So Seattle Magazine recently published their Reader’s Choice ballot for the annual Best Restaurants issue in April. You can place your votes right over here, if you’re into that kind of thing. Perusing the ballot got me thinking – in a year absolutely dominated with big name openings, who will actually be crowned Best New Restaurant? Poppy? The Corson Building? Spring Hill? I guess technically it’s been a little over a year, but I would still be quick to nominate chef Scott Staples’ inimitable gastropub Quinn’s on Capitol Hill. In fact it’s hard to believe that this spacious, unspeakably hip destination for Belgian ale and a side of bone marrow hasn’t always existed there on the corner of 10th and Pike. It already seems like an institution.
Quinn’s was immediately mobbed upon opening, and gained some notoriety for its no reservations policy. Shoulder-to-shoulder waiting room only, an impossible crush of people held back by a single pair of indigo, velvet curtains (a clever mirror image of the curtains in the vestibule at Staples’ other joint in Belltown, Restaurant Zoë). Things have eased up a bit now, and Quinn’s has recently added a lunch menu so you can get your wild boar sloppy joe fix earlier in the day if need be. And that sloppy joe is most definitely worth the wait – rich, ground chunks of mellow pork in a creamy tomato sauce with crispy shoestring onions on a beautiful, buttery hamburger bun… oh my god. If you’re lucky, maybe it will be garnished with a great big fried jalapeño. Regardless, you’re going to need a knife and fork to get through it. And a glass of Grimbergen served in the appropriate stemmed goblet, which you should duly appreciate.
Malty, tangy and a little sweet, Belgian ales are considered the best beers in the world, and the drink menu at Quinn’s has them in full effect. Abbey? Trappist? Lambic! This is one of the few places I know where you can actually order a Geuze at the bar – but be forewarned, you’re going to pay for the privilege (we’re talking $14 for 375mL of Oud Beersel). Local microbrews are also given their respect due, and on the weekend the bartender will actually pull you a pint from a featured cask (recently, on the coldest day of the year, Deschutes Black Butte Porter was on offer to warm my stomach and my soul).
I can’t emphasize enough how well these exceptional beers pair with the meaty delights on the menu – from frog legs to oxtail to rabbit ragout, if it once scampered on four legs, it’s now on a plate for your pleasure. I’m crazy about Staples’ house made pork sausage, served over lentils or German potato salad or whatever else might be seasonal. Juicy, satisfying, spectacular. Being a proper gastropub, French fries are ubiquitous across the assorted plates, but Quinn’s version of poutine is particularly unique – double-fried frites covered with demi-glace and fontina. You won’t get these in Montrèal. There’s also beer battered fish & chips on the menu. You might be tempted, but skip it. It’s out of place, it’s kind of bland, and Pike Place Fish Fry is right across the street so you really have no excuse. On the other hand, do not overlook the easily overlooked soup. On the aforementioned coldest day of the year, I had a bowl of puréed potato and leek soup with bacon and chives that was out of this world. Silky and hot, with the most perfect balance of salt I’ve had in a single dish this year. Take notice.
The scene at Quinn’s is somewhat requisite to the experience, which you would probably expect from the location. But be it all or none, from the pure energy of a weekend evening to the quiet reflection of a subdued afternoon, it doesn’t matter – the music will always be perfect. I mean, they have Louder than Bombs on rotation. Nothing makes me happier than staring out massive floor-to-ceiling plate glass windows at the denizens of my City while enjoying a pulled pork sandwich and a glass of Maudite with the motherfucking Smiths playing in the background.
Like Café Presse or How to Cook a Wolf, I credit Quinn’s with revamping the restaurant landscape of Seattle and simultaneously capturing my heart. I can’t wait to see what the New Year brings… (Anchovies and Olives, anyone?)