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Pike Brewery Expansion is Good News for Oyster Lovers

By Ronald Holden

Last month, the venerable Pike Place Market kicked off a major modernization program, the first in its history, with a new "Market Front" space overlooking Western Avenue just across the Joe Desimone bridge. (Desimone was the Neapolitan immigrant farmer who took over the market, one stall at a time, from its original owners, the Goodwin family; his farmland along the Duwamish became Boeing Field.) At the same time, the Pike Brewery wrapped up its biggest expansion in two decades. Technically, the brewery isn't in the official Market at all but in the adjacent Lasalle Hotel building, so it was possible to get the necessary permits. And just in time, too, according to owners Rose Ann and Charles Finkel (photo by Ronald Holden).

Pike had been at its maximum brewing capacity for years, 12,000 barrels a year (fourth or fifth biggest brewery in the state) with 17 fermentation tanks plus a 300-seat brew pub. Now they've added six more tanks, increasing production capacity by 30 percent. And another 150 seats in a new restaurant called Tankard & Tun.

The name is "a toast to the timeless drinking tankard" as well as Pike's brewing vessel (known as a mash tun), which is on display from the restaurant and adjacent brew deck. If you've never had oysters and beer, that's because you've been brought up on sauv blanc and pinot gris and the notion of "oyster wines." Thanks, Jon Rowley, oyster-wine guru, but beer predated wine when it came to pairing with oysters. Porter in particular. Try it at happy hour, weekdays from 4 to 6, or after 10, when the bivalves are only two bucks apiece.

Tankard & Tun's menu emphasizes Northwest seafood, with a focus on pairing Pike's beers with small plates, including a $17 surf & turf plate of short ribs and octopus. (Pike long ago outgrew the "craft" designation, as you can imagine.) The restaurant's design, by Baumgardner Architects, includes an oyster bar and a brew deck.

Leading Tankard and Tun's culinary team is chef Gabe Spiel, a local kid who's been promoted from the ranks of Pike Brewery cooks just down the stairs. I only wish the kitchen enforced the discipline needed to produce proper fish & chips: season the fish lightly with salt and pepper, dredge it in cornstarch (or egg-wash and flour), dip it in the batter, then deep fry it. On a recent visit, the anonymous line cook omitted the pre-batter dredging, with a predictable result: the golden beer-batter breading fell right off. The fish itself was delicious, but part of the fun is supposed to be the crunch of eating breaded fish, not just steamed rockfish. Still, two generous pieces of fish, homemade fried tomato ketchup, and a modest $10 price tag.

As for the $2 happy hour oysters, they were superb. Succulent, flavorful, and expertly shucked, they came from the waters of Drayton Bay, a shallow inlet that borders the town of Blaine. Some 15 years ago, the bay and its harbor were a disgrace, but the community got together to restore it, and today it offers some 600 acres of oyster beds. Tankard and Tun oysters are served with a side of lemon zest and a huckleberry mignonette enlivened with Pike Monk's Uncle (a Belgian Tripel). What to drink with all this? Pike's own XXXX Stout, my friend. Each menu item is accompanied by two recommendations, by the way, a conventional "complement" (Kilt Lifter with mussels, for example) as well as a less obvious "contrast" (the Double Hoppulus with purple asparagus). Altogether, the menu is short but ambitious. You don't often find sea beans on local menus, even though they're quite plentiful. Local mushrooms (from Foraged & Found) are paired with pork belly; the surf & turf is octopus and more pork belly. The beef short rib is a 16-hour braise; there's also a bouillabaisse in a fragrant tomato-saffron broth with fennel, prawns, rockfish, salmon, and mussels.

Photo courtesy of Tankard and Tun

Tankard and Tun isn't a beer hall like the brewpubs on Capitol Hill (Stout, Rhein Haus, Optimism) or downtown (Yard House, Tap House), or even, for that matter, like the Pike Pub right downstairs. The tables fit into nooks and crannies of a larger industrial space, as one might expect with retrofitted quarters. What helps a lot are the knick-knacks. The Finkels have always collected beer and brewing memorabilia, which they show off in the brew pub downstairs; their trove of tankards (ceramic, pewter, serious, whimsical) now take pride of place at Tankard and Tun (photo by Ronald Holden).

Toppy, by the way, is my own name for the octopus, which holds a tankard in the logo. I could have called him Topper, a TV show from the 50s (based on a movie from the 30s) with a lead character called Cosmo Topper, but he was always smoking.

Seattle DINING! has posted several stories (click here) over the years about the extraordinary saga of the Finkels, from their origins in the Midwest, where Charles ran a wine shop, to their meeting with wine historian Leon Adams (who told them to check out the Yakima Valley, which led to their eventual move to Seattle), to Charles's career at Chateau Ste. Michelle and Rose Ann's venture into gourmet retail (Truffles, in Laurelhurst), to their launching the country's first craft beer importer (Merchant du Vin), to turning a hobby supply shop (Liberty Malt) into a commercial brewery. That would be plenty of success for most couples, and indeed the Finkels did step back, "retire," and spend several years bicycling around Europe. When they eventually returned to Seattle, they decided to buy back their brewery and give it a new lease on life. I suppose Tankard and Tun can be seen as a grandchild, almost unbearably cute and cuddly. Fix the fish and chips and put a cot in the corner; I'll gladly move in.

August/September 2017

Ronald Holden's latest book, "Forking Seattle," is a critical guide to local food and drink.

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