Written by on December 22, 2010 in I Eat Seattle, I Eat...Out with 0 Comments

(chowfoods.com/hilife) – Ballard
How I heard of this place: My friend Tahirih told me about, and introduced me to the Hi-Life a number of years ago, when we went to sample their special-of-the-day mac ‘n cheese; get in early, because when the flavor-of-the-day runs out, you’re on your own! It was not until this visit, however, that I heard the Hi-Life is a Tom Douglas restaurant (Thanks for enlightening me, Cody)!
Type of cuisine: An assortment of menu options are available to entice every diner who sets foot in Ballard’s American Grill. The establishment boasts itself on “bringing order to Seattle’s seasonal mood disorder” with rotating seasonal menus, featuring “the best of our four seasons here in the Pacific Northwest”. With an emphasis on wood fired grill and brick oven, everything on the line turns out tasty, full flavored foods for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
“Our summer dinner menu offers up a dozen seasonal small plates and a listing of our American grill specialties, including Hickory Smoked Spareribs with big wheel BBQ sauce, Pan Seared Albacore with green beans, fingerling potatoes & orange-balsamic butter and BBQ Chicken Supper served with grilled corn on the cob, & two potato salad. Or try the Firehouse Grill Burger, any of our other sandwich options or one of our wood fired pizzas. Breakfast brings home the bacon with the standard breakfast options, or you can try one of our Hi-Life Habits, which include Clean-up on Aisle 12, a delicious root vegetable hash, our house rendition of Huevos Emilia, or our ever present Biscuits & Gravy. Go ahead, wash it all down with a Firehouse Bloody Mary and roll home for a nap. Lunch sets you up with a wide selection of signature sandwiches such as our Fallwich, a vegetable extravaganza on a bun, or our B.L.A.T. with lemon aioli. Not in the mood for a sandwich? Then try one of our three different entrée salads or Solo Size Pizzas, along with our daily Merchant Plate Lunch Special. For those sleepyheads, don’t forget that we serve our full breakfast menu every day ‘til 3pm. We have a bountiful, mostly Northwest wine list with 20 different wines by the glass, as well as a spirited bar with seasonally changing cocktails and local brews on tap.”
Ambiance: Located in the historic Firehouse No. 18 built in 1911, the neon sign outside gives one the reason for visiting the Hi-Life: EAT DRINK.The interior is large, open, spacious, with high ceilings. Booths line the area at the window-front and black, wooden tables and mis-matched chairs are available for larger parties (seating from eight to twelve people around a circular or rectangular table setting). The kitchen is open and in plain site of most seats, giving patrons the opportunity to see the organized and clean shelves and cooking utensils. Soft music plays in the background as the crowds begin to enter the dining area. Slightly more dim-lit bar seating is available to the right of the large doors and the curtained foyer in the entrance. The lights in the restaurant are dimmed at six o’clock to create ambiance and give the evening mood way as patrons gather for dinner. The Hi-Hife also has a fine little private dining room available for adults only, which can host a combination cocktail party and sit down dinner for up to 40, and includes your own private bartender.
What I ordered: I had to be the last to order at our table of eight before making a decision. The menu, while not formidably extensive, still had several highly alluring options. Beginning with the dining companion to my left, we had one order for the Cast Iron Bronzed Rockfish ($15.75), spiced & seared Pacific rockfish over smoked polenta & adouille hash with sauteed kale, one small plate order for the macaroni & cheese ($6.25), baked en casserole with roasted Anaheims & four cheeses, three orders for the Hickory Smoked Spareribs ($17.00, each), house slow smoked ribs, spicy Big Wheel BBQ sauce, french fries (one served naked with a side of mashed potatoes instead of fries) & salacious slaw. Continuing around our table, we had one Pizza Margherita ($10.75) with mozzarella, fresh basil, and pomodoro sauce, a special order (because I have yet to find it on the menu!) calzone ($?) stuffed with spinach, mushrooms and ricotta and served alongside a butter lettuce salad. I ordered the Wood Grilled New York Strip Steak ($19.75), cooked medium-well with a demi glace, h.t.g. mashed potatoes & broccolini sauteed in butter. Several orders were placed for soda beverages (free if you check-in via Four-Square on your mobile device).
What I loved: Of the four things sampled (the rockfish, ribs, calzone and steak), I must admit that I enjoyed my own dish the most! The creamy, smooth mashed potatoes, hearty and comfort-induced, balanced smashingly with the buttered broccolini, still crisp, yet tender and the flavorful, grilled, large chunk of steak. I enjoyed the peppered rockfish and the sauteed kale with which it was served. The calzone offered a nice, light flavor, feeling less carb-induced and more fresh. The ribs were said to be dry, but the small sample I enjoyed fell off the bone without effort and tasted more of meat than of marinated, BBQ goodness.
Why I loved it: We had not made reservations ahead of time, but (perhaps the early dining hour, 5:30 p.m.) were seated quickly and enjoyed our large party meal over good conversation and laughter. The wait for water and soda refills was long, but the staff friendly.
Cost: Average ($10.50 – $19.75 per dinner entree)

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