My dear old mum recently decided she'll be retiring on Vashon Island, assuring me a future of ferrying over to change lightbulbs and clean gutters when her belabored knees finally give. The first thing I noticed about Vashon, after a few Sunday house-hunting trips with mom, was that it really needs a good neighborhood bistro. It has Bramble House, which covers haute cuisine, and the Hardware Store, which serves as something of a community center (albeit one with a mad decent bowl of clams), but nothing that fits that "fancy but not too fancy for a Wednesday night" slot that does so well in Seattle's single-family enclaves.
Gravy, which opened in April, looked to be exactly that. It's got a ludicrously affordable and approachable French-heavy wine list (everything is available by the glass), a menu stacked with Southern favorites but by no means limited to them, and that unquantifiable homey feel that is so crucial to a neighborhood bistro's welcoming appeal.
My interest was also piqued by the consistent stream of really intriguing Southern food porn on the Instagram feed of chef and co-owner Dre Neeley. I'd previously met Neeley in passing at Cafe Presse in Seattle, where he served as chef de cuisine. Some magic Instagram algorithm deduced our indirect connection—we have some mutual acquaintances—and in the months around Gravy's opening, my timeline was suddenly inundated with mountains of lusciously glazed ribs, decadent piles of dressed wings, perfectly composed salads, candid shots from the farmers market, crispy grilled fish, and other enticements. Everything looked incredible, so I was mightily disappointed that my first taste of Gravy wasn't.
To be fair, it was a mere two months or so after they'd opened, which is usually not enough time for a restaurant to find its feet. Given Neeley's solid culinary background, and Vashon's urgent need for such a restaurant, I figured I'd check back in a few months and see if they'd realized their potential.
I'm happy to report that they have, and then some.
They have two sets of menus: their regular Wednesday through Saturday à la carte menu, and their special Sunday BBQ offering. There is also Wing Friday, on which Neeley offers diners a different wing special each week (and which I sadly haven't been to). My first return trip fell during regular menu hours, and I'd already planned to come back for the Sunday meat extravaganza, so my companion and I went for fish and veggies. Our meal started with their smoked trout salad: firm, slightly smoky chunks of trout resting atop perfectly fresh radicchio and endive. The dill vinaigrette it was tossed in was the perfect pal for the trout, and just creamy enough to coat the lettuce without covering up its quality.
My vegetarian companion went with the pappardelle ($17), a pesto pasta containing various summer veggies designed to lend substance and texture—yellow squash, zucchini, and peas. Usually, at a protein-forward place, the veggie pasta is a sad afterthought, an "option" more than an entree. Not so at Gravy. The pappardelle was perfectly cooked, and the veggies, pesto, and herbs were a perfect symphony of flavor.
I had Gravy's "House Boil" ($25), a bowl of gulf prawns, clams, crawfish, potatoes, and corn swimming in briny broth. This was, perhaps, the one miss from my more recent visits. It was fine and its components were tasty, but the broth was not as flavorful as I'd expected, having recently been treated to a traditional crawfish boil in New Orleans, where crustaceans exude orange and cayenne in a way I'd previously thought impossible. Lesson learned.
But then my mother and I returned for Sunday BBQ. We started, daintily enough, with salads, ordering the house greens ($6) and the wedge ($8). House salads are, like vegetarian pasta options, usually forlorn footnotes. Again, not so at Gravy. Neeley's comes perfectly dressed and is liberally dusted with microplaned lemon zest, working with the citrus vinaigrette to give it an improbable but entirely excellent amount of tang. The star of the wedge is the creamy tarragon dressing, which seeps down into the halved hearts of Romaine, lending everything a lightly herby, anise-y note. It plays especially well with the roasted beet chunks, a welcome innovation on the traditional wedge formula.
For the main course, we ordered the BBQ sampler platter ($35). The sampler is a steal, allowing two hungry humans to conveniently traverse the galaxy of Gravy's meat specialties and get quite full doing so. It's got a liberal scoop of pulled pork, a smoked andouille sausage, and four ample ribs, all of it artfully arranged over and around a towering piece of cornbread, a mess of collards, and a generous portion of their hard-boiled-egg-laced mac salad.
The ribs were an absolute masterpiece, with that soft, flake-off-the-bone textural perfection that makes ribs ribs. The sauce—well, I could easily make jokes about how I would take a bath in it, bring it with me to a desert island, or club baby seals for the recipe, but all of that would fall short. Suffice it to say, I enjoyed the hell out of it. The sausage was also greatly improved over the first time I'd had it, having just the right yield and releasing pleasant rivulets of ever-so-slightly tart, meaty juices. The pile of pulled pork was spot on, sweet but not cloying, and possessed of just enough heat to complement the sugar, not combat it. I did feel a bit ridiculous slurping it with a spoon like stew, but fear not—it's also served as a sandwich.
Speaking of sandwiches, I heartily recommend the trifecta burger ($18). It's a blend of sirloin, duck breast, and smoked ham hock, with a little pork butt thrown in for good measure. Thyme and sweet onion round out the blend before it's put to flame on the restaurant's applewood grill. Then it gets set into a nice, fluffy pub bun, smeared with their bright parsley shallot sauce, and topped with some pleasantly astringent dandelion greens to create a just-so combination of rich meatiness and piquancy.
Service is exactly as you would expect from a semirural spot. It's delivered by a youngish cast of locals, it's warm and genuine, and it's not without its foibles. But the foibles are not bad foibles. For example, on BBQ night, our server struggled to master the two-stage wine key, finally agreeing to let me do the honors. Though it might have been off-putting at Canlis, it was somehow extremely endearing at Gravy.
The restaurant's decor—warm wood tables and chairs, a simple chalkboard wine list, an open kitchen piled high with extra wood, and a satisfyingly clean black-and-white checkerboard floor—all contribute to that weeknight wonderland vibe so essential to the neighborhood joint.
As wonderful of a service as Gravy provides to Vashon's residents, the food is some of the most delightful, satisfying fare I've had on island or off. Hell, if Neeley keeps coming up with intriguing specials—chilled plum soup with goat cheese crème fraîche, lobster rolls, and albacore crudo with serranos, avocado, croutons, and lemon curd, just to name a few—at his current whirlwind pace, and my mother keeps leaving things at my house, I might just have to spring for the discounted 10-trip ferry pass.