After a long week, my friend Andy and I decided to get together for a late night happy hour in Ballard. Neither one of us had been out down there in awhile, and weren’t sure exactly where to go. We just had a feeling it would be a good scene for us; a little older than Pioneer Square, a little more laid back than Belltown, and a little less crazy than Capital Hill. The thing was, we also wanted to grab dinner. We stopped first at the Noble Fir where we had a beer, but were uninspired by the limited food menu. So, we did a quick mental search of places in the area and came up with BalMar. The power of the iPhone confirmed that they did in fact have a late night menu, so we headed over.
When I think back to the first time I went to BalMar, my thoughts were of a quieter, more upscale, nice place. But when we walked in, it felt different. I’m not implying that Bal-Mar is a run-down dive bar or anything like that, but for some reason I was picturing white tablecloths. Instead we got a nice place, kind of narrow but deep. On the right when you walk in is a seating area with some dark wood high tables and chairs that make conversation easier. The bar stretches along the right wall to the back. On the left, there is a staircase leading to a second floor bar area (it was reserved for a private party on this night), and under the staircase are some couches and chairs for a more intimate setting.
We grabbed a table along the wall where we could keep an eye on the comings and goings, as well as have a conversation and were quickly greeted by the waitress. She took our drink order and when asked, immediately suggested the macaroni and cheese as a dish that we should get. Her second choice, after a little thought. was either the BBQ Pork Sliders or the Beef Sliders. We debated while she went and got our drinks, but ultimately followed her recommendation of the macaroni and pork sliders. I was impressed because it seemed to be a little more robust of a late night menu than I’d expected.
While we were waiting for our food and solving the problems of the BCS (we came up with a very creative East vs. West seeded tournament that would still allow the major bowls to host their games and have every game other than the national championship completed by New Year’s Day), I was taking a look around. The Bal-Mar was definitely full of a lot of pretty, young people. I mean, I’m only 29, but man did I feel old in that bar. That was something I definitely didn’t remember. Plus the music was a pretty great mix of current dance/R&B/hip hop. It was really the type of placed I enjoyed going to with the Food Girl when we were in college but haven’t frequented so much lately.
Finally the food arrived, and we dug in. Our waitress definitely didn’t sell us short on the macaroni…it was quite good. Pretty cheesy and topped with some fried onions before being baked. There was definitely a nice crunch to every bite, and an appropriate amount of salt. I would have liked maybe a little more cheese so it would string out when you pulled it from the dish, or so it made a creamy sauce on your plate, but from a flavor perspective, it was very good.
Next I turned to the pulled pork sliders. They were pretty good. The pork was pretty moist and flavorful. By itself, the slider was good but nothing too special. But when you dipped it into the coffee barbecue sauce, it went up to another level. The sauce add a bit of sweetness, but a bit of depth. That hint of coffee was just there at the tail of each bite. It was a little different, but good. I think that the sliders would have been more effective by adding the sauce directly to the pork prior to serving. And the fries were quite good as well. They were what you want in a fry; crispy on the outside, moist on the inside. I also appreciated the truffle dipping sauce with them.
For a late night menu, I thought it was good food. It wasn’t knock me off my chair amazing, but definitely surprisingly good. There were a couple little tweaks that I think could have made them a little more effective, but all in all, it was exactly what we were looking for that evening. I don’t think that it is the type of place that I would go to for a dinner, but for a Friday night out where I need something to eat, it was much better than many of the alternatives.