If you thought that Ethan Stowell couldn’t possibly come up with another restaurant concept, you’ve underestimated the Seattle restaurateur’s marketing prowess. This time, capitalizing on the current craft-beer craze, he’s planted a high-end pub on Ballard Avenue, surrounded by all the breweries that he has on tap and just down the street from two of his other concerns, Staple & Fancy and Chippy’s.
Walking into Bramling Cross, the Stowellian design signifiers are immediately noticeable: the stark gray palette, the dim lighting, the hanging glass bubble lights, the ceiling’s exposed ductwork. But Stowell has added details throughout that aim, it seems, to give it a worldly huntsman vibe: white plaster renditions of taxidermied deer, elk, and moose as well as sporting oil paintings—one of hunting dogs, another of a shot pheasant. He’s also lined shelves throughout the entire first half of the restaurant with antique editions of classic books—Dickens and the like—which make it feel less like a hunting lodge than like the library of the old uncle from The Chronicles of Narnia.
Those stagy elements aside, the roomy space with a considerable bar is serving some damn good food—all of which goes well with the 60 beers and ciders available by the bottle and the six or so on tap (among them local brews including Populuxe, Reuben’s, Hilliard’s, and Peddler). The beer list offers something for everyone—sours and saisons, IPAs and stouts, Belgian ales and ciders—as well as interesting beer cocktails, including an Old Fashioned with a housemade stout syrup, a drink with fresh citra hops muddled in, and a rendition of a Moscow Mule made with an IPA. While I’m not a beer enthusiast, this expansive menu—from around the Pacific Northwest, the East Coast, the Midwest, France, and even Eastern Europe—definitely piqued my interest. For those who aren’t beer lovers, there are plenty of wine choices and other cocktails.
The menu too is more expansive than we’ve come to expect from Stowell, whose restaurants are usually tightly curated. So while you’ll find plenty of his signature items—smoked mackerel on crostini, a Bibb lettuce and wedge salad, roasted Brussels sprouts, a simple bowl of pasta with pepper and cheese and steamed Manila clams (though here with beer)—he has pushed the envelope to come up with some seriously tasty new dishes.
With so many offerings, I decided to skip items I feel confident he does well, like the grilled scallops and hangar steak. Instead, I went for his cheddar and ale soup, a decadent affair that transcends the often one-note quality of cream-based soups. In this one, the tangerine color promises—and delivers—the tang of cheddar while also allowing a bolt of beer to glide down your gullet.
Likewise, his warm Dungeness crab dip is luscious and surprised me with its pronounced crab flavor. I’ve never been much of a Dungeness fan, finding it bland in comparison to blue crab, but this dip may have changed my perspective. A “smaller” plate of roasted red kuri squash, which also comes with hunks of acorn squash, is huge and could have been a meal. It’s served with honey, chestnut, and brown butter, all of which add sweetness. It’s a fine dish, but fairly straightforward. If you love squash, order it. Otherwise, there are so many better things to try.
I couldn’t leave without tasting the ultimate pub staple: the burger, which Stowell nails. The Bramling Burger gets everything right. It’s cooked to a perfect medium-rare, bordering on rare, and is thick but compact. The beef holds up to the potato bun it’s served on, and the simple additions of lettuce, tomato, pickle, and American cheese don’t distract from the quality of the meat. It’s refreshing that Stowell isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel here. Though I do enjoy a burger with modern bells and whistles, sometimes you just want the real deal. The other item I felt obliged to try was the $38 Dynamite Chicken—a whole fried Mad Hatcher chicken (eight pieces) that supposedly takes 20 minutes to prepare but which made it to us in under 10 (granted, it was 6 p.m. on a Wednesday). I love the fry on it, flaky, not greasy, and the skin is flavored well. However, the meat itself is unfortunately lacking in salt. I barely cared, though, since the grits and collard greens served with it indeed live up to the claim of dynamite. The grits are of the creamy persuasion with a pool of butter, rather than the more granular variety. These may or may not be your thing; they sure are mine. The collards, too, are done just as I like them, vinegared but not bracingly so. This can easily feed three to four people, or two ravenous ones.
This gluttonous feast, and two cocktails, came to just $100—though that is in part thanks to the terrific happy hour, when the burger is just $9 vs. $16 during regular hours, the squash just $6 (vs. $9) and the drinks $8 (vs. $11). Since we opted to sit at the bar, because unfortunately that’s the only way to partake in the happy hour, I can’t speak to the table service. However, the bartender was friendly and willing to answer all my newbie beer questions (with detailed descriptions of how the beer cocktails were concocted) and unself-consciously sang “Jessie’s Girl” as he whipped them up. In an era where bartenders often are too cool for school, this one was refreshingly unaffected—just like the food.
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