jazz and a grilled cheese sandwich

Green Frog

We finally made it up to the Green Frog this week to see Charlie Hunter and Scott Amendola play. Ten particularly awesome things from the evening:

1. The way Charlie Hunter does something kick ass and mind blowing on the 7 string guitar (he does lead guitar and bass at the same time), then looks around at the audience grinning like “damn, was that cool or what?”

Charlie Hunter at the Green Frog Continue reading

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west coast beer tour

driving the Gorge

We just got back from our annual road trip down to Santa Cruz, and as usual we planned our route to include visiting as many new-to-us breweries as possible. Not hard to do on the west coast these days.

Bert's Pub in Yakima

Our band played a concert in Wenatchee, so we used my parents’ house as our starting point and headed down Hwy 97 to the Columbia Gorge. We stopped for lunch at Bert’s Pub in Yakima, which had some good reviews online. When we got there we realized it was the same space that used to be Grant’s Brewpub, where we’ve played music before. Weird. In any case, they had a great selection of local beers and some surprisingly good food. I had a Bale Breaker IPA and Jon had a Yakima Craft. Continue reading

Guinness chocolate cake

Guinness

For the March issue of Grow Northwest, I offered to write a cooking piece on Irish food. I cleverly sidestepped corned beef and cabbage and soda bread, and instead used it as an excuse to make a really fabulous Guinness-braised pot roast and a lovely batch of buttermilk colcannon. I also made cake.

Guinness chocolate cake

From my research (and my parents’ experience), the real Irish version of Guinness cake is a fruity, spiced teatime sort of thing, rather than a sweet dessert. I remembered Jon making a chocolate Guinness ice cream from David Lebovitz’s ice cream book, and wanted to find a good recipe for chocolate stout cake – I eventually found it in Nigella Lawson’s Feast. And what a cake! We’ve made it twice now, and I think it’ll be in regular rotation in our house. It’s chocolatey but not too sweet, dense and moist, and keeps perfectly, wrapped on the counter, for up to a week. I think it might freeze well but so far we haven’t had enough leftover to try it. It’s very good eaten plain, but a dollop of cream cheese frosting is extremely nice. Continue reading

North Sound Brewing

North Sound Brewingsummer day

Last week I got to write up a review for Cascadia Weekly about our newest local brewery, North Sound Brewing Co. It’s in this week’s issue, check it out!

sampler

I don’t like all of the beer here (it tends towards the sweet and strong), but the Hop Chops IPA and the Bitter Rain ESB are really awesome.

beer and chips

I miss the funky British potato chips they used to have, but there’s nothing wrong with Kettle chips.

Indian takeout

Or a big mess of lamb vindaloo from Pami’s down the road. Or a pizza from Sahara or Pacioni’s, or a burger from the Net, or a picnic from home.

beer on the patio

It’s a fine place to spend a hot Sunday afternoon.

road trip chapter 2: down the coast

airstream

After two great days in Portland we dragged ourselves back into the car and headed south. We drove across to Reedsport, then down the Oregon coast to Coos Bay.

view from the High Tide Cafe

At midday we took a small side trip over to Charleston and had lunch at the High Tide Cafe, which I had heard was reknowned for their clam chowder. It’s a cute place, very much a neighborhood diner sort of vibe, with windows looking over the bay and a fireplace for blustery days. They had some excellent beer on tap and were serving both breakfast and lunch.

chowdah

I got clam chowder, of course. It wasn’t bad – creamy but not too rich, with herbs and plenty of clams and big chunks of potato. Not the best I’ve ever had but very decent. I was pleased that it came with oyster crackers because the slab of white bread that also came along was stale and dull.

jambalaya

Jon got jambalaya. It was pretty good – lots of seafood in a spicy tomato sauce, and a cone of rice in the middle. It did the job, anyway.

7 Devils Road

slow down at the curve

Onward! After a fun, upsy-downsy ride back to 101 on Seven Devils Road, we wound our way down through the redwoods and eventually arrived in Eureka.

