Monday, December 14, 2015

Mr. Old Year

Looking back over a span of time is a humbling exploration. So much life happens within an hour, much less in a day, or in a week, or beyond.

I am a firm believer in the haves vs. the have not’s and B&H is certainly no exception. January 15, 2016 will mark our 2nd Anniversary and it is critical for us to take pause and thank our incredibly talented team, our beloved guests, and dedicated vendors. For without you, none of this would be possible.

2015 has been a tale of expansion and fostering relationships. There are countless fond memories that make up the year, however, these are just a few that I am partial to...

Construction began in the early months of the year converting a nearly hundred year old free-standing building into a workable dining and storage room with an expanded patio. The space has exceeded our expectations and we are so grateful for the walls being filled with laughter, creative minds, celebrations, and the kind of juju that gives a building a sense of energy and place. 

In an era of same day deliveries, FaceTime, texting, instant chat, and more, tugging at our NOW factors… restaurants have the opportunity to provide a be-in-the-moment type of connection. Whether it is to a dish or beverage that is handmade or to another human being, there is an exchange, and that pause in your day contributes greatly to a much bigger and vital picture we are thrilled to be a part of.

As most of you know, our menu is also a postcard. We love that you have taken the time to handwrite a note to someone in your life. To date, we have mailed them to almost 300 cities nationwide and more than 20 countries worldwide. Keep up the great work!

Chef Mike and the culinary team continue to build amazing flavors and dazzle us with seasonal treats. Some of our favorite dishes of the year included…

Prawn cocktail with scallion-wasabi sauce

Celery salad with boiled local peanuts, soy pickled leeks, sesame soy vinaigrette, szechuan peppercorn

Braised collard greens with fermented garlic, house cured & smoked lardons.
We weren’t alone in our love for this dish as Rebekah Denn gave it a generous nod,
including the recipe in the Seattle Times

In commemoration of our anniversary, each year we will produce a limited edition screen print highlighting local artists with net proceeds benefitting a local cause.  One hundred prints are handmade, numbered, and autographed by the artist. We still have a handful of first year posters from artist Mike Klay that would make a great gift, benefitting the Ballard Food Bank. Purchase yours by clicking here

As 2016 rapidly approaches, instead of creating expanded to-do lists or resolutions, consider letting go of something. Perhaps an old belief that no longer serves you? Is there an old worry tugging at your sleeve that you’re tired of listening to? Do you have fear for the unknown and you’re ready to try something new? By doing so, you can make space emotionally and physically for amazing things.

This is a ritual that some of our dear friends and regulars have as this as their welcome to the New Year. They even take it a step further and write them down to burn ceremoniously at midnight. Perhaps you and yours can add a champagne toast? We can raise a glass to new thoughts and ideas!

As we close out one year and reflect upon the amazing changes and growth we have experienced it is exciting to briefly look ahead and see what’s to come in 2016:

  • Our hours will change to 5 - 10 pm Sunday through Thursday, 5 pm - midnight Friday & Saturday, closed Tuesday.
  • Save-The-Date for our anniversary dinner on Friday, January 15th. Rumor has it Chef Mike and the culinary team are working on a throwback menu for the night. It’s never too early to save your seat by making a reservation. We will unveil our new artist, commemorative poster, and local charity at this event.
  • Brunch is on the brain and we’ve been menu testing with you each Sunday. Our goal is to roll out Brunch Friday-Sunday by early Spring.

On behalf of the entire Brimmer & Heeltap family, thank you for your continued support and enthusiasm. We look forward to connecting sooner than later.
Much love and gratitude,


Saturday, November 7, 2015

Halvorsen Clay

Jen came to know Larry Halvorsen in a roundabout way. Having several friends with pieces of his collection in their homes was familiar with his ceramics long before an introduction was made. His iconic tribal and primitive ceramics were associated with homes of taste and style.

His daughter Lauren is one of B&H's amazing servers and dishes up a little insight below into their creative family.  Lucky for us, Larry and his wife Liza are now a part of our extended B&H family and we recently had the opportunity to sit down with him to talk past, present, and future.

With several decades under his belt dedicated to his craft, it's no wonder this self-taught, humble, and local icon has his work displayed in galleries nationwide. Larry recalled the first time he sat at the wheel and feeling intrinsically comfortable and just able to throw. He soon realized this talent wasn't normal and that this natural ability would serve him well.

Larry's pieces are made using a combination of hand building techniques including coils, press, slump molds, and slab building. Most of his work is coated with a black glaze and then he carves through exposing the natural clay beneath. "I strive to endow each piece, from a simple mug to large sculpture, with a unique and recognizable presence and ultimately earn a place as a contemporary object maker, with respect and in the shadow of those who came before."

