The wall of menus makes for great reading material for solo diners.

Question: What do you get when you cross a front-of-house industry vet with a chef trained in the kitchens of Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi?

Answer: Brimmer and Heeltap, the Ballard bistro-bar hybrid that opens officially in the old Le Gourmand space at 425 NW Market St on Wednesday, January 15.

Seattle native and former Tasting Room manager Jen Doak has had the idea for her gastropub for three-plus years, but things really started to come together in 2013, when she fell in love with the space left empty by the closure of Bruce Naftaly’s popular destination restaurant (and its adjoining bar, Sambar). Mike Whisenhunt, who helped open the original Joule and has been most recently holding down the fort at Revel, was her first choice as chef. “We balance each other out in really positive ways,” Doak says.

The wall that separated Le Gourmand and Sambar was (mostly) knocked out to open up the space, a bar was built on the north wall, and some personal flourishes were added: a wall of menus Doak’s collected around town and had memorialized by dinner party members and kitchen staff; a floor laminated in 75,000 pennies from friends and family; a bold pop of turquoise bench cushions against a sea of white paint and reclaimed wood. You’ll still be able to feel “the good juju of yesteryear,” as Doak puts it, without being nostalgic about what you’re missing.

The restaurant’s been super softly open for a couple of weeks now—“to get our sea legs,” Doak says—but the official opening is slated for next week. Hours going forward will be 5-midnight (with the potential for later hours down the line) daily, except for Tuesdays. And though Doak says she and Whisenhunt are on a “teeter-totter of nerves and excitement,” it reads as mostly infectious enthusiasm—I can’t help but love this place, and I haven’t even eaten there. Here are a few of the top reasons to get excited:

It’s all in the name. Brimmer and Heeltap may sound like the latest in a string of seemingly nonsensical restaurants names, but there’s a pretty good story here. Doak found the terms in a book called Schott’s Food and Drink Miscellany, a collection of random culinary factoids, terms, and oddball trivia. Both British terms, “brimmer” refers to a glass that’s full almost to overflowing, “heeltap” to the last dregs at the bottom. So Brimmer and Heeltap is a reference to all the conversation and shared meals that happen between a full glass and an empty one. A suitable title for a space built for community.

But it’s not a British pub. No, really. Some early press for Doak’s project alluded to B&H being a UK-style drinking hall first and foremost—we may even have been guilty of that—and that couldn’t be further from the truth. Yes, there’s booze and food. And yes, Doak says she loves the “convivial spirit” of the bistros, pubs, and enotecas of Europe. But the comfort food here has a bright, slightly Asian twist—thanks to Whisenhunt’s culinary background—and there’s more to the bar menu than just pints.

Service is making a comeback. From the time the the idea for B&H started swirling, Doak says she’s been offering to serve for friends around town; over the years she’s put in time at Ray’s Boathouse, Taste, and Tilth, and she helped open Marination Ma Kai and Agrodolce. (Her friend Maria Hines even gave her the castoff dining chairs from Tilth—refinished and repainted to fit the space.) This girl knows how to treat her guests right. So while the restaurant is über casual and surprisingly affordable, I’m just guessing you’re going to receive fine-dining-quality service. “The thing I find most compelling is that we’re privy to every sort of social interactions—birthdays, breakups, first dates, anniversaries, business meetings,” Doak says. “We’re a part of all of that.”

You can partake in family meal without washing any dishes—unless you want to. A priority of both Doak and Whisenhunt was ensuring the staff ate well before working long days: “If we eat well, you eat well,” Doak says. “Family meal has always been a disappointment, kind of sad,” adds Whisenhunt. Instead of using what was about to expire or leftovers from the prior day’s service, the chef decided to put family meal first—and put it on the menu. You’ll see it only on the late-night menu, offered 10-midnight, and it’ll change daily—big bowls of simple food like pork ramen with six-minute egg or spicy beef stew over rice for around $8.

Don’t worry about eating alone. Doak’s a big advocate of solo dining, and her one influence on the menu was that she insisted there be plates of varying sizes, so you could eat as well by yourself as you could with a group. Consequently, you’ll see entrees served in two portion sizes—Doak says even the small could be a suitable meal for a light eater. Pull up a seat to the bar, order a Ballardvardier cocktail—or a rum and Coke, since Doak swears they want people to order whatever they feel like from the full bar—and work your way through crab trifle, lardo, braised turnips, and steak tartare. Without any of that pesky small-talk.


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