Lost Coast Brewery

Our dinner destination here was the Lost Coast Brewery, and as far as I could tell it was everyone else’s destination as well – it was packed.

decor

I was impressed by the decor – lots of weird papier mache heads and monsters. Also a large spider that was attached to the door by a string, so if you look up while the door is closing behind you you’ll see a vast arachnid descending on your head. Fortunately, I never think to look up.

IPA

Our local grocery store carries a lot of Lost Coast beer, and there weren’t a lot of enticing specials. I had a glass of the Indica IPA, then found out that they also had a cask conditioned IPA which I liked quite a lot more. Wish they had mentioned it when we ordered, but oh well.

fish and chips

Food was unexciting. I got fish and chips, which would have been quite good if the fish hadn’t been allowed to sit in a big puddle of its own oil, but unfortunately by the time I got to it it was pretty soggy. The fries were dusted with Parmesan and were tasty but too squishy to be addictive.

sandwich

Jon asked for the “Famous Hot Brown” sandwich, which sounded really amazing (bacon! ranch dressing!) but was sort of blah. Also rather small. It came with a tiny dish of coleslaw on the side. I’ve seldom seen such small portions in a brewpub, which was not at all what I was expecting.

a very nice martini

We felt a little dissatisfied after our dinner, and downtown Eureka wasn’t really hopping (except for the brewery and a carnival down by the waterfront), so we headed back to the Red Lion, where we were staying, and actually had an extremely decent martini. Go figure.

Bear Republic

The next morning we had a very motel sort of breakfast at the Red Lion, then continued down 101 to Healdsburg. It was a beautiful day and all of Sonoma seemed to be screaming out to us to spend lots of money. We avoided a large number of adorable boutiques and wine tasting rooms and eventually found what we were looking for: the Bear Republic brewpub.

Bear Republictoday's beer list

Now this was more like it. The only Bear Republic beers I’ve had before were the Racer 5 and the Hop Rod Rye, both of which I adore. Their house beer list was long, with an equally long specials list, including some single-variety-hops brews that were really interesting. We tried the Aramis and Premiant Rebellions just for the hell of it, but then Jon discovered the Nor Cal Ale and was smitten. I tried the red, which was very good but a little heavy for my mood.

burger

burger

We each got a burger: Jon got a special that had brie, mushrooms and onions, while I got one with a whole grilled green chile and pepper jack cheese. He had green salad with his, while I tried the pasta salad side. We saw fries on neighboring tables and decided we weren’t missing anything, but the burgers and salads were fantastic.

Bear Republic

This place has shot up into my top five brewpubs. We may have to come back someday!

sunlight

That evening we made it to Santa Cruz. Stay tuned for the next installment…

another day, another lamb burger

lamb burger

We finally got around to visiting the Copper Hog pub in Bellingham. Not a bad place at all! Large and bustling, nice decor, lots of natural light, and alarmingly polite service. Good food and beer, too. It made an especially strong impression on us after our disappointment with the Fish Tale Brewpub a couple of weeks ago.

For one thing, we got to sit by a window.

window table

The view was made extra amusing by the fact that some sort of commercial was being filmed on the premises, and groups of people wearing sports scarves were running around screeching for the camera. Even without that, though, it was a nice place to sit.

beer list

The beer selection here is pretty ace. I tried the “Copper Hog Red” made by Flyers in Oak Harbor, and really liked it. Dry and bitter, but with lots of flavor.

fish n chips

It was a forgone conclusion that one of us would get the lamb burger, and Jon won the draw. I got the fish and chips instead, and was happy enough. I was a little put out by the size of the fish fillet – most places would have cut this into two or three pieces. It was so big, and so blazingly hot, I had to eat it with knife and fork, which seemed kind of silly. The schmear of pureed peas on the side was a peculiar but pleasant touch. And the fries were fantastic – hot, salty, nicely crispy on the outside but buttery-soft inside. And served in a reasonable quantity, so I didn’t hurt myself by eating all of them. Not too much, anyway.