Lauren picks up the story:

My father has been a ceramic artist for 40 years. He got his start learning to throw pots while he was attending the University of Washington with my mother, Liza. It was my mother who was studying in the art department while my father was studying fisheries and pursued a brief career. He worked on Lopez Island and joined the Peace Corps with my mother taking them to El Salvador. Inspiration came from primitive patterns, forms, dwellings, and even weaponry.

From my point of view he was always a potter. Everyday he would go out to the clay studio in our backyard, or "The Salt Mines" as he referred to it. Trying to explain what my parents did for work to my friends was always interesting. When I told people that both of my parents were artists it almost felt like I was bragging and everyone was always impressed. It may not actually have been the glamorous life they were imagining, but I love talking about it. My parents both work with clay, have taught ceramic classes at local universities, colleges, and K12 schools.

When we traveled as a family we would go to every art museum, well known gallery and any related events we could possibly fit into the trip. I started going to art fairs and sales with my dad when I was in elementary school and loved being part of this while talking about something I knew so much about. I was also my dad's biggest fan and that hasn't changed. I have always been incredibly enthusiastic talking about his art. Some of my personal favorites include: Wall O'Balls, Viking Bowls (inspired by his own roots), or any of his different container or boxes.

My brother Liam started drawing as soon as he was able to hold a pen, and he was good. To avoid any kind of comparison I chose not to pursue visual art and tried out almost every other genre I could from music, to theater, to fashion. It has only been over the last year and a half, after encouragement from other people in my life, I began making visual art myself. I feel so lucky to have the knowledge and art background I have and will continue to create art.

When I found out that Brimmer & Heeltap had purchased an installation and invited my dad to show some work, I was very excited. It was wonderful that my love and appreciation for my dad's art could be enjoyed by my co-workers and guests.

My parents are now both retired from teaching, but still continue to produce art. They have new work on view at the Northwest Craftsman Show at the South Lake Union UW Medicine Campus, and "Soup's On" Soup Tureens at the Bellevue College Gallery.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The “Jeff’s Cocktails by Jeff” Challenge

We are thrilled to virtually introduce you to our dear friend and regular patron Kathy to the blog. Some of you have been lucky enough to meet this spirited and enthusiastic guest as she often dines with her handsome counterpart Patrick, and their lovely friends Dan & Colleen. They can be spotted at seats 41 & 42 at the bar (or anywhere there's room) and makes friends with anyone near. With a passion for all things epicurious and her day job as a librarian, it seemed fitting she'd pen us a blog post. Enjoy this tale of our beloved departing bartender and his delicious libations. For all the Jeff lovers near and far (there are many), you will find him at the soon-to-open Brambling Cross Tavern opening later this month on Ballard Avenue.


Bummer. Brimmer and Heeltap’s fall cocktail menu came out the same week we learned that Jeff, one of our favorite Seattle bartenders, was moving on to another venue. We’re occasional cocktail drinkers and several of Jeff’s creations are among our favorites. We decided to channel our disappointment: In the next two weeks we’d order all of Jeff’s new cocktails, made by Jeff. The challenge was on.

We’re obliged to begin this post by sharing our spirit preferences. Dan is a brown liquor guy. Bourbon and rye are his favorites, and drinks of choice are manhattans, brooklyns, and negronis. He’s definitely not a fan of scotch. Kathy loves citrus, tequila and brandy, and leans toward margaritas, mojitos, and pisco sours. She only tolerates gin. Neither of us likes anything too sweet or smoky. Last spring’s woodland sour was a drink we both could love. Maybe we’d discover another one. On to see what the new menu had to offer.

On night one we played it safe and ordered by our preferred tastes. I started with the bueno vista social gimlet. (Is this a play on words or did Jeff flunk Spanish? I took French and I still
know it should be buena!) This drink is perfect for the citrus lover, particularly if you love cilantro. Maybe only if you love cilantro, and I fall on that side of the cilantro equation. Two sips into the drink and I quickly put in an order for the chile-lime tapioca chips. What a great match! I was off to a good start. Dan went for the literary reference, the farewell to arms, a smooth rum sour with just a kick from the thai chili tincture. He was pleasantly surprised how much he liked it, despite the fact that it’s a “pretty” drink. (And how serendipitous a Hemingway exhibit had opened that same day in New York City.) Meanwhile, eating the gimlet’s poblano garnish was a bit of a risk, but I loved the idea that there could be a redeeming, nutritional excuse to keep at this challenge. The ample pepper slice wasn’t too too spicy but I was glad for the tapioca chip chaser! We called it a night. Nine drinks to go.

