Nick Castleberry just wants to make good food for regular people. The Summit Public House is a good place where regular people hang out—a bar with a tiny kitchen with, until recently, no one in it. Man, meet kitchen; kitchen, man. In a world—even mid-recession—of elaborate plans and build-outs and delays, the meeting of a man and a kitchen that need each other is a beautiful thing. The people needed the man in the kitchen, too. From The Stranger's online reader-reviews: "I would often stop at the Summit after work for a few drinks, but would have to leave because of hunger pains. With Castleberry's there, you will never have to leave the Summit."
Castleberry started out making good food under the mentorship of Matt Dillon, at now-famous Sitka & Spruce on Eastlake. Then he ran the kitchen for a time at Artemis, at the intersection of Bellevue, Bellevue, and Bellevue on the west flank of Capitol Hill. People who ate at Artemis while he was the chef still talk about how good it was, and they wonder what happened. Answer: A couple well-meaning Microsoft guys ran the place. They went through three chefs in about a year. I had a great Castleberry-cooked meal at Artemis that was preceded by sheer chaos in getting seated, then punctuated by a nerve-shattering unexpected flamenco performance—with live percussion—approximately six feet from the table. Castleberry, whom I'd met in passing before, came out of the kitchen looking chagrined and shouted apologetically that he had NO IDEA WHAT WAS GOING ON. He didn't last there much longer. (Artemis was eventually converted to a bar format; it's now known as the Lookout.)
To find Castleberry at the Summit is an unalloyed joy. He's got a spot at the far end of the bar with a wooden box and some chestnuts for decoration, an old-timey beverage jug for a tip jar, and a homemade sign reading "CASTLEBERRY'S / LOCAL REAL FOOD AT THE SUMMIT." He's only open Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, from 6:00 p.m. to midnight (though he's been running out of food early—there's not much room for storage). He sends out the menu via Twitter; one weekend, it was all tacos. Now that he's got an oven—for the first two months, he had only a hot plate and a soup warmer, and he's pretty happy about his used residential electric stove—he's talking about making pizza. Castleberry's is order at the counter, cash only, served mostly on paperware. It's simple, delicious food made with locally grown or foraged ingredients. Nothing costs more than $8.
Last weekend, I had a few Kushi oysters, deep-cupped little sweethearts served on a bed of rock salt in a red-and-white-checkered paper boat. (For accompaniment, I got a small glass of cold Stoli from the bar, belatedly learning that Castleberry was recommending either Guinness or Campari and soda. The Summit has a full bar and 22 beers on tap, ranging from PBR to 10 percent Port Townsend Imperial Stout.) Salad was delicate butter lettuce with chickpeas, slivered almonds, Reggiano Parmesan, and shallot-y green goddess dressing (the remainder of which was swiped up via finger). Soup was red kuri and butternut squash, rich but drinkably thin, buttery, made with a touch of honey. (Someone I barely know e-mailed me about this soup and its honey: "holy cow—can't stop thinking about it—yum.") There were triangles of grilled cheese made with buffalo mozzarella on Texas toast, the cheese making magnificent strings in the air. The truly socks-knocking-off thing was falling-apart beef brisket in a rich-on-rich arrangement with a bed of soft semolina. A few chanterelles were hiding in the deep, savory sauce. Dessert was also available; I was too full. As previously mentioned: Nothing costs more than $8.
It should be emphasized that the Summit is the opposite of a fancy place. It's dark and low ceilinged, like a cave. In wintertime, it's a haven of a very basic, convivial sort, and in summer, it stays cool and dim (in part due to industrial-strength fans that threaten to blow the hair right off your head). Mirrors with the names of beers on them provide ambience, along with a couple incongruously bright mosaic pillars left over from its original tapas incarnation. There are a few hard wooden booths, a pool table, some kegs sitting around. Before you come to Castleberry's at the Summit, you should ask yourself some questions: Do I mind loud music? How about the occasional circling fruit fly? People suddenly shouting about soccer? (Soccer and bicycle racing take precedence on the TVs.) Also: Am I a patient person? Castleberry's at the Summit is, for the time being, a one-man show, and if you're not willing to sit and drink and wait, you are definitely in the wrong place.