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Another BBQ Disappointment-long

Having heard many good things about Bitterroot-including the current Seattle Mag-I planned my work day so as to be in Ballard at lunch time.
And hoping for something tasty. Unfortunately that was not the case.
Now this review is based on one visit, and one meal so I know this may not be the case at another time. Not many folks there at lunch time (a sign?) so I was seated immediately. All the customer service was very nice. Looking at the menu I immediately noticed 2 things-high prices and no brisket sandwich. I was a bit surprised but I will say that when I asked about it I was offered a pretzel roll as a side option with my brisket plate so as to make my own. Nice touch.
I did order the brisket plate but chose the cornbread and the slaw as the sides. The meal came pretty quick. Four slices of brisket, a cup of mainly purple slaw and a wedge of cornbread topped with a bit of butter.
The first thing that was very noticeable was the extreme thickness of the brisket slices. Wow. Anybody with experience eating brisket in other areas-Texas, etc-knows it should be sliced fairly thin. These slices were practically steaks. Also, at first I saw no discernible smoke ring. As I unstacked the slices I did see a bit of it on other slices.
3 sauces were available-on the side,as I like-to accompany the meat but I like to try the meats for their own flavor before adding any sauce. I took my first bite and tasted only one thing-SALT! Someone applying the rub had been very heavyhanded with the salt. Now I could have used this as a reason to ask for a different meal but chose to continue. I added some of the sauce labeled sweet on the table and immediately thought it tasted better, The sweet sauce was quite good-one of my favorite in town. I did not try the hot or Carolina mustard sauces. With the addition of a diet soda that I had not intended to order and I was able to continue my meal.
As I ate my pretty boring, wet slaw and tried the cornbread-which was ok but needed to be either fresher or baked for less time-I noticed that my brisket gradually changed color to gray and looking dry. So now my too thick brisket slices just got tougher and tougher. I believe the slices had been microwaved before plating. OUCH! More sauce and soda and I was able-very hungry-to finish it, I did bring the salt issue to the attention of the staff so hopefully this will be addressed.
Then the bill-brisket with 2 sides, a soda, tax and 10% tip-$24.00!! OUCH again. Overpriced by at least $10.00. $3,00 for a glass of diet pop!!?? Having looked over the location and trying the food, it seems to me this is a Ballard bar masquerading as a restaurant. Food needs work.
Hope others are luckier than I was on my visit.

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  1. I had a completely different experience. It's packed all the time when I see it on evenings and weekends (I go to the gym across the street and so see it a lot). I thought it was a great value, in fact, one of the best values I've experienced in ages. Especially compared to anything else on Ballard Ave...I got the catfish and 2 sides and it was a big meal for $14. And the catfish was great. So were the sides--the slaw (mine wasn't "mainly purple" as you said yours was, which I take to mean it was all red cabbage and nothing else?) was the best I've had in ages. I loved that it wasn't mayonnaise-y. Even the dessert--key lime pie--was good, and I NEVER like pie at restaurants. We went at about 4 pm on a Saturday--who eats then? It should have been empty--but we got the last table. We struck up conversations with the table next to us and they said they'd been eating their way through the menu and everything had been great. They told us the burger is amazing but I'm not a burger person. Or a brisket person, and it sounds like that's not the thing to get.

    1. Come on, BigHound. You sound like someone who takes his BBQ seriously, so you KNOW you made a mistake here...

      Lunch time is the not the time to be checking out a BBQ spot except for the busiest of BBQ places. Whether it's ribs or brisket or pork (but especially for brisket), good BBQ is highly dependant on being able to eat it as closet to "fresh off the smoker" as possible.

      I'm sure the best BBQ you've had has been from places that had a lot of people eating at all times of the day, and certainly these place are busy because they're good, but I'll also suggest that they are good because they are busy. That is, they are able to give every customer a fresh cut of something that has recently come out of the smoker (instead of sitting under a heat lamp)

      I'm not saying you got day old BBQ (but maybe...) or something that hadn't been in the smoker as long as it should be (but again, maybe...) but you can't judge a BBQ establishment outside of the South based on lunch service (unless that's all they do, like Pecos Pit). They're making sacrifices to do a lunch service and they're not serving up their best at that point. (You can debate whether a shop should be opening if they can't serve their best, but that's a different argument)

      Also, I disagree with you on the thickness thing to some degree. I think a lot of places "cheat" by slicing up their brisket thin as to mask the lack of tenderness. Anything will "fall apart" in your mouth if you cut it across the grain and thin enough. (That said, I do agree with you that Bitterroot cuts their brisket a little thick.)