On night two we stayed in safe territory again, me with the peppered pear and Dan with the 1-2, 1-2. The only problem is that Dan doesn’t really like grapefruit. The ¼” garnish slice was less subtle than he’d hoped. We had to keep tasting this one to find words to describe it, settling on bitter on bitter. Dan took out the grapefruit garnish to finish the cocktail, and I ate the salty biting flesh on its own. Delicious! A 1-2, 1-2 punch? The peppered pear, in contrast, was wonderfully refined. You could taste the pear brandy—smooth, the cranberry—tart, and the lemon—sour. The black pepper flakes drifted toward the sipping rim to finish with a little kick. This cocktail rose to the top of both of our lists.

Night three. Dan’s spouse Colleen joined us so we tried three cocktails: the f.f.l., the Milan train station, and once again the farewell to arms. I was excited to see the train station on the menu, as I’d been present last spring for its creation. I was seated at the bar next to European-raised Bettina, who loved the graphic Cynar label that she’d first seen as a teenager, poster-sized, in the Milan train station. Jeff created the drink for her on the spot and we’d all debated the appropriate name. This drink is the perfect sipper for bourbon lovers. Smooth, balanced, and elegant, chilled with an over-sized ice cube. The trouble was that Colleen had ordered what turned out to be Dan’s favorite. His f.f.l. was made from ransom barrel-aged gin, and while it was negroni-like, the gin was less prominent than he prefers. The aperol and cardamaro—a wine-based amaro flavored with cardoon—added a familiar bitter note and red hue, but the train station prevailed, so much so that Colleen accused us of over-tasting her drink. I was enjoying the farewell to arms from the other side of the fire pit. My sip a couple of nights earlier hadn’t delivered the kick this one did, and while it was a well-balanced drink, the peppered pear remained in the number one position for me. The Milan train station rose to the top for Dan. Seven down, four to go.

Colleen joined us again on night four, so we added the mario cipollini into the mix—technically not a part of the Jeff’s cocktails made by Jeff challenge—since Miles created this drink. Our waiter shared that the cipollini was a favorite on the new list and it didn’t disappoint. The six ingredients—gin, red grapefruit liquor, rhubarb liquor, lemon, ginger and salt--seemed to blend into one note, that while pleasing, left it hard to describe. Dan opted for the scotch martianise, one that we’d been avoiding since neither of us ever drink scotch and Dan actually abhors it. Jeff based the martianise on the scotch drink, blood and sand, using a scotch blend and switching out the cherry liquor for fennel. The result was a wonderful surprise. But this lovely orange-hued drink topped with a lacy fennel frond only distracted me for seconds from my heavenly rosemary maple sour with its simple sprig of rosemary. It can be tricky to use just the right amount of rosemary even when cooking, so I held my breath on this one. But it was perfection. The peppered pear and bueno vista gimlet dropped a couple notches on my list.

It seems I’m a little off with all this purposeful drinking and note taking. Just which night did we have the petrol-forward fireside toddy? We avoided it till near the end and we’re both trying to forget it. The citrus peels were its only redemption for our palates, but if mezcal is your thing, this hot sipper could be perfect on a chilly fall night around Brimmer’s new fire pit.

Nine days later we arrived at the final tasting. We knew the apple ginger mule would be refreshing and it was exactly that. Apple brandy is a great fall substitute for the mule! The indian summer was sangria-esque. A little sweet, a little subtle, not quite distinct enough flavors for us. But the surprise that night was the lillehammer, the only drink Jeff had carried over from the summer cocktail menu. Neither of us had had aquavit and we were surprised by the smooth and subtle flavors of rye and caraway when he offered us a tiny sip of it on its own. This Norwegian liquor added to muddled cucumber, lemon and bitters, resulted in an intriguing, refreshing surprise, much like the martianise. As we were finishing dinner, Dan caught Jeff’s attention and asked how he thought the martianise might taste with bourbon. “There’s only one way to find out!” and off he went to make the variation. Yet even after adjusting the fennel liquor to counter the sweeter bourbon, we all agreed the drink was better with scotch. That’s why he’s on that side of the bar, and we can count on being in good hands.

So here’s where we end it. Each of our first and second choices are below, plus our biggest surprise. We can now add the milan train station to our shared list of favorites. Finally, a fond farewell to jeff!

#1 milan train station
#2 farewell to arms
Surprise: scotch martianise

#1 rosemary maple sour
#2 peppered pear
Surprise: milan train station

Monday, July 6, 2015

Family Meal - Guest post by Robert Mauri

The website defines family as follows: “any group of persons closely related by blood, as parents, children, uncles, aunts, and cousins.” It goes on to describe family as “a group of people who are generally not blood relations but who share common attitudes, interests, or goals and, frequently, live together.”