lamb burger

The lamb burger was excellent. It was on a good bun, the meat was juicy and nicely cooked, and it had a big blob of chevre on top and a lot of pickled beets. I love pickled beets. It was by far the best lamb burger we’ve had lately.

the Dray

The DrayThe Dray
The DrayThe Dray

It’s always nice to find a new place to drink beer. Not that we have any lack of beer up here in Mount Vernon, but when you’re in need of a place to hang out in the Ballard/Greenwood/Fremont area of Seattle it’s handy to find a good casual beer joint. The Dray on 65th Street is that sort of place – lots of regulars, warm wood walls and fixtures, soccer on the TV at all times, a short sandwich menu, and a really fine selection of beers on draft. The first time we stopped in they had Pliny the Elder, a hard-to-find IPA from Russian River that tends to disappear fast wherever it crops up, despite its slightly high price tag. Last time I was there I had a Green Flash Hop Head Red, an extremely excellent beer for those of us with a taste for the bitter. And they also had the Weed IPA, which I haven’t ever seen outside of the Weed Alehouse. The kegs change pretty briskly, from what I’ve seen, so you never know what you might be able to get there.

Also, there’s a squirrel on the wall of the bathroom. You might want to see it first while sober, so it doesn’t take you by surprise later.

The 30 Day Beer Challenge

The Gospel IPAthe tulip tower

I live in Mount Vernon. It’s a small town in a rural county in northwestern Washington State, built at the site of an old log jam on the Skagit River back in the 1800s. People in Seattle have heard of it, either because they’ve come up here for the annual Tulip Festival or because they’ve driven by on I-5, but most of them never stop in town. Which means that it’s still rather a well-kept secret that our small downtown is one of the best places to drink beer of, well, pretty much anywhere.

Porterhouse

We have two breweries, Skagit River and North Sound. Then there are the pubs: the Empire Alehouse, the Trumpeter Public House, and the Porterhouse. All have multiple rotating taps, as many as twenty-one at a time, almost entirely West Coast microbrews. From our house we can walk to four of these pubs and drink some of the best beers available. It’s pretty sweet.

Last year, wanting to raise awareness of the local beer possibilities, encourage responsible drinking and promote downtown businesses, our friends Lyra and Ryan Morrison attempted something they dubbed the 30 Day Beer Challenge. The idea was to drink a different beer every day in March, staying within the downtown area of Mount Vernon. Given the options, it was extremely easy. So this year they’re doing it again, with a twist – they can’t repeat any of the beers tasted last year. And they’re bringing in some help, including us.

the Beer Challenge Team

Every day this month, at a predetermined pub, representatives of the Beer Challenge will show up and drink their chosen beer. A brief review will be submitted to the team leader for online publication and discussions will be held on the beer’s merits (or just beer in general), with public participation encouraged. You can follow along on Facebook, Twitter or by text. Or you can just come out and have a beer with us. Jon and I will be at the Empire tomorrow night, March 3rd, and at Skagit Brewery on the 24th (not to mention our band playing at the Empire on St. Patrick’s Day – and there’s a special local beer release that night, too). What beers will we be tasting? You’ll have to wait and see.

beer borsch

borsch

I tend to make pretty chunky borsch – I like the smooth kind served cold with a bit of vinegar stirred in, but I also like a big hearty soup with pieces of beet and potato and beef and plenty of cabbage, and that’s the sort we usually have at home. I usually use beef or lamb broth for the base, if I have any, and dill as the main seasoning. And sour cream on top, of course.

borsch

This particular batch had a slightly different flavor than usual, as I braised the beef in beer before assembling the rest of the soup, instead of using broth. A friend brought a growler of excellent locally-brewed stout to our holiday party this weekend, and I wanted to use some of it up. I seared the beef stew meat with onions, added a cup of stout, and let it simmer covered for an hour and a half while I roasted the beets and sliced the cabbage. I topped up the soup pot with a little water and added everything else, then let it cook another half hour or so. It was a really good borsch, and the beer made it less sweet and a bit earthier. A slice of buttered rye bread would have been the only thing to make it better.