There was a time when I treated Hattie's Hat like an extension of my own living room. I loved to head over there on school nights with a book, sit at the imposing wood bar with a beer, and fend off the men who think that a woman sitting alone must be dying for their particular company. Hattie's may or may not have been a center of anything, but there, with the roots-and-Americana DJ behind the bar, the longtime alt-country musician waiting tables, and the frequent appearance of a honey-and-gravel-voiced siren, you could feel like part of something, even on the periphery of the periphery.

And then there was the food. I can't remember which night was pot roast, but it was worth flinging aside anything else you had to do to be there for it. The fried chicken (soaked in buttermilk and served with mysterious but delicious gravy) had its own lobbyists, and then there was the all-day/ all-night breakfast. It's mostly the kind of food you can cook yourself, but all the pleasure's in having someone else do it for you. Now, of course, it's a lot harder to get your unfashionable toe into Hattie's on a weeknight, and a few years ago they changed the menu anyway. No more regular rotating dishes, no more pot roast, no more breakfast any time. That was right about when I surrendered my "regular" status.

On a recent Sunday night, I returned to Hattie's for dinner. The food was much as I remembered it--the fried chicken ($9.95) crisp and the slightest bit spicy; the smoked pork chops ($10.15) nicely cooked and juicy (not the shoe leather you frequently find impersonating pork chops); the same spread of side dishes: creamed corn, garlic mashed potatoes, braised bitter greens, sweet potato fries, steamed vegetables (you can get a dinner's worth of four sides for $7.95). It was only that everything tasted conspicuously under-salted, as if some fierce nutritional wind had swept through the kitchen. Listen: Salt, properly used, doesn't make food salty, but heightens foods' flavors; the pork chops should have been piquant from salt; the greens' braising liquid should have been oceanic.

Hattie's is still homey, even if I don't feel the same old possessive connection. But I'm sure that when the weather goes all dark and pissy, I'll be back for Guinness meatloaf ($9.95). You'll find me in a booth by the bar, if I can get one.

Hattie's Hat

5231 Ballard Ave NW (Ballard), 784-0175. Open Mon-Thurs 3-11 pm, Fri 3 pm-midnight, Sat 5 pm-midnight, Sun 5--11 pm; brunch Sat and Sun 8 am-3 pm.

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