Seattle: At Lola, A Lamb Burger That Doesn't Miss a Bleat
2000 4th Ave, Seattle WA 98121 (map); 206-441-1430, tomdouglas.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: A super moist and flavorful burger made of 100 percent house-ground lamb
Price: Lamb burger w/chick pea fries and house made ketchup, $15
Notes: The Greek-inspired starters and sides are certainly worth a look as well
Tom Douglas is a chef that can't be contained. For the past decade, the famed Seattle restaurateur has re-invented his repertoire over and over again, starting with modern Pacific Northwest food at Dahlia Lounge and then branching out to a seafood centric eatery at Etta's. He slings high brow pizzas at Serious Pie, and I've read that his wood fired grilled items at Palace Kitchen are quite good as well. He's also doing interesting riffs on Greek fare at Lola in the Belltown neighborhood of Seattle, including a very successful lamb burger.
The burger, which when requested medium rare, arrives beautifully juicy with welcome background notes of char and the right amount of salt. It's a wallop of lamb-y richness—a boon for people that love the funkiness of the animal. But if you're on the fence on lamb, you might want to order with a more conservative bent.
It's served with a perfunctory pickle and grilled onions, the perfect foil for the richness of the meat, as well as a jumble of wilted arugula that on my visit had seen better days. But it's also accompanied by a house-made ketchup that tastes like the most intense bowl of tomato soup that you've ever had, and not the overly saccharine stuff that lesser eateries get away with. The burger normally comes with chickpea fries, but we subbed that (at no additional cost) for Lola's straightforward Greek salad, composed of juicy cherry tomatoes, crumbled feta, and hints of mint.
There's interesting food beyond the burger as well. Kopinasti ($3.75), a cheese native to the Cyclades islands in Greece (and apparently impossible to find in the US), is re-created using feta and blue cheese. It's drizzled with mavrodaphne, a sweet Greek wine, and finished with crumbles of pistachio for a terrific interplay of sweet, sour and fresh dairy. It's served with fresh pita that's been glossed with good olive oil and burns your fingers if you tear into it too hastily. House-made dolmades ($9), stuffed grape leaves, are treated with respect as well. The grape leaf wrappers are taught and bright with vinegar, while the filling of currants and pine nuts has crunch and character—a welcome upgrade over your standard Greek diner dolmades.
The waiter was quick to recite the heritage of the lamb burger and other ingredients when I made an inquiry of their provenance. The burgers are ground in-house and the lambs are from Anderson Valley farms, just across the state line in northern Oregon, the waiter proudly recited. The tomatoes both in my Greek salad and house-made ketchup are from Mr. Douglas's personal upstate farm. The pickles were cured in house. Had I pressed further, I feel that he may have provided the name of the beast in my burger, channeling this Portlandia skit.
But such pride is evident in the food and Mr. Douglas and his staff has every right to operate with swagger. For a chef that's built his restaurant credibility on the back of thoughtfully cooked seafood and local produce, he's knocking Greek food and lamb burgers out of the park as well.
About the author: Chris lives and works in New York City. You can follow his culinary musings on twitter.