nder Maximillian Petty’s watch, brussels sprouts emerge from the fryer at the precise point where one person’s “alluringly crisp” becomes another’s “burned AF.” Next, a layer of coconut milk caramel comes on thick with a shower of salt—a sticky base for the kettle corn bits that complete this cross-pollination between roasted brassica and indulgent state fair dessert. Most chefs might stop there. Petty adds a few translucent slices of rosy shoulder bacon, cured in molasses and still warm from the grill.
These kettle corn brussels sprouts are one of the hits at Eden Hill Provisions, his new blush and green bistro atop Queen Anne. But they should look familiar to fans of Petty’s first restaurant. Just two blocks down the street, four-year-old Eden Hill remains the sort of neighborhood spot so good that diners come from across town, and actual neighbors appoint themselves guardians and stakeholders. Back in 2015, the sprouts’ popularity proved problematic. The kitchen had no fryer so Petty used a countertop FryDaddy to achieve that crucial crisp: “You get more than two orders and it’s game over.”
Petty envisioned Eden Hill as a casual hangout where neighbors could drop in for share plates of pig head candy bars, faux chilaquiles that trade chips for cauliflower, and a “spilled” bowl of foie gras cake batter for dessert—dishes wrought by a tinker-prone control freak who deploys wit as a menu-writing tool. But the citizenry of Queen Anne wanted reservations (that drop-in plan lasted a week, says Petty’s wife Jennifer). And diners struggled to choose among so many uncommon dishes. The chef obliged by adding a tasting menu. His capacity for adaptation might have ended there, if the Big Max hadn’t come along.
The cheeseburger born as an Eden Hill staff meal is now the centerpiece of Eden Hill Provisions, which opened in September. Just about every table orders a Big Max; still more customers request it as takeout. During dinner, the expediter calling out orders in the semi-open kitchen utters “Big Max” in a sort of rhythmic repeat that sounds like a super niche techno remix. This technique-driven McDonald’s homage adapts the “two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese” magna carta for an era of dry-aged beef and challah buns. Melting slices of smoked gouda, of all things, delivers a more genuine version of American cheese’s subtle funk and bouncy texture. Petty’s experiments with specific ratios of bacon and brisket sometimes yield patties way thicker than the smash burger original from the Eden Hill days, but carping about this is like dissing on Lizzo’s flute work. The Big Max might conjure drippy memories from your drive-in youth, but it’s actually a maximalist masterpiece in disguise.
Like any self-respecting burger, the Big Max sports a secret sauce, a mustardy version that contains chopped red onions and the tangy undercurrent of finely diced dill pickle. Which doesn’t stop Petty from laying on more, caramelized onions, plus fat pickle coins for crunch. This colossus on a fluffy bun condenses in your hands with a satisfying squish, and comes with shoestring fries so good they’d send Ronald McDonald straight to therapy, not to mention the only housemade ketchup I’ve ever had that didn’t make me secretly lust for Heinz. A few years ago at Eden Hill, the Big Max quietly jumped the counter from staff meal to an off-menu Sunday special, one that saw major traction. Petty’s team took to grilling patties outside, in the alley behind the restaurant.
The chef remembers gazing down the compact bar at 24-seat Eden Hill one Sunday evening last fall, at the diner devouring a towering McDonald’s tribute next to someone halfway through a tasting menu that sometimes ran as many as 22 composed bites. It was incongruous. Running a burger shack, a fine dining destination, and the a la carte bistro of his original dream meant logistics overruled creativity—a bad place to be if you’re a guy who enjoys pairing brussels sprouts with kettle corn. “I wasn’t proud of it after a while,” he says.
As restaurant economics keep driving chefs toward the fast and casual, or the more controlled environment of triple-digit tasting menus, Petty’s a rare one who can get whimsical without making serious diners want to gag themselves with a wave of gratuitous liquid nitrogen. He performs another balancing act that’s way less common. That zeal for invention doesn’t make him too cool to give customers what they actually want.
In the end, there was only one way Petty could fulfill his own ambitions, but also satisfy customers’ desires: Run two restaurants.
This fall, Eden Hill divided like nascent cells, striating into a special occasion restaurant that serves only tasting menus, and the more casual Eden Hill Provisions down the street. Here little kids maraud a gaggle of rocking horses while parents get in a quick negroni during the 5pm family rush, and some favorites from Petty’s earlier menus make a welcome reappearance: those cauliflower chilaquiles, a wedge-like caesar that swaps romaine for the take-charge texture of grilled cabbage, duck liver mousse to spread on pillowy-fried sopapillas rather than plain old bread. But after the burger, Eden Hill Provisions’ sleeper hit might be the chicken nuggets.
“A really good chicken nugget is cutting a circle out of a chicken breast,” says Petty. But then, fancy wasn’t his end game; Petty developed an extensive process to mimic the springy texture of after-school TV snack nuggets, a particular ratio of chicken pureed with emulsified schmaltz. This is chicken deeply secure in its nugget status, and in its golden coating. Eden Hill Provisions is a weird alternate universe where two reasonably sophisticated adults could build a good night off the kids menu and the cocktail list.
Petty’s separation of burger and state also benefits Eden Hill. This toile-wallpapered dining room serves two tasting menus of seven or 13 courses; the latter begins with a scented faux tattoo of an ingredient prominent in the menu. I wanted so much to disparage my temporary tat of thyme—which arrived proffered on a wooden artist palette and already saturated for easy application—as gimmickry, but it’s a spot-on epigram of a meal that commands multiple senses in the name of fun. Petty put Eden Hill’s staff in suits and revamped the wine list to make this feel more like a place where dinner costs $160. I’ve had perfectly lovely tasting menus here over the years. However this focused new incarnation is almost exclusively dishes impressive enough to recall in detail the next morning.
Eden Hill Provisions may amp up a classic Big Mac, but Eden Hill starts its meals with an Oreo that fell in with a Jewish deli: Savory black sesame and kelp cookies sandwich a smear of whipped smoked black cod mousse. Clever isn’t a crutch, however; a nest of spaghetti with uni, truffles, and a shower of nutritional yeast has no subtext, just unabashed luxury. Sure, I’ve got nitpicks. Nobody offered to hang up my coat; servers occasionally bring courses but not utensils; swapping flimsy compostable straws for metal ones would do right by those $16 cocktails. But would someplace more composed lure in that middle-aged diner in goofy rainbow sneakers talking Gonzaga basketball with his buddy over dinner?
Eden Hill’s version of a waldorf salad comes with a molecularly manipulated orb of celery soup, a rare appearance of the modernist tactics Petty once put on swaggering display. Back when he was perfecting that soup spherification technique, he would have scoffed at a future in burgers and chicken nuggets. His cheeseburger creation may have stomped through Petty’s creative aspirations like a secret-sauced Godzilla, but the chef who finds art in making people happy is a genuine pro.