The Watering Hole: Bitterroot, 5239 Ballard Ave NW, 588-1577, BALLARD
Bitterroot's Trevor O'Dell puts a bite of bacon in this cocktail
The Atmosphere:The sweet aroma of smoked meat hits your nostrils the moment you crack the front door to enter Bitterroot, and almost instantly that smell triggers a rumbling in the stomach that can only be quelled by a rack of ribs. A just-opened barbecue joint, there are a handful of tables in the narrow front portion of the restaurant, and a cozy little bar area with a few booths and seating for maybe two dozen though a hallway in the back. The bar itself is smooth stainless steel, and the whiskey-laden liquor shelves are illuminated with desk lamps. Most people seem to be there for the food, but a handful of customers just hanging out and sipping drinks.The Barkeep:Trevor O'Dell, formerly of Franks Oysterhouse and Champagne Parlor, is literally right at home on Ballard Ave. He lives in the neighborhood and took the job when the place opened four weeks ago because he liked the prospect of walking to work. Sporting a sweet "Northwest" t-shirt from the Ballard-based graphic designer Mike Klay, O'Dell says he has also tended bar at The Saint and Havana.
The Drink:I knew I was in for something unique when O'Dell turned around and began gathering ingredients for the drink, only to pause abruptly and ask, "You're not a vegetarian are you?"
Informed that I am as carnivorous as they come, O'Dell reached into a glass jar above the bar with the mouthwatering label "Bacon Jerky" and plucked out a crisply arched strip of belly meat. He broke off a half-inch long bit and speared it to make a garnish.
The drink, called a Root Down, consisted of Old Ezra bourbon, Campari, Cynar, vanilla syrup, a little bit of lemon juice, and a thick spurt from what looked to be a red ketchup squeeze bottle. Thankfully, rather than ketchup, it was house-made grenadine -- a viscous, crimson goo that had spent a few hours acquiring flavor in the restaurant's smoker. All shaken together and strained into a martini glass, the final product was frothy, pink and surprisingly good. The sweet, smoky grenadine and pungent Cynar were the dominant flavors, with the citrus and vanilla becoming more discernible as I emptied the glass.
Leftover was the little chunk of bacon jerky impaled on a plastic spear. The fat glistened pale white in all its unrendered glory, and with the marbled bits of meat still a deep red color, it almost looked raw. Somehow, though, it was still crispy even after soaking in the drink for half an hour. But rather than having a crunchy texture, it dissolved on the tongue like a salty hit of bacon ecstasy.
The Verdict:Come for the drinks, stay for the ribs. My significant other and I split a half-rack of baby-backs that we soon sucked clean to the bone. They came slathered in sweet sauce (this is generally a no-no; the best BBQ is served with sauce on the side), and we made good use of the wet wipes stacked next to the bar napkins.
The bar carried a nice selection of microbrews, and boasted an impressive bourbon and rye collection for having just opened for business. In addition to the smoked grenadine, O'Dell uses smoked sugar cubes in some cocktails. He also seemed excited about the cook's plan to smoke a batch kangaroo jerky. Assuming the 'roo meat gets put to use as garnish, the same drink he served me has to be renamed the Roodown.