Sipping spirits at the Old Ballard Liquor Co. (OBLC) is a quintessential in-the-know Seattle experience. The nanodistillery, tucked just off the Ballard Bridge across from the Ship Canal, pays homage to Old Ballard’s Scandinavian heritage with its line of caraway-flavored Scandinavian aquavits. And in true Scandinavian fashion, the tiny distillery now serves food to go with them.
Ballard-raised chef Justin Newstrum (formerly of Portage Bay Cafe and Harvest Vine), along with OBLC owner and distiller Lexi, has curated a small menu of inventive, seasonal Nordic bites to accompany the aquavits. Fresh red currants add visual beauty and sprightly acidity to smoked lamb tartare ($12) with alder and juniper. Herrings bord ($13), a plate of five different kinds of herring, is so fresh and expertly prepared, it will erase memories of grandma’s slimy creamed variety. While weekends offer the largest selection, the three “bords”—cheese, charcuterie and the herring—are always available.
The dining space is tiny and industrial (I wouldn’t even call it a cafe), with eight–12 seats at a communal table. With the opening of Ballard’s new Nordic Heritage Museum in early 2018, the OBLC is poised to become even more culturally—and culinarily—relevant. Must order: Svea Bakery cardamom sweetbread ($5). 11 a.m.–7 p.m. Fri.–Sun. and daily in Dec. Ballard, 4421 Shilshole Ave. NW; 206.858.8010; oldballardliquorco.com