First Look: Bar Food at Essex in Seattle
Essex, the new nextdoor neighbor and sibling of favorite Seattle pizza restaurant Delancey, is a project that Brandon Pettit and Molly Wizenberg (she of the well-known blog Orangette) have been working on for a while.
"When we signed the lease for Delancey," Wizenberg explains, "there was a clause that if the umbrella shop closed, we had first rights to the space." When that finally happened in April, Wizenberg and Pettit had an extra deadline to contend with: they needed to get the bar open before Wizenberg had their baby. They succeeded, opening the restaurant in her 37th week of her pregnancy.
The Delancey Street and Essex Street subway stops in New York share a station, so Essex seemed a fitting name for the restaurant sharing a façade with Delancey. "The name came first," admits Wizenberg. Embracing the British heritage of the name, Wizenberg took inspiration from her trips to London to shape the feel of the restaurant "but more Seattle," she adds: "a little industrial." The pair wanted to make the bar food they wanted to eat at their neighborhood bar, but with a British bent to it, like the lacquered smoked pork shoulder, an homage to the British art of big roasts.
The pork shoulder, one of the menu's signature items, has been put through the wringer in testing. "Brandon's a perfectionist" is a refrain among staff, and one of the hallmarks of his food is that rigorous development process. The pork is served along with that day's vegetable, demonstrating the other source of inspiration: the local farmers' markets. Many of the seasonal vegetables found at the markets—such as fennel, served here with Bucheron (cheese)—are roasted in Delancey's applewood-fired oven, giving an additional boost of flavor.
With the advent of Essex, Pettit and Wizenberg have found a place for food that there simply wasn't room for on the Delancey menu (which includes of only a handful of non-pizza items, mainly salads). The couple focused on the housemade cocktails, before realizing the opportunity, as well as an outlet for Pettit's penchant for creation: "Brandon really likes to make things," his wife explains, demonstrating the extensive collection of housemade pickles and preserves on the menu. They've also found a place for some of their best staff from Delancey. Pettit's number two in back of house is Allison Halley, from Delancey, and general manager Danielle Sadler is also moving over from nextdoor.
About the author: Naomi Bishop is a Seattle based food writer and marketer. Find more of her musings on her food blog, TheGastroGnome, where she claims that being a GastroGnome is not about sitting idly on the front lawn of culinary cottages. You can also follow her explorations of cooking and culture around the world at @GastroGnome.