The Battle for Ballard: Staple & Fancy vs. The Walrus and the Carpenter"/>
Last week, we debuted the new-and-improved version of this weekly column with a local burger battle, pitting Belltown's Dope Burger against BuiltBurger in Pioneer Square. I had some very strong opinions on which was the better burger (Built), but when the people of Seattle spoke (via our new poll page), guess who came out on top?
Ballard's hippest address, pre-gentrification
No one did! Once all the votes were tallied, it was a dead heat, with both joints all tied up in the final accounting. Which tells me two things. One, democracy rules. And two, half the people in this city wouldn't know a good hamburger if it crawled up and humped their leg.
But that's just fine because this week we have a new battle--a double-sided throwdown featuring Staple & Fancy and The Walrus and the Carpenter, the conjoined twins of Ballard's restaurant renaissance. Let's take a look at our competitors, shall we?
The Contenders: The Walrus and the Carpenter (reviewed this week) is Renee Erickson's second restaurant, following up on the success of Boat Street Cafe. It is named after a Lewis Carroll poem about a clever walrus, a weepy carpenter, and some very dumb oysters and, unsurprisingly, features said poetic shellfish rather heavily on the board. The rest of the menu is just a series of modern bar snacks, fancied up to match the surroundings, but the oysters are really what people come for. Especially the smart ones.
Staple & Fancy (reviewed a few weeks back), on the other hand, is Ethan Stowell's fourth (current) restaurant and is named after a sign found while doing the demo work on the Kolstrand Marine Supply building where it lives. Apparently, the address was a mercantile at one point, offering goods both staple and fancy. Cute, right? The menu here is printed nightly and mounted on a block of wood. The waiters are constantly imploring diners to go for the off-menu, family-style chef's tasting selection, but what's actually on the board is often too good to pass up. Except for those nights when it's not. Dining here does involve a bit of luck.
The Stats: Both restaurants are about six months old. Both opened within a week of each other. Walrus banks heavy on oysters and the rest of the menu stands in a supporting role. Staple makes a big deal of its ever-changing board and tasting menus, both arranged in a more traditional fashion. Most important, though, both restaurants occupy the same building, their two dining rooms separated only by a thin pane of glass, occasionally making for some uncomfortable moments--like if you happen to find yourself trying to work through a burned order of fried brussels sprouts at Walrus and kinda wish you were over on the other side of the window eating rabbit terrine at Staple.
The Battle: It comes down to mood, in my opinion. Mood and timing. Stand out front of the Kolstrand building on a Wednesday night and ask yourself: Do you have to have oysters right this minute? If you do, your choice is clear. No one does oysters like Walrus does--clean and cold and achingly fresh and served with minimum fuss. On the other hand, if you want a full meal, head for Staple. As soon as it comes down to a cooks' involvement in a dish, I think Staple wins this one, simply because everything on the menu at Walrus (other than the oysters) seems complicated by one step too many.
Oh, but wait. There's more. Staple takes reservations. Walrus does not. Staple doesn't open 'til 5 p.m., but Walrus opens at 4. There have been nights--and moments within nights--when one operation had tables open while the other did not. So the decision also comes down to timing: When you're hungry, the table that's available is always going to be better than the one that's not. And as much as it might sound here like I prefer Staple to its neighbor, eating at either of them will beat eating almost anywhere else in the area. If given the option, I would go for Staple & Fancy, yes. But that option is not always so cut-and-dried, and I would never turn down the chance to haul up at the bar at Walrus and snack away a couple hours of my night.
The Final Score: In a perfect world, I would have a dozen oysters at The Walrus and the Carpenter and a crisp French white to go with them, then phase right through the glass for rabbit terrine and a bowl of gnocchi with pork cheek at Staple & Fancy. On a perfect night, I would sit straddling the two restaurants, ordering a little something from one, followed by a little something from the other.
But this is not a perfect world and there are no perfect nights, so I'm going to call this one in favor of Staple & Fancy, but only because I like forcemeats a little bit more than I do oysters. In any event, it's a close one. Both places are good, and sometimes the temptation of sitting in one and looking at what's for dinner at the other can be maddening.
So now I hand this off to you, dear readers. On which side of the glass do you fall? If you had to choose, which restaurant would you choose in this battle for the heart of Ballard: Staple & Fancy or The Walrus and the Carpenter? Click through to our poll page and have your say. Next week, I'll reveal the results and be back with yet another fight to the death in Seattle's restaurant scene.
And while you're voting, why not bounce on over and follow me on Twitter, too, at @Jason_Sheehan. I'm even more combative 140 characters at a time.