It's no surprise that my Picasa photo file is drowning in Negronis; it's my go-to cocktail.
My go-to sandwich, for what it's worth, is the Reuben. In bars and delis, at lunch-counters and taverns, I fall for the Reuben like a love-starved sailor swooning at the scent of French perfume. Rye, Kaiser roll, sourdough, doesn't matter. Corned beef or pastrami, cheddar or Swiss, doesn't matter. Coleslaw, yes, Thousand Island, yes indeed. Pickles? Sure.
I have pictures from New York, Phoenix, Portland, and all over Seattle. Two in Madrona: the Madrona Arms, 1138 34th Ave. (corned beef, sauerkraut, toasted rye, $14), and, just the other day, the Hi Spot, 1410 34th Ave. (also corned beef, sauerkraut, swirly rye, $12.95).
What's the fascination? Well, first of all, it's not — you should pardon the expression — another goddamn cheeseburger. It's brisket, people, a cut of long fibers that require long and slow braising to melt the fat and render the previously salted (“corned”) meat meltingly tender. Slice it rudely and it turns into dog food; let it cool down and run it through a commercial slicer (or, if you're the counterman at Katz's Deli in Lower Manhattan, you wield your scimitar with expertise).
The slices mound up on a bed of finely shredded coleslaw; they're topped a slice or two of Swiss or Provolone cheese and finished with that uniquely North American condiment, all pink and gooey, named for the Thousand Island region of the Upper St. Lawrence. (Sometimes called Russian dressing, sometimes called “Special Sauce,” depending on the region and the restaurant.)
At the Goose Hollow Inn, in southwest Portland, they slide the sandwich into the pizza oven to melt the cheese. A scoop of potato salad and some carrot sticks round out the plate. At the Hi Spot, there's also a house-made potato salad with a tangy dressing, alongside a couple of dill pickle spears. (Assuming you didn't stop in for the neighborhood's beloved breakfast of Green Eggs and Ham, $12.95)
No Reuben as such on the menu at The Attic, 4226 E Madison. Instead, it's called pastrami and swiss ($15 for a full sandwich, $9 for a half, accompanied by excellent, crispy fries). Pretty good, but I sure would have liked some sauerkraut or coleslaw.
Instead, at the top of laminated Happy Hour menu, there's Crab Cakes with a side of aioli for $8; and although the (older) online menu makes no mention of a any crab dish the paper menu offers a trio of crab cakes. Would I be right, then, in assuming that the crab cakes are a new item? Uh-oh, they need work. What was presented, during a visit during the Alabama-Clemson thriller, was limp.
I'd been salivating for crab cakes all day, since there was a neat article in one of the trade magazines about Tom Douglas bringing crab cakes to Seattle. These appeared to have been made with real crab meat, but the only flavor (apart from the drizzle of garlic mayo across the top) was green pepper. Too bad.
The Attic is an old-fashioned neighborhood tavern, with multiple bars and at least eight flat-screen TVs, a good place to watch whatever game gets you out of the house. You'll be surrounded by similarly footloose locals who seem to have walked out on spouses and the comforts of home so they could drink as many beers as they like without having to encounter an arched eyebrow or a perfectly fluffed pillow on the couch of their man caves.
Mark Long has been running this place for decades. It took years, but he finally won the right to put tables out on the sidewalk. Then he wanted to put in a back door. Seems logical, right? He moved a couple of things around, actually knocked out a wall and put in an egress, but it was a no-go. The liquor board said no. But life goes on and Mark kept at it. Bartenders, cocktailers, and line cooks came and went. Some of the the barkeeps, when they left, started their own places (Finn McCool's, Mick Kelly's, St. Andrew's). Mark himself married one of the cocktail waitresses. Family place.
Next time I “go out” to watch a game, I think I'll have the fish tacos. And if I really, really want a Reuben at the far end of Madison, I'll head into Bing's, 4200 E. Madison. Their Reuben, $14, is served on Macrina's onion rye.
A final note. For those of you seeking a romantic dinner on Valentine's Day, let me recommend Luc, at 2800 E. Madison. There's a three-course dinner (salmon, venison, or pasta), but the treat would be the 32-ounce Côte de Boeuf—a bone-in rib-eye for two. Costs a lot extra, but worth it! Let the Chef in the Hat know if you want him to put one aside for you.
Ronald Holden is a restaurant writer for Pacific Publishing. His new book about the local food and drink, “Forking Seattle,” is available through Amazon.com