Not so fast (adventures in Ballard part I)

I attended an all-day training class for users of Adobe InDesign this week in Ballard. For strangers and those of you who’ve been gone awhile, Ballard is a neighborhood in North Seattle, north of the ship canal. None of my eight classmates took me up on my suggestion of walking the few blocks to Ballard Brothers Seafood for lunch, so I went by myself. I’d been there before when I took the same class last year.

Ballard Brothers is famous for its N’awlins-style blackened salmon burgers, a Cajun favorite. I wanted to give this place a shout out on my blog for a couple reasons. One is political, in a way, and the other is just my way of mapping my daily journey.

There are no brothers, but there are good reasons to eat here.

There are no brothers, but there are good reasons to eat here.

Ballard Brothers is located on 15th NW, the other 15th. This is a road that slices through Ballard from north to south and has long defined a thriving business district along that axis, so the neighbors are places like Wendy’s and Jiffy Lube. And in fact Ballard Brothers looks like any other fish’n’chips joint both outside and in, with the notable exception that apart from the booths along the windows, the tables inside this large space seem few and afterthought-ish, as though the order and pick-up counters were really a puppet theater and small children were expected to crowd the carpeted floor at any moment. If you shoved aside the odd chair you could easily hold a dance in there. 

But don’t be fooled. Yes, it’s fast food, but it’s not faceless, corporate fast food. I noticed on this visit that along with the signs announcing they’d been named best seafood at Ballard’s annual SeafoodFest, there were also several prominent posters outlining why supporting local businesses makes sense. I’m all about buying local ever since I read E.F. Schumacher‘s Small is Beautiful. When I spend a dollar, I imagine one of two scenarios. In the first, that dollar is whisked off immediately to Tennessee or Singapore to pad the pockets of investors and owners who don’t know me or my ilk because they are unlucky enough not to live here. In the second (and I go out of my way fairly often to choose this scenario) my dollar goes to the proprietor of a local business, who gives it to his kid for her allowance, who spends it on the Angry Mob Playset at Archie McPhee’s, etc., so that my dollar spends some time enriching the life of my community before eventually winding up as an entry on the books at TimeWarner or Sony, where all dollars eventually find their eternal rest. 

Ballard Brothers also uses new “green” utensils, the kind that break down rapidly in soil so you can feel good about throwing them in the garbage. I didn’t use them because, well, I was having a burger and fries if you must know, but they looked just like regular plastic knives and forks. Although for a while now I’ve been eating my enchiladas on the biodegradable plates at Taco Del Mar (a corporate chain but not an e-ville one), I hadn’t seen these before, and in my mind I checked another box in the “Matt likes this” column.

It looks like fast food. And it is. But it isn't. In a way.

It looks like fast food. And it is. But it isn't. In a way.

While I was eating and reading the paper — an article about the heating up and uglification of our mayoral race and the tunnel project — I became half-aware that a man was going from table to table and quietly setting something small and colorful on the edge of each. He was a middle-aged man of American Indian descent, with a broad, weighty face (a dad’s face, I could tell) and a long pony tail. I read the little card attached to the end of what turned out to be a series of beads on a string of leather with a keyring. The card said


He (wisely, I thought), moved on after setting the trinket down, going to the next table while the previous potential customer had an unpressured moment to look over the proffered wares and consider a purchase. I usually keep a loose dollar in my pocket to give away to anyone who asks for it, since that happens a lot downtown and I don’t like to become hardened to the less fortunate, even if they are less fortunate because of character defects that I might hastily judge as laziness or craziness. Having a dollar ready enables me to respond (if it feels right) without having to get my wallet out. I hadn’t been approached for a long time, so I figured I had at least $3.00 to give away, and in fact it was a fair price for a thing that I knew Mara would love.

When the man came back, I nodded and gave him three bucks, then hooked the little piece of artwork on my backpack zipper. He made a motion with his hand that I remembered from Mara’s pre-speech days as the sign for “thank you”, and moved on.

When I left, Drew Greer, the owner (there is no family named Ballard involved), looked up from his own lunch and newspaper a couple of booths away and said loudly,  “Thank you!” as he had to each customer or party on their way out.

You can see why Ballard Brothers gets my highest rating in the Not-Slow Food category. It didn’t hurt that their burgers, fries and fish ‘n’ chips are some of the best I’ve ever had.

The perfect addition to Mara's "gym bag"

The perfect addition to Mara's "gym bag"


7 Responses to “Not so fast (adventures in Ballard part I)”

  1. 1 Kip August 15, 2009 at 16:40

    Now I must try Ballard Brothers the next time I get the chance. And I must also make sure I have $3 in my pocket, just in case.

    • 2 jstwndrng August 17, 2009 at 03:44

      He would have taken $2, and with your business skills you might have got him down to the daily dollar. I’m kidding.

      If you’re in town and you think you’re headed over there, let me know. I want to try that blackened salmon.

  2. 3 Louis August 15, 2009 at 21:48

    I’m right there with you, Kip! How long as this place been around? It seems like the kind of joint I would have definitely made a point of patronizing at one time or another.

    Matt, I do the same thing. I always keep a real (hey-al) in my pocket, so when someone helps us to park the car into a tight space (or a loose space) or is needing a morning coffee,I can accomodate without having to wrestle with a wallet..or my man purse….which I don’t have..but if I had one…I wouldn’t have to wrestle with it…because I already would have a real or two in my pocket…so…how about that mayoral race?

    • 4 jstwndrng August 17, 2009 at 03:57

      It’s only been a “location” since about 2003 or 2004. The “brothers” were a couple of drinking buddies, so I hear, who started the business in the early 1980s just for the opportunity to sell at the annual festival there. They worked out of a house or something. Greer bought the name and business from those blokes in 1987, if memory serves (I googled all this up a few days ago), and continued the festival sales, but people could otherwise not get ahold of the increasingly famous blackened salmon burgers, and complained loudly, until he finally opened this joint.

      That’s cool about the real. I would have guessed that about you. Is it really pronounced with an “h”? I would have given it a rolled “r”. Strange land you live in, Louis.

  3. 5 Marni August 16, 2009 at 17:30

    I’ll have to check when I work next to see if I’m right about this- I think Ballard Bro’s are in this great little Seattle food book about the best greasy spoons/dives around the city/county, and I think I asked my many Ballard-living coworkers about it and they raved….I think. And a big “thank you” for your paragraph on spending locally Matthew; I’m often asked to define with clarity why someone should shop in our or any other local independent bookstore and my explanation always gets so heated and passionate and crazed that I become incoherent. You want to know the kind of irony that makes my head spin and my blood boil? Irony is someone setting down their book purchases on my counter and handing me payment in the form of their Visa card….hooray I tell myself; not only do we get to pay the processing fee for the transaction but we also get to contribute to their ability to buy books and merchandise even more cheaply on Amazon!!! And…..scene.

    • 6 jstwndrng August 17, 2009 at 04:08

      I’m trying to imagine someone setting the keys to their (other) Lexus on your counter while fishing in their purse for their Amazon card, and really not understanding this very simple concept about what happens to spent money. And yet I find myself best served by slowness to judgment in these cases. After all, I didn’t understand this until I wanted to.

      But you’re doing a noble work there, Bookseller Marni (subliminal message “buy at Island Books”). Keep on testifying, sister, and if you get overheated, send them to me…

  4. 7 Louis August 17, 2009 at 11:16

    I have this overwhelming need to at Island Books…

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