photo credit: Nate Watters
Beast & Cleaver
You’ll have one of the best meals all year at Beast & Cleaver, a tiny butcher shop in Ballard. This isn’t in reference to the porterhouse you could pick up and grill at home, but rather to their after-hours wine bar nights on Tuesdays through Thursdays. With a menu of expertly cooked steaks, snacks, and surprises, this operation makes for one of the most unique dining experiences in Seattle.
Once you walk into their makeshift wine bar setup, the butcher shop energy melts away. Eating here feels like sneaking into a museum to have a sleepover, only the display cases here showcase your prospective dinner instead of fossilized pterodactyl tracks. You get to sit catty-corner to their selection of raw links, patties, and chops while cradling a glass of German weissburgunder trocken and snacking on pâté en croûte. And even though you’re seated among teal wallpaper patterned with chickens and a metal sign behind the counter that says “meat” in all caps, the space works wonders for any kind of special occasion you don’t feel like dressing up for.
The menu changes each week, but the constant is the surplus of beef that you should shape your meal around. Steaks are cooked with the technical precision of a robot, from a barely-seared, browned butter-glistened London broil to our favorite ribeye in town complete with enough marbling to be a West Elm coffee table. But the meat options stretch beyond steaks, like a hefty smashburger you should cut into quarters and treat like an appetizer for the table and some fried, snappy homemade sausages. Do not miss dessert either, which typically involves rich custard, a genius application of salt, and immediate sadness after you scrape it all clean.
While we wouldn’t suggest a vegetarian go out of their way to eat here, the vegetable-based dishes are exceptional supporting characters. You might see things like a baguette with local honey and chevre, heirloom tomato salads with smoky blistered corn and umeboshi vinaigrette, and puffy beer-battered squash blossoms showered in grated cheddar shavings. Sharing everything is a must, and peppering in some sides rounds out the meal tremendously.
We also love Beast & Cleaver for the interesting wines they serve, especially bottles sold at retail prices without any corkage markups. Let us stress just how monumental it is to casually pop open a stellenbosch from South Africa or a Walla Walla carbonic syrah to drink with dinner and then take a second bottle home for the same cost. And even though you may be itching for a bold red by default alongside your steak, don't underestimate their bubbles, fuller whites, or orange selections. They're there for a reason.
Wine bar nights are merely one piece of the Beast & Cleaver puzzle. They serve elaborate sandwiches during Thursdays and Fridays at lunchtime, transform into The Peasant (their multi-course tasting menu and impossible-to-get-into alter-ego) on the weekends, host sausage-making classes, and obviously sell slabs of short ribs and wine during the day. But wine bar night is when Beast & Cleaver feels most special, where you can gulp markup-free wine in a transitioned butcher shop alongside some pretty spectacular meat.
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The menu changes seasonally, but here’s a snapshot of what you might encounter, from mainstays to specials.
You can order these sizzled links a la carte during wine bar nights, and your table is not complete without at least two different types. The casing snaps like a new glowstick, and they come in varieties ranging from traditional pork bratwurst and currywurst to ones stuffed with leek and cheese. They all get served with a dollop of whole-grain mustard to add some much-appreciated zing.
Heirloom Tomato Salad
With pops of brightness from fresh heirlooms, smoky kernels of roasted corn, crunchy cucumber, and a tart umeboshi vinaigrette, this glorious pile of produce can hang with the steaks and sausages any day.
Beer-Battered Squash Blossoms
Another dish that proves a butcher shop can absolutely mess with vegetables. Squash blossoms have limited time to shine each year, and Beast & Cleaver shoves them on stage underneath a spotlight, fried in a brittle beer batter, and showered with grated aged cheddar. A swipe of garlic aioli brings it together for one of the best wine-drinking snacks we’ve had in Seattle.
Pork Adobo With Pork Fat Fried Rice
It’s impossible to give beef all of the attention when they serve this phenomenal pork adobo, braised wonderfully and coated in a sweet and tangy pan sauce. It all rests on a hash brown-like sheet of crackly fried rice, and is a perfect plate of food.
We’ve had a few different kinds of burgers here, and they’ve all rocked. One was a thick patty, ground with beef from a dairy cow, with yellow american, raw onion, ketchup, and a charred crust that had the texture of something deep-fried. Another rendition had an incredibly coarse grind that felt like eating a burger made of steak, and another (the best) was thinner, juicier, and topped with cheese and a caramelized onion-loaded special sauce that tasted like a more intense version of potato chip dip. No matter what, you want a burger here.
This cut is incredibly lean, with nary a stripe of fat in sight. There’s tenderness and chew, and the fat that you don’t get via beef, you receive by way of a nutty brown butter drizzled over the top of each slice.
Beast & Cleaver’s ribeye preparation is the most enjoyable steak you can have in Seattle. It’s simple and delicious, as it’s equal parts juicy, seared, and well-salted. Don’t be shy with the charred bits of melty fat on the edges, and if you can upgrade to A5 miyazaki wagyu, do it.
Roasted Corn Custard
Corn and coconut go together like Seattle drivers and complete denial of the zipper merge, a.k.a. a match made in heaven. Complete with corn-steeped custard and a salty toasted coconut crunch, this dessert (as well as any dessert we've ever had here) warrants multiple orders.