We have the family we are born with and the family that we choose, whether they be people that we have a common interest with, those we have a romantic connection to or those that we choose to spend our time with. For me, both sets of family are an important part of my daily life. Growing up in an Italian-Ukrainian household, a sense of family was important and most evident around the holidays. Food was an important aspect of my upbringing and holidays were the time both sets of family would unite for a big feast.

The thing that I remember most about these meals was that we rarely ate something that you would have at any other point during the year. Most of these meals were cooked by my immediate family and the dishes were elaborate, time consuming and delicious.  I would  count the days until dad was going to make his seafood salad (and looked forward to going to the fishmonger with him to pick everything up) or helping grandma make the pierogis and the smell in the kitchen when mom was browning the onions for hours for her French Onion soup. The memories are as much about the food as the time spent with those preparing it and those who we shared the meal with.

One of the things that differentiated Brimmer from most other restaurants right from their opening was the inclusion of Family Meal as a nightly special - you eat what the crew eats. It is offered daily at 5 pm until it runs out and is not printed on the menu. You never knew what it might be, well except for Sunday during the cooler months when ramen is offered and now during the summer months when it is cold soba noodles with tuna poke. The story behind Family Meal is one that is much more interesting than just the “special of the day.”

In preparation for writing this piece, I spent a week coming in the restaurant for Family Meal - some days it was enjoying the food as a customer with friends and family, others were the opportunity to see what family meal is from a crew perspective and one day it was getting it to go.

Sunday - Ramen by Mike: a big bowl of house noodles and broth with kimchi, soft egg yolk and pork belly

Monday - Pork Stir Fry with Rice by John: pork shoulder with onions over rice, similar to teriyaki but so much better

Wednesday - Smoked Pork Loin Salad by Dallas: grilled potatoes, pickled carrots, greens and mustard seeds

Thursday - Shepherd’s Pie by Chico: hearty without being too dense, topped with mashed potatoes and roasted cauliflower, giving it an extra layer of depth

Friday - Pork Sopes by Chico: orange braised pork, pinto and black beans, topped with a cabbage slaw and pickled mushrooms. I was skeptical about the mushrooms, but they added a nice acidic brightness and made me want to come back for more

Saturday - Biscuits and Gravy by Kai: a crispy but not overly dense biscuit with some of the best sausage gravy that I have ever had. I want this dish for breakfast every day.

Going into the restaurant to share Family Meal with the crew is a very different experience then going into the restaurant during service. Sure, there is last minute preparation going on but it is quieter, you don’t have the din of multiple tables of conversations taking place; but it really is the calm before the storm - there is always a lot to do and not a ton of time to do it before guests walk in the door.

The cooks take turns making family meal and are usually scheduled to each get one night a week. While the menu here tends to have an Asian tilt to it, the cooks are in no way constrained by that - they are allowed to put out whatever dish they want as long as they feel that the rest of the crew likes it and that, since it is going to be available to the public, it meets the same quality standards of anything else that leaves the kitchen. Because of the freedom that the cooks are given, you will see anything from lasagna to fried chicken or shrimp and grits. Family Meal truly provides three things –give the crew an opportunity to eat something filling to help them through a busy night; give both the front and back of the house a few minutes to relax and joke around right before service and give the culinary team an opportunity to showcase their talent.

The primary source of inspiration is the pantry at Brimmer, but they are in no way limited to that supply.  While the cooks have access to a wide range of ingredients, they all seem to have a goal to make their dish from whatever is on hand, sort of like opening up your fridge and deciding to make dinner from what you see there. Once they have taken stock of what they have, they take inspiration from various places. Dallas took his inspiration for the smoked pork salad from the warm weather – he wanted to do something that was wasn’t heavy but was filling at the same time. Chico made a shepherd’s pie because they had recently butchered a side of beef and he decided that he would take the trim and grind it, utilizing leftover potatoes and cauliflower as the topping. Kai made “breakfast for dinner” with her biscuits and gravy.

When I asked John about how he came up with his stir-fry, he told me “You start simple and make it interesting.” It seemed to be a common theme among the cooks. Chico took his simple sopes and elevated it with pickled mushrooms. The rest of the dishes I had that week were elevated versions of familiar and comfortable flavors. Dallas tells me, “You are only as good as your last dish and a lot of thought goes into the process, everyone takes the preparation of family meal seriously.” John echoed those sentiments, adding, “It is a great opportunity to showcase your own take on a dish and some days it is stressful coming up with the dish, other days it is easy.” One thing that the cooks all seem to be in agreement on is that they try not to repeat a dish for Family Meal regardless of how successful it is, staying true to the Brimmer philosophy of not repeating menu items – once they are off, they may come back, but in a different form.

