When I moved to New York City a decade ago, I couldn’t believe how bad they had it. Oh sure, they’ve got Mario Batali, Daniel Boulud and so many other of the country’s best chefs. They’ve got world-class service, a genius on every corner, yada yada. But when it comes to what’s really important in life—craft beers, on tap!—I’ve got news for you, folks: The beer selection back east was dreadful.
It turns out that I’d gotten spoiled. Seattle brews some of the best beer in the country, and our restaurant and bar owners do a knockout job of showing it off. I’d learned to expect a minimum of a half-dozen local microbrews on tap at any self-respecting watering hole. And I’d learned to expect pub food made with extra care.
With our recent resurgence of craft breweries (and their tiny little brothers, the nano-breweries), I figured it was a great time to do some more thorough, ahem, research. So I recently made my way around town in search of pubs with a stellar local beer selection and exceptional food. And I didn’t have to look hard.
Porterhouse [closed December 2011], in the Admiral District of West Seattle, opened two years ago to little fanfare, but it’s a true gem for local beer drinkers: General manager Krista Maes oversees the 25 taps of mostly Washington microbrews (the rest are West Coast brews) showcasing local favorites such as Schooner Exact (SoDo), Georgetown Brewing, Flyers (Oak Harbor), Anacortes Brewery and American Brewing (Edmonds). Plus, there are always two nitro ales (filtered but unpasteurized) and one cask ale (unfiltered and unpasteurized) on tap.
Having gone twice now, I already recognize the regulars bellying up for pints and I can’t wait to go back; the place is easygoing and neighborly. Bartenders are quick with samples of beers on tap and they pointed me straight to the excellent lamb burger, a whopping half-pounder cooked to order, juicy and delicious on a Macrina bun ($11) and served with thick, hand-cut steak fries.
Kids are welcome in the roomy restaurant half of the pub; there’s a light-drenched bar with tall bar tables and a curving wall of windows for grownups. Either way, I recommend eating like a kid by ordering the truly great hand-dipped corndog ($6), made with a kosher dog.
If you prefer your local brews with a raucous noise level (because this place is loud), then Tom Douglas’ 21-and-older Brave Horse Tavern in South Lake Union is a terrific choice. Eighteen brews on tap—a list overseen by “beer czar” Warren Peterson—include Silver City (Silverdale), Big Al’s (White Center), Chuckanut (Bellingham), plus brews from West Coast breweries like HUB (Portland), and Bear Republic (Healdsburg, California).
You’ll have to share a table (nearly all the seating is at long communal tables), but it’s worth it for the impressive pub food: It is, across the board, delicious. Malt-boiled pretzels served with irresistibly retro pimento cheese dip ($6); outstanding burgers dripping with homemade barbecue sauce and mayo, and topped with iceberg lettuce, for only $6. Celebrate slamming the door on bathing-suit season with a bratwurst plate ($11), a snappy sausage on top of creamy mashers, with the seasonal brew (or two) of your choice to wash it down.
With 64 beers on tap (28 are from West Coast breweries, seven of which are devoted to Washington brewers) not to mention the 300–400 other beers it offers in bottles, Fremont’s Brouwer’s Cafe is Mecca for the beer obsessed. Thanks to director of operations Matthew Bonney, you’ll regularly find cult favorite Black Raven (Redmond), Port Townsend Brewing, Chuckanut (Bellingham) and Maritime (Ballard) brews on tap here.
There’s also a full menu of foods meant to be paired with the beers: mussels steamed in Belgium white beer and cream ($14.50), house-made sausages over spaetzle ($11) and specials like the deconstructed rabbit pot pie ($16), an autumnal dish that suits the season (and the cozy, dimly lit atmosphere inside the gothic 21-and-older pub) nicely.
When great food that goes far beyond your standard pub fare is the priority (but beer is still of utmost importance), there’s really only one place to go: Quinn’s. Scott and Heather Staples’ (also of Restaurant Zoë and Uneeda Burger) self-ascribed “gastropub” was great when it opened four years ago, suffered a bit of a slump a year or so ago, but is back in top form if my recent visits are any indication. The menu is a greatest-hits parade of fancified pub food, all salty, spicy, fried and fun to eat: pig-face nuggets (shredded pork patties fried in a light batter with a spicy aioli for dipping, $10) and a soft pretzel with Welsh rarebit (essentially, a really tasty cheese dip, $6).
Oktoberfesters should order the chorizo pork with masa gnocchi and corn brûlée ($17) or the reliably top-notch fish and chips, made with fresh rock fish and served with great fries ($14). And to drink: a pint from bar manager Matthew Cannelora’s list, which often includes local microbrews from Odin Brewing Company, Silver City Brewery and Georgetown Brewing. Or two pints. Or three (who’s counting?). A beer belly is nothing to be ashamed of, as long as you come by it honestly.
Brave Horse Tavern
South Lake Union
310 Terry Ave. N
400 N 35th St.
2329 California Ave. SW
1001 E Pike St.