How Ballard’s Fair Isle Brewing became a hotbed of Seattle’s best popups

Fans follow Seattle the abundance of popups over the past year is experiencing the cycle: exhilaration upon hearing of a new burger / breakfast sandwich / barbecue / naturally fermented pizza / latin drinkable snack. Optimism that his rotating schedule must surely include a stop near you.

And the inevitable result: of course. They’re at Fair Isle Brewing.

Seattle is rich in traveling food projects. But the Ballard taproom claims an unusual concentration of adults. First, the Rough Draft Burger Shop, last summer’s favorite, smashed their patties to wow the crowds. Next, Brothers and Co. with their shio koji fried chicken and kimchi queso. At the end of the year, Lupe Flores was frying her crispy Lebanese-Mexican tacos, while Sundays were devoted to Pakistani soul food from the Karachi Cowboys.

This year, even Melissa Miranda was there, putting aside her grueling restaurant routine regularly scheduled in Musang to flip burgers on the aisle grill. In January, she relaunched by Musangtino, the popup that she once ran with her longtime friend Jeff Santos. The menu – Filipinx spaghetti, a game on the Jollibee burger, and another lumpia-inspired shrimp and pork patty – made its Fair Isle debut after a three-year hiatus.

A few factors have contributed to the brewery’s double life as a short-lived incubator: the prosaic of permits, the user-friendly nature of Fair Isle’s signature beer style, and a hint of a pandemic schedule.

Co-founders Andrew Pogue and Geoffrey Barker have spent years looking for a place to start their brewery. Eventually, they landed in the former home of an orchid retailer, a square, slightly industrial building at 936 NW 49th Street, in the heart of Ballard’s brewing district.

As other taprooms summon a robust food truck program, the owners of Fair Isle have designed their space to include a licensed kitchen. “It’s rare in a brewery,” Pogue says. But Fair Isle beer is also a rarity: a temple of farmhouse beers in an IPA landscape. These wild yeast seasons go wonderfully with food. Ergo Pogue and Barker had visions of multi-course beer pairing dinners. They built a private dining room and nicknamed it the Orchid Room in honor of the building’s previous occupants.

“We had exactly one pairing dinner when we opened in January” of 2020. Pogue recalls.

“With a single tear in our hamburger-sized eyes, we’re pushing tomorrow’s grilling session to another day, ”Rough Draft Burger Shop announced on Instagram. The fledgling project had scheduled a pop-up in Fair Isle for March 14, 2020; co-founder Aaron Wilcenski knew the owners of a few previous beer pairing dinners.

“Another day” turned out to be two months and an emotional life later. Back in May, Wilcenski and his then-partner settled on an open hotplate in the driveway, smashing these patties for socially distant and insane customers to take them home in paper bags.

Seattle wanted comforting itself with burgers, and Rough Draft’s tavern-style creations were worth fumbling around through new concepts such as “order ahead online” and “wait in a six-foot-one line.” the other”. The fandom came quickly. But by the end of the summer, Rough Draft had acquired a food cart in Portland (a bar in Seattle is in the works). Wilcenski has compiled a friend list with popups for Fair Isle owners. From there, he recalls, “it snowballed into something big and fun.”

He also inadvertently snowballed in an incubator. Frères et Cie. made a stopover by serving fried chicken sandwiches – not an option at their usual farmer’s market stalls. The perfected preparation at Fair Isle will be at the heart of a future brick and mortar location, said co-owner Zachary Pacleb.

Most attendees stay six months or less, says Pogue, co-owner of the brewery. “There’s a lot of turnover, and rightly so. Now he and Barker rely on word of mouth to fill the schedule. They do interviews and tastings, but the real indicator of success, he says, is operations that can handle a crowd. “No one wants a line of 15 people waiting for their order.” They also seek variety. “We don’t want every day of the week to consist of burgers and beer. “

Nasir Zubair had never heard of Fair Isle when one of his employees told him about his Karachi Cowboys arise. Zubair knew he wanted to grow his food in a full-time business, but borrowing the kitchens of other chefs got old. “It’s like someone is staying in your spare room,” he says. Even with a warm welcome, “At first it was a bit of a drawback. “

During his months of serving aloo sliders and keema over basmati rice in Fair Isle, Zubair strengthened his existing fan base and found new followers among the people who came for the beer, and decided to wash it down with it. commissioned by chana masala. The nice equipment also helped, Zubair says. Especially considering all the things that can go wrong in a temporary kitchen setting. “It’s like putting on a play every time – you don’t know what’s going to happen. “

In June, Karachi Cowboys opened as a full-fledged restaurant. If they hadn’t found the space on Capitol Hill, Zubair said, they would still be in Fair Isle.

Fair Isle was not afraid of big demands; they also crept into Melissa Miranda’s DMs. The chef remembers being impressed with the Karachi Cowboys setup. The brasserie was so accommodating, she says. “Also, their product is amazing. “

Before his restaurant, Musang — before the enjoy your food videos, the New York Times think pieces, and um, some magazine covers – Miranda had designed a comfort food menu with Jeff Santos, a childhood friend who now owns Wow Wow Lemonade. She called him, “Do you want to do this every two weeks?” We’re just going to hit it, grill burgers.

Their presence throughout the summer has turned Tuesdays into prime time. It was fun, says Miranda, but it was also R&D, a chance to cook their meals. She and Santos casually look at the spaces: “We would really like to open a brick and mortar of Musangtino,” says Miranda. “If this is a concept that I hope to develop in the future, it’s good to know that people will come.

Fair Isle owners don’t know how long their status as a contextual proving ground will last. They didn’t charge chefs during the pandemic, but recently instituted a fee system. They could reinstate those Orchid Room dinners in early 2022. Meanwhile, the brewery has a fall and winter popup program that’s almost entirely new faces. “Everyone turned around at the same time,” Pogue says. Fair Isle will begin announcing these names next week; Think of it as a preview of the names we’ll be talking about around this time next year.

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