Ah, beer. From ancient times to this modern age, beer has been with us as the happy result of what happens to barley water when it gets a little funky. Lucky for us in these civilized times, mankind has gotten the art of beer-making down to a pretty good science — and even luckier, American beer-making is at its greatest moment in history in terms of flavor and variety. The craft beer scene has exploded across the country, and the result has been a golden age of the golden brew across these United States. It wasn’t always the case. Time and again, I talk to brewers who all say the same thing: they got into brewing because the state of American mainstream beer in the 20th century reached a horrible low point in terms of taste and quality. This was the case for Charles and Rose Ann Finkel, founders of Pike Brewing, a couple who started by importing some of the finest beers that Europe had to offer and wound up creating one of Seattle’s most famous and tastiest brew pubs. The pub is located just outside (and underneath) the well-known Pike Place Market and sports an excellent menu of suds and eats that we enjoyed greatly.
We chose the Pike Sampler (shown above) to get a good representation of the different varieties available, but we also wanted to soak up some of those suds with something good to eat. To that end, we ordered the Ploughmans Sampler, a plate of charcuterie, cheese, olives, and flatbread that was easily one of the best bar appetizers we’ve ever tried. Two of the meats, the salami and coppa, were from Seattle’s own Salumi Restaurant (and we’ll have more on THAT lovely place later), and our favorite meat on the plate was a prosciutto from La Quercia Artisan Meats in Iowa. Each separate item was distinct in flavor and texture, from the oily, almost sweet flavor of the rosy salami to the briny coppa that finished on a note of subtle heat. The prosciutto was the second best pork I’ve ever eaten, and when the first best is true jamon iberico, that means it was some damn fine ham. We reveled in the taste of salt and fat, tearing small strips of the pork with our fingers and chewing slowly, washing each bite down with a different type of beer to see how many tastes we could match. Of equal pleasure were the cheeses, from the ale-rubbed “Naughty Nellie” (also the name of our favorite Pike beer) to the creamy camembert-like “Cirrus,” to the Seattle-made cheddar from Beecher’s in the Pike Place Market. This was a quality meat and cheese board, with many of the components from local producers.
While bread, beer, meat, and cheese might be a perfect meal, we didn’t want to pass up some of Pike’s seafood offerings. To this end, we ordered the Dungeness Crab and Artichoke Dip, a hot and creamy mixture of crab meat, onions, and cheese. I found the dip to be tasty, if a tad heavy on the onions; Jess liked it better than I did. The seafood dish that had us both raving, though, was the Roasted Garlic Jumbo Prawns, a dish made of sweet, succulent shrimp with a subtle garlic flavor and a rich, meaty texture that just blew us away — these are the sort of shrimp we just can’t get here in Arkansas. There wasn’t anything I’d change about this dish except the quantity: shrimp lovers will be teased by the small starter plate.
So after all that talk about the good food, how was the beer? Well, I wouldn’t place the beer in the elite ranks of craft brews, but it certainly had its bright spots. We particularly enjoyed the Naughty Nellie, a crisp blonde ale that was very drinkable and a perfect addition to the food. Fans of Belgian styles will be fond of the Monk’s Uncle Tripel, a fruity and wild-tasting beer that is a very good example of the style. The rest of the tasting try consisted of a decent IPA, APA, and porter — and while we tried a drink of their barleywine, it wasn’t for us, but I find barleywines to generally be too boozy in flavor anyway. That Naughty Nellie had us coming back for more, though, and I’d call the entire Pike line-up very solid in terms of quality and flavor — just pick whatever style you like that they do, and you’ll be almost certain to get a very drinkable entry.
We came into Pike Brewing half-expecting a glorified TGIFriday’s made for tourists. What we got was a fun and friendly brew pub with some good-to-great beers and a wonderful selection of nibbles. It’s a fantastic place to stop in for a drink or three, and it’s certainly one of our Seattle highlights. Pike Brewing is located at 1415 1st Avenue in Seattle.