Martino’s on Phinney Ridge — This place is Smoking!
Tall dark and handsome picked me up at the airport on a cool Seattle afternoon. Luggage stowed, a quick hug, seat belts fastened and in unison, “I’m hungry!” Our first meal together took us to Phinney Ridge and Martino’s Smoked Meats and Eatery. So new that even confirming address he had to used the name of the former tenant, a vegan shoe and chocolate boutique. Get your mind around that transformation from vegan shoes to smokehouse meats.
As we stepped over threshold into a sparse inviting space a faint waft of smoke told us we were in the right place. The interior has pale blue gray walls, white subway tiles and the warm hue of honey colored wood counters. The tiled monogramed M and large wall sized menu board echo’s the company name. Old school butcher shop implements made into modern art decorated the walls. What could have been overly kitschy was simple, clean and cool.
Open only a week and the joyful excitement of the staff was infectious. Taking seats at the counter we easily chatted up the guys on our right — one being the meat purveyor — “Chris serves the best meats,” he grinned as he finished up his sandwich. He should know, Martino’s source their meat from Interbay Foods from Woodinville, who supplies their Carlton Farms pork, Plymouth Poultry and Natural Tri-Tips. According to Martino, ” …the reasons we use them is taste, we are always looking for the best product we can use .”
Chris Martino, the eatery’s namesake began his restaurant career at fifteen, in Hermonsa Beach, California at little place beginning with dishwashing and food prep. The past eighteen years he’s been at the The Nickerson Street Saloon where the concept for this place came from conversations with partner Chris Gerke and experimentation with a gas smoker. When the neighborhood space became available a partnership of three made the restaurant a reality. The third Chris is Chris Navarra, owner of Prost and Seattle’s German Bars.
The menu is just right for a small eatery just opening up, six sandwiches including a kid friendly grilled cheese and a vegetarian Uncle Tony’s Caprese with smoked fresh mozzarella and smoked tomatoes. Rounding out the menu has two salads and four different sides; Martino’s Chili, Smoked Potato Salad, Central Coast Black Beans and Grilled fresh Corn. But what you notice when you read the menu is the artful use of smoke as a primary ingredient that varies flavor purposely as one would used spice; red oak, cherry, and hickory. Martino tells me that, “Red Oak is the wood for the Tri-Tip sandwich, we also use it on the chicken. That comes from the Santa Maria part, Tri-Tip is very big in central California and Chris Navarra was a big proponent of doing this style of sandwich.”
But, I bet you really want to hear about the sandwiches. Charming and efficient Chely Rizo chatted easily as we took our time deciding what to try. My son had the Smoke Club, a herb brined chicken breast, red oak smoke, house made ham and bacon, havarti with lettuce, tomato and a chive aioli. I had the Bar-B-Cuban, both served on a crusty yet tender Macrina roll. Divine tender pork, salty (but not too) bacon and sweet and savory onion jam with the tang of mustard barbecue sauce, house made. The only thing lacking I told Chris was a pickle.
Or maybe you would like the Smoked Potato Salad?
Okay, a sandwich this meaty, smokey and good needs a the right beverage and Martino’s offers Manny’s Pale Ales, sodas and waters. My choice after traveling for hours was a Manny’s. Paired perfectly.
My thanks to Chris Martino for taking time to fill me in on the restaurant history, Mike Pearson and Alex Sokolowski in the kitchen for a great lunch and to Chely Rizo for artfully handling the front counter. This place feels comfortable in modern terms with a nod to the rich heritage of wood smoke, meat and beer. A neighborhood eatery, where you can sit at the window counter and watch the world go by.
Disclosure: We paid for our own meals and this post is my own opinion, unsolicited by Martino’s.