      Finally, 10% tip?? Come on, bro...

      I've been to Bitterroot for dinner a few times now, and I'll say that their brisket is one of the better ones you can get. Still a notch below the good stuff in other parts of the country, and the place definitely has a few refinements that could be made, but definitely not as bad as your experience.

      5 Replies
      1. re: GreenYoshi

        Just putting a little more thought into it, better BBQ briskets in SEA: Gabriel's Fire. Pecos Pit on a good day.

        Raining Ribs is a weird one, I had some really, really good brisket one day, but 2 other times it was mediocre at best.

        1. re: GreenYoshi

          so Yoshi, I shouldn't expect a restaurant that was recently named by readers of a local mag the best at what it does in town to be able to serve fresh food at lunch? really? bbq places should be no different than any other place serving lunch. and if you can't, don't. eliminate lunch if your product is not up to par.

          also, you agree that bitterroot slices brisket too thick but that places cheat by slicing thin. thick or thin, you can tell pretty often wether a piece of smoked meat is tender as you chew it. imo, the folks locally who do it best on a regular basis are brank's(though I have not been in awhile) and depot café in Everett.

          none of your criticism addresses the issues of the ridiculously salty rub-to the point of being inedible-and the very poor value of $17.00 for 4 slices of meat, a piece of cornbread, and coleslaw. and as for my tip, I tip on service AND quality.
          the only mistake I made was thinking bitterroot was a place worth eating.

          1. re: bighound

            Yeah, I question anyone judging a place on a single visit, but particularly a BBQ place at an off-peak time.

            Hell, I've been to several places rated "Best in Texas" and gotten mediocre BBQ because I was forced to go at off-peak times where the only stuff left had been out of the smoker a long while. I don't think these people "don't know BBQ", I acknowledge I was getting a lesser product because of my constraints.

            Barbeque isn't like other foods that can be prepared "to-order" or that can sit around under a heat lamp. Surprisingly (for something that takes so long to cook), the quality of BBQ degrades quickly. If you figure out some way around this, my friend, you will have the keys to the kingdom, because every BBQ spot in the country will beat down your door for it.

            As to your specific thing, I'm assuming your lunch brisket was probably something left from the night before where a lot of the moisture was lost, thus concentrating the saltiness. Certainly a sub par experience for you, and an indictment of the place regarding service and "quality assurance", but not on the Q itself.

            Like I said, you can question the judgement of an enterprise opening for lunch when they know they can't serve their best product, but when you lease a space in Ballard, I'm sure you've got to do whatever it takes to make it. And I'm sure there are plenty of people with less discerning BBQ tastes that will rave about any BBQ place out there (hence RoRo staying in business for as long as it has...).

            1. re: bighound

              Many are questioning Seattle Mag's putting Bitterroot on their 'best resto' list in the current issue.

              Lot's of comments to the contrary. Something seems fishy with this recommendation on their part....

              1. re: gingershelley

                Oh, I have no opinion about Seattle Mag's listings. I trust them or any other glossy about as much as a Yelp review. Food "journalism" is 90% PR these days anyway.

          2. I ate an early dinner at Bitterroot a couple of months ago. The pulled pork was good. I complained to the waiter about the cole slaw. The cabbage was fresh off the shredder. It had not had time to relax and marinate in the dressing. It was a pile of crunchy raw cabbage. The waiter just shrugged. I thought the prices were ok, considering the location.
            I didn't like it enough to return. Maybe if they had acknowledged the slaw problem....

            1. My favorite brisket in the city is at the Home of Good BBQ on Yesler. Its the first thing that I try at most places, but most just cannot compete.

              1. Honestly, I think the best approach to Bitterroot is a beer and something from the appetizers section of the menu. The fried chicken livers are really good and you get an entree-sized portion for only $8 or so.

                1 Reply
                1. re: lavaca

                  I'd second that. Our service was terrible, our meals expensive and pretty mediocre in general. But man, those chicken livers...