When Scandinavians thronged to the once-independent town of Ballard in the early 1900s, they shared their strong cultural identity with a community that eventually voted to join the city of Seattle. These days, Ballard is hip, hoppin’, and seems to be where every second new restaurant in town opens.
There remains, though, a flavor of Finnish, Swedish, and Norwegian cultures in several neighborhood spots, including the Nordic Heritage Museum and the fishing fleets along the Washington Ship Canal. On this date night, Mike and I returned to a restaurant that meshes the old and the new Ballard, with a firm nod to its Nordic traditions.
Copper Gate is located pretty much due west of our Seattle bed & breakfast – the easiest route is NW 65th Street to 24th Ave NW, hang a left, and park. You might miss the low-key (read: plain) façade – just a brownish building with an authentically retro neon sign from the joint’s pure tavern days. Once inside, you can’t miss the huge Viking ship/bar sailing through the center of the room.
Friendly staff help you ascertain your readiness for fish cakes, Scandinavian-style. (Unlike crispy crab cakes, these are moist and slightly rubbery, but not in a bad way.) While Mike enjoys everything fishy, he opted for Swedish meatballs because he had a hankering for the Lingonberry preserves served with them. Our server talked me into the coriander honey pork skewers as I debated the merits of those vs. Aquavit-coffee braised short ribs. Good choice.
What I really liked about our meal is that the portions were as reasonable as the prices. Our dinners were satisfying and not at all skimpy; yet our plates weren’t heaped with a quantity of food you either feel obligated to eat (if you’re a member of the clean-plate club, as I am), or have boxed up to take home (then accidentally leave behind when you leave). We got out of there for something like $35, which included our dinners, a shared cheese and fruit plate, glass of wine for me, and cocktail for Mike.
The evening was young, so we headed a few blocks south to Aster Coffee Lounge, a comfortable, spacious place that goes way beyond coffee! We could’ve done happy hour there – they serve beer and wine; or lunch – good-looking prepared sandwiches; or breakfast – yummy bakery goods, even hard-boiled eggs. I dipped a tasty orange chocolate chip biscotti in my latte while Mike made a magic bar (chocolate, coconut, and other gooey goodness) disappear like, well, you know…magic. The lounge is open ‘til 10 most nights, making it a great after-dinner destination, unless you’re going for the monthly bizarre movie night. But that’s a date for another day.