The Genuine Article
Calamity Jane's Is Miraculously Satisfying, Especially on Tuesdays
5701 Airport Way S, 763-3040
Mon-Sat 11 am-10 pm, bar open until 2 am Thurs-Sat.
Until recently, a crazy man lived here, filling the rooms compulsively with his own version of valuables, carving paths through the mess. The building itself smelled a little like dread when you walked by. Now it's all shined up, retro-styled. The antique oak bar came from the defunct Georgetown Tavern, or was it the Georgetown Tap? The bartender/server can't remember. They were all told the story when Calamity Jane's opened, she says; it's already receding in the collective memory.
Calamity Jane's sort-of-vintage chandeliers, cowgirl logo, etc., approximate, in a slightly painful way, a certain historic aesthetic in vogue in Georgetown—i.e., that of Jules Maes and the Nine Pound Hammer down Airport Way. (Jules Maes is legit as it's debatably Seattle's oldest saloon; the Hammer does faux-period remarkably well. Georgetown is itself painfully more in vogue by the millisecond: The Georgetown Liquor Company [vegetarian] and the Georgetown Truck Stop [brunch] just opened, and a branch of Via Tribunali [pizza] and a place called Squid & Ink [vegan] are imminent.) The Old West affectation of Calamity Jane's name gets even more extreme on the drink list (Cowgirl Candy, Georgetown Hooligan, Bordello Elixir—"It's our whore's little helper"). But the building's the genuine article (a 1909 hotel), and so is the view out the front windows (of the old Rainier Cold Storage, red brick, beautiful). The scene's neighborly ("Billy bought your first beer," says the barkeep to a guy sitting alone). And what comes out of the kitchen—which, through its door and window, seems lit by its own close-range fluorescent sun—is unpretentious and miraculously satisfying.
Are the Tuesday-night-special barbecued baby back ribs ($14.17), made with sugary-hot Pig Iron sauce, the best in the city? If you like ribs, you'll want to investigate this on Tuesday and every following Tuesday for the rest of time. They pull apart instantly, no yanking. They've been cooked maybe 18 hours (dry rubbed, slow braised, grilled to order). The meat's tender, blackened here and there, perfect. They should come with Wet-Naps; they don't. They do come with an ear of grilled corn and a very tasty side of pork and beans.
The Saturday-night special, New York steak ($15.54, from nearby MacDonald Meats), is also surpassingly simple and good. New York can be a crummy cut. This steak eats like meat, not like a mignon cloud, but it's hefty without chewiness, its uncomplicated grilled flavor augmented by sautéed mushrooms. The Yukon gold mashed potatoes aren't overcreamed or overbuttered or overgarlicked, at first seeming less rich than you'd like, then emerging as possessed of their own pure, vegetative virtue (secret ingredient: one-third cauliflower). Wilted spinach, likewise, is unoily, plain, what it should be.
The house salad ($4.57) was just an average house salad, but a special spinach salad ($8.68) pulled off being on the sweet side with unprecedented aplomb—exactly ripe strawberry halves, toasted almond slices, good-sized scoops of very creamy goat cheese, very-close-to-cloying poppy dressing. While it would've benefited from more red onion, it resembled, in a very positive way, a sundae.
From the regular menu, cornmeal johnnycakes ($2.97/$4.57) are griddled to lacy, served with butter and winey-tasting pomegranate molasses. Burgers ($9.37/$9.83) are messily juicy, better than most, available with Pig Iron BBQ sauce, on substantial ciabatta rolls. The golden-cornmeal-crusted catfish sandwich ($9.14), also on ciabatta, has house-made tartar; spice it up with hot sauce, and all is right with the world. It comes with mayo-based, picnic-style potato salad, with big pieces of hard-boiled egg. Two kinds of shepherd's pie (veggie and non-) sound wintry, promising. The only misstep involved straying from home cooking into Italianate territory, another special "Caparese" salad ($6.84), the tomatoes and mozzarella distinctly unspecial, basil too scant, and balsamic too prominent and oversweet.
It's a beer kind of menu, but a half-dozen decent wine choices are admirably inexpensive. Coffee for dessert comes in a big mug with a spoon in it. Dessert itself (one kind per night, done right) might come all by its lonesome on a small plate, like a triangle of plum tart ($4.11), the fruit shading from gold to garnet to purple, from sweet to sour, on a fantastic shortbready crust. "It's made by our fabulous chef Janice," says the bartender/server. "She's a genius." Agreed.