The Lady, the Gerald, and Hunger
Three Brand-New Places with Booze and Food
(2308 E Union St, 695-2072, daily 4 pm–1:30 am)
Look, nothing's going to replace Thompson's Point of View. Back in its heyday, Thompson's was a Central District soul food mecca, a place to grab a plate of Hallelujah wings, mac and cheese, and collard greens, and listen to some decent live funk music. When Thompson's was good, it was very, very good. But when Thompson's was bad, once Deano's on Madison closed and the unsavory crowd rolled downhill, it became spectacularly horrid. It was hard to feel bad when the bar, a shadow of its former self, finally closed.
Thankfully, Twilight Exit owner Stephan Mollmann didn't try to evoke Thompson's when he opened the Neighbor Lady with former Twilight bartender Shira Bray in the old Thompson's space. Instead, the Lady is whorehouse-themed, with heavily patterned wallpaper, comfortable burnished-wood booths, and a framed photo of Josephine Baker. To try to match Thompson's soul-food-and-funk ambience would be a catastrophe. (Not that the Lady is a totally original idea: The bar is named and, one supposes, patterned after a bordello-themed bar in Amsterdam.) The Lady's patrons look like a snapshot of the Central District as it is today—way more racially mixed on any day of the week than your standard Capitol Hill bar (although the '80s hair-metal soundtrack grates and feels out of place here).
Mollmann and Bray fashioned the Lady as the Twilight's healthier younger sister. The menu is more than just vegetarian friendly; it's vegetarian-fluent. The centerpiece is the house-made walnut-lentil loaf ($11), two thick cuts of a grainy loaf soaked in mushroom gravy with a side of creamy mashed potatoes and crisp sautéed zucchini slices. It's a satisfying dish that doesn't try to mimic the flavor of beef but successfully adopts its stick-to-your-ribsiness. Lucky carnivores will encounter the Lady on a night with the Greek sliders special ($10), a plate of three tiny, juicy lamb patties served on potato rolls with herbed feta and pickled peppers. (There are other meaty meals, too, including a Reuben [$10] that gets the corned beef just right but frustratingly doesn't serve up enough of it in each sandwich to please Reuben traditionalists.) But there's more than enough good-old-fashioned pub food for vegetarians and carnivores: Everyone in the universe can agree that a heaping plate of crosscut fries ($5) is the best thing ever. PAUL CONSTANT
(5210 Ballard Ave NW, 432-9280, Tues–Fri 4 pm–close, Sat–Sun 10 am–close)
The Gerald is part of the explosion of fancyish bars and restaurants in Ballard, and there's no use hating it just because you want Ballard to stay Ya Sure, Ya Betcha forever. That war is long lost. So I ventured with a Ballardite inside the Gerald to see if it was worth loving.
The decor is 1960s-inspired—wood paneling, mirrors, plaid carpet, orange, sleekness. There are lots of hexagons. "Feels like a beehive in here," marveled the Ballardite. The seating accommodates any manner of party, with cute small tables, a long bar, and a cozy back room. Low-backed booths sit on a raised platform. It's too well-lit for scandal or secrets, but perfect for giving mysterious looks. The other diners and drinkers did not seem very, well, Ballardy. Which is nice, in a way: Where are young ex-Belltowners who've suddenly found themselves in a hip updated fishing village supposed to drink?
Fears about possible snobbery were destroyed in a lovely fashion by our server, who said, when we considered ordering "everything," that she herself was doing just that. "I just ordered a grilled cheese and macaroni and cheese, and I'm going to eat them both," she announced cheerfully. We ordered a small smorgasbord and were not disappointed. Dottie's mac and cheese, adapted from one of the owner's grandmother's recipe and made with Beecher's sharp cheddar, elicited groans and cursing (of the appreciative kind). The maple chicken waffle sliders were discussed with a wistful fondness the next day; perhaps they appeared in our dreams. A Brie grilled-cheese sandwich with sliced pears oozed delightfully. Poutine, while rather small in portion and a bit limp, was not oversoaked with gravy. Apple slaw was too sweet; pigs in blankets, whose sausages are reportedly house-made, were bland. Manager Alice Phipps (formerly of superfancy Coi in San Francisco) says they source as much as possible locally, including their liquor, and highly recommends the weekend brunch. It's a great place to wear last year's Mad Men Halloween costume on a third date. It remains to be seen if Ballard will fall in love. ANNA MINARD
(3601 Fremont Ave N, 402-4854, daily 4 pm–close, Sat–Sun brunch 10:30 am–2:30 pm)
Hunger's new digs in Fremont are what you might call childproof industrial: The snaking wood bar and tables feature an odd (but spill-friendly) laminated glaze, lightbulbs are ensconced in trendy construction cages that hang from the ceiling like mobiles, and the spacious layout easily accommodates families with strollers and high chairs. Hunger reopened in the old Dad Watsons space two months ago, and on a recent Wednesday night, there were half as many babies as adults in the room. The babies were having a blast.
If you're not a baby, the experience is a mixed bag—especially if you're hungry. The menu echoes the ideals of every other menu in town—local, seasonal, and sustainable—with a Mediterranean influence. But half the dishes were poorly executed and not worth the price. I had high hopes for the green gazpacho with crab and citrus salsa ($9), but it was incredibly watery—including the crab—and it would have benefited from a generous pour of salt. And while the seared fresh tuna with a chimichurri crust and smoked tomato sauce ($15.50) was well seasoned and perfectly seared, it came served on a bed of undercooked beans.
After ordering two bum courses, I asked my decidedly great bartender, Greg, to recommend some dishes, and he came through: The chorizo and bacon-stuffed dates ($12.50) served with a balsamic reduction, smoked paprika oil, and blue-cheese ice cream (!) were plump and tender as baby toes. Meanwhile, the Holy Smokes burger ($17) featured a tender and flavorful blended chuck, brisket, and short-rib beef patty topped with bacon, chipotle Gouda cheese, and traditional burger fixins. (Note: While tasty, it was not $17 worth of tasty.)
Aside from its personable and prompt waitstaff, Hunger's strengths are its alcohol list and dessert menu—in fact, you're better off skipping dinner entirely and stuffing yourself with booze and sugar. The light, creamy, and not-too-sweet lemon mascarpone custard with edible flowers ($8) was amazing. And you can't go wrong with their signature dessert: liquid chocolate cake topped with salted caramel and toasted marshmallows.
Pair your sugar bowls with the Maple Old Fashion ($9), which nicely balances sweet maple syrup with tart orange bitters, or order a drink off the virgin list—like the Columbus Cooler (pineapple, cilantro, lemon, cucumber, $5) or the Fremontonian (grapefruit, lavender, lemon, mint, $5)—and de-virginize it with a shot of tequila or gin. You'll be happily slurping those suckers down like a dehydrated mule all night. CIENNA MADRID