The real challenge for the cooks comes when they serve Family Meal to the rest of the crew. While the few minutes that they share together sitting down and eating involves much joke-cracking and humor, there is also a serious component to it – it is time for the front of the house to become acquainted with the dish and it is an opportunity for the cook who prepared it to get feedback. John tells me “It is a chance to fail, but in a good way.” His stir-fry dish was a good example of the collaboration involved. While the meal was delicious and well-received, John felt that something was missing from the dish. Being able to serve it to the rest of the team lead to a short but constructive conversation about what could be added to round out the plate. For the servers, it lets them know that Brimmer family cares about them and values their input. Miles, one of the bartenders, tells me that the variety offered as Family Meal is important because “you can get sick of eating the same food over and over at other places. It is nice to have a variety of dishes when you are working.” Meredith, one of the servers, echoed the sentiment, adding “You are more likely to push the dish when you really like it.” It is also an opportunity to impress their peers. When I asked the crew on one visit what their favorite family meal was, they almost unanimously told me it was Kai’s Scotch egg. 

Family Meal is in most cases a dish that fits in well with the restaurants shareable plate concept and is a nice compliment to order as part of a meal. Sometimes it is a nice starter sized dish – like the smoked pork loin salad. Other times, it is a full blown entrĂ©e, like the ramen or the shepherd’s pie and is usually priced accordingly – $7 to $12.

Brimmer fits in with my personal philosophy of trying to support the Ballard community. It is a place that my wife and I frequent for a fun evening out sharing multiple plates of food and a couple local craft beers or some interesting cocktails from the bar. Because of the frequency that we visit Brimmer, we do run into the habit of ordering the same things, even when we try to mix up our choice. Family meal gives us an opportunity to add variety to what we are eating and a chance to try a new take on familiar things.

Family meal has also become part of my Thursday ritual - a night to hang out with friends and enjoy some tasty beverages at the multitude of breweries in Ballard. My friend David and I started going to Brimmer at the end of the night after hitting a few breweries because it gave us the opportunity to have some great food later in the evening. This ritual led to the appreciation of just how talented and creative the cooks at Brimmer can be. Sharing a great meal with good friends is something that I have always enjoyed and felt was an important part of my life. Being able to do it at Brimmer made the place feel less like a restaurant and more like sitting around a kitchen table and having someone’s mother make you food. 

Eating Family Meal for a week was an interesting experience – it exposed me to what each member of the kitchen crew is capable of and give me great insight into the story behind what goes into this daily special. The next time that you come in, do yourself a favor and if it’s available, try it regardless of what it is. The cooks work very hard at what they do and really put themselves into what they are making, so take a leap and support them in their endeavor. You can give yourself the opportunity to find out more about the people who are cooking your food and you never know, you may find your new favorite dish and can then beg and plead with the crew to make it again at some point (Please bring back the biscuits and gravy, and the shrimp and grits, and the fried chicken, and the burger….you get the idea).

*Robert and his wife Cheryl are lovely neighbors who take pride in supporting local businesses. You can often find them at the farmers market, volunteering at the Woodland Park Zoo, testing new libations at a local brewery or winery, and cooking with friends.

The entire Brimmer & Heeltap crew would like to thank them for their sincere interest in our team and creations. We hope that you will cross paths with them on your own culinary adventures. You won’t regret it!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Garden Expansion

When I was initially contacted about the property for sale where Le Gourmand had long called its home, I wasn't interested. It seemed smaller than I'd hoped and too compartmentalized for an open floor plan. Other industry comrades had also walked away from making offers. The broker however, keenly suggested that I come down in person to turn her down.

Standing inside the vacant walls, I felt an instant connection. I could see the potential unfolding before my eyes. The bones of the building called out to me as if they were my ancestors.

Lucky for us the outcome was a positive one. We have now lived in the space for a little over a year to witness the seasons, trends, our guests, and their needs. Some of you may have already seen the commotion happening to the rear of the property as construction is underway for us to expand the garden area.

A 400 square foot studio sits to the rear of the garden and at one point sat under the Ballard Bridge. Le Gourmand used it to store their impressive wine collection, dry storage, and office. Until recently, it was our pantry and is now being refurbished to welcome special events, private parties, and seasonal overflow. The new space will have its own bar with interior and covered exterior seating.

We will keep you posted on our progress and look forward to welcoming you to the new digs in early summer.

Thank you for your continued support,