Surviving as a restaurant in Seattle is really hard. Surviving as a hip restaurant is Ballard is even tougher. But surviving as a hip oyster restaurant, just a few blocks from the incredibly popular The Walrus and the Carpenter, seems like a nearly impossible feat.
But Ballard Annex Oyster House is taking on that tremendous task, and has survived for more than one year; celebrating a birthday in March.
The owners are still looking for that exact combination of menu and atmosphere that turns a good restaurant into a great one, but they say the last year was a promising one.
"This place is one of my babies," said Joe Rieke, Food and Beverage Director. "Yes, the last year was a success, but I also knew there had to be a lot of changes."
Rieke was part of the original team that put together the restaurant, and is now looking closely at what went right, and what needed revamping.
"We made a menu change about two weeks ago," he said. "We're trying to bring a more contemporary feel to it. We really chased the old-school fish house thing for a year; and while I'm in love with that food, and I'm still in love with what was on that menu, we needed to have more options. Seafood is expensive right now and a lot of people have a hard time justifying spending $24 on a piece of fish, even though that may just be what it costs. We now have a bigger range of dishes and price points."
He also said he had to acknowledge that not everyone is a fan of oysters, and a seafood-only menu was limiting.
"Up until two weeks ago we had a steak. And that was it," Rieke said. "If you weren't a seafood lover, you didn't have a lot of choices. And if you've got a six-top, one of those people probably isn't in the mood for straight-up oysters and trout. So we introduced a lamb burger and the Seattle dog, which is a sweet Italian sausage hot dog with cream cheese (since that's a Seattle staple), peppers, and mustard."
The special oyster and champagne pairings I had during my visit were delicious, but it was the other menu items that caught my attention even more. Try the grilled squid and Dungeness crab entrees. Both were perfectly seasoned, perfectly cooked, and the type of dishes you think about days later, wishing you could have them again.
If you're looking to spend less than fifty bucks on dinner for two people, either stick to the appetizer menu or show up for Happy Hour. (Which lasts until 6:30! I love when they don't end before 6:00.) During Happy Hour you can find $1.50 oysters, $6 fish and chips, and champagne for six bucks a glass.
When it comes to atmosphere, I prefer the open and pretty bar area, to the more cavernous dining area. The bar also features an oyster bar and several Ballard-themed cocktails, like the Aeries Nest, made with gin, vermouth, elderflower, lime, and cucumber.
"We definitely want people to try us again if they stopped in over the last year. We've decided to really focus on what Ballard is and how this restaurant fits into it right now and historically," Rieke told me. "We've got a lot of Ballard beer taps right now, our cocktail list is more representative of Ballard culturally. We're really trying to tie in some of Ballard's heritage. I want everyone who lives here to feel comfortable, whether you're a fisherman just getting off the boat, a couple sitting at the bar, or a big group."