What's Happening on Beacon Hill
Bar del Corso Makes Fancy Pizza Where a Dive Bar Used to Be
The Beacon Pub was a dive. I never went there, but everyone who did agrees. "That place was a dive," a friend reports. "It was not a dangerous dive, more like a neighborhood hole that didn't care. Tacky paper cutout beer signs, slightly greasy, shaggy dudes pulling tabs." My friend saw bands there from time to time, and he liked it very much.
The Beacon Pub is gone. In its place is Bar del Corso. Bar del Corso is not a bar and definitely not a dive; it's a place for wood-fired pizza, made with local/seasonal ingredients. (On the specials chalkboard recently: prosciutto and melon with "Beacon Hill king figs.") It's light and airy, with hardwood floors and windows all across the front. Bar del Corso does have a bar on one side of the room, serving Italian wines, aperitivi like cherry-basil limonata or a Cynar spritz, and beers on tap including Moretti and organic Fish Tale Pale Ale. In a symbolic and possibly sentient act, the imported-from-Italy tiled pizza oven broke the sidewalk while being moved in.
Down the street, you can eat home-style Filipino food at brightly lit Inay's (and maybe catch an amazing one-person drag show done by the server), you can get really good catfish at a Shell station, you can go to family Mexican restaurant Baja Bistro (or to its everyone-welcome-especially-gays-on-Wednesdays bar). On the same block as Bar del Corso—where you'll find tidy houses with peeling paint and unlandscaped yards—there's also Yoga on Beacon. It's happening, and it cannot go unsaid: gentrification. (The owners of the Beacon Pub went looking for cheaper rent; they opened a new bar called Orcas Landing—reportedly a lot less divey—in Hillman City.)
And people—a lot of people—have been waiting, apparently, for a place like Bar del Corso. There's a 45-minute wait for a table on a Thursday night at 7:00 p.m., and people will be crammed in by the front door for most of the night. (While the service is generally very nice here, the woman running the list—they don't take reservations—informs you of the delay in a manner that makes you feel like she wishes you'd just go away.) Neighbors run into other neighbors, little kids jump up and down. The ambient din won't begin to subside until after nine. Jerry Corso—the owner, and a beloved and respected figure in Seattle cooking, with behind-the-scenes experience at Cafe Lago, Harvest Vine, and Campagne, among other places—comes by to sympathize, briefly, and see if you want a drink. He's not working the room, he's just working—all night, he'll be hand-tossing pizzas, clearing tables, carrying a broom, doing whatever needs to be done.
A guy from New York and his friend who lives here, downtown, are waiting out on the sidewalk. They've eaten Neapolitan-style pizza from Vancouver to San Francisco. The New Yorker hasn't been to Delancey in Ballard yet, but he's heard about it; he derides Di Fara in Brooklyn as overpriced, and says the place on 11th and Howard in San Francisco is the best. He lets it be known that he has a chef friend who knows Jerry (of course); the word "foodie" is deployed. These guys wouldn't have been caught dead anywhere near the Beacon Pub.
These guys end up sitting at the table next to us. The New Yorker takes photos of their food. They devour a special, grilled octopus with borlotti beans ($9)—I had this a week before, and while the beans were a bit underdone, the octopus was pliant and tasty, with nice charred edges, and the rich, tomatoey sauce was excellent. Our neighbors save their plate with its leftover sauce to push their pizza crusts through.
Meanwhile, we're eating a ramekin of baccalà ($10)—a dip made of salt cod, potato, garlic, and Parmigiano—and it's creamy, warm, and fully delicious smeared on grilled bread. Clams ($7.50) are tiny and tender and a little spicy-hot, though the broth in the bottom isn't worth sacrificing bread for. A beet and apple salad with frisée and hazelnuts ($8) is good, but a gourmand would knock it for not transcending the sum of its parts. I'm wishing I'd gotten the heirloom tomato one again—a huge portion of varicolored beauty, sprinkled liberally with sea salt, with a big blob of oozing burrata ($9). Another thing I'd eat over and over: the suppli al telefono ($5), which must mean snacks to eat while talking on the phone—I love you, Italians—and translates to an especially great version of the fried rice balls with mozzarella in the middle that you get at East Coast pizzerias.
So how was the pizza? The New Yorker says it needs more salt in the crust; same with the octopus, that needed a little more salt, too. Overall, "Pretty good," though, he declares. It would be impolite to disagree with an expert, so I emphasize that our pizza—the salame piccante ($12), with Alps salami and roasted peppers, on a base of sparing tomato sauce, with mozzarella and grana cheese—had saltier toppings, and that must account for why ours was, in a word, stellar. I don't use that word; I don't want to sound like a jackass. And I don't say that the saltiness had an unusual complexity, with notes of spice and fat and acid and roastiness all hitting your tongue, and I don't say that I thought the crust was as close to perfect as you can get on this planet—even when I had the funghi pizza ($12.50) that they had, which was also really, really good. I don't share the calculations I'm doing in my head about the pizzas here being bigger—not quite as exquisite, but definitely way bigger—than the ones at Delancey, and how this pizza is, I think, tied for second-best in the city with the Independent Pizzeria.
Dessert is ordered. There's a peach crisp ($7) that's all melting-together sweet goodness, and I burn my hand on its little pan even though Jeff the waiter warns me not to. Panna cotta with blueberries ($6) is smooth and simple and just right. And Jerry Corso sends out a dish of house-made stracciatella gelato ($6). Does he somehow know I'm writing a review? I don't know. The New Yorker, who was at pains to find Jerry and introduce himself as that other chef's friend, doesn't get any.
We eat as much as we possibly can of the ice cream, because it is magnificent, with the thinnest bits and pieces of chocolate all through it. There's a lot left. Do the New Yorker and his friend want the rest of it? Yes, they do, and they don't mind if they use our spoons. Jeff comes by and sees what's happening and laughs. "Now that's Italian," he says.