep work to filling in as bar back as needed, even going so far as to "killing the pig and sticking it in the back of the truck," he boasts. (Who knows? The cracks in the windshield of his ratty, 20-year-old Isuzu may be a sign the pig tried to fight back.)
The chef will take your order at the side counter, prepare it to order, and deliver it to you at your seat. The menu a few weeks ago included braised chicken breast with kale and parsnips and oysters sent fresh from Vancouver. Favorites items that have made return appearances: the pork-belly tacos ("everybody loves the pork belly," Nick concedes) and grilled-cheese sandwiches prepared with mozzarella, lightly spruced with basil and spice. All items are priced at $8 or less, a rule Nick strictly adheres to; he is cash only, but the bar will take credit cards for drinks.
The Summit Public House is located at 601 Summit Ave E. Nick can be found on Twitter at twitter.com/nickcastleberry, fresh with updates as to his menus and general goings-on.