Barbecue joints fall into that small subset of restaurants where a divey look can be seen as an attraction instead of a warning sign. However, the Mountlake Terrace address of Gabriel’s Fire had gone beyond that point, spending years shifting from one failing restaurant to another, until even a Yelper commented that the building seemed doomed. I barely noticed when a new sign went up a few months back. Then food writer Sonja Groset gave a gustatory sigh of pleasure after a dinner stop there, and I realized that Gabriel’s Fire is the same place that had drawn fans for years in a Ballard storefront, including a cheer from meat maven Leslie Kelly. Instead of just driving by the next time, I drove off with a sublime brisket sandwich, another filled with pulled pork, and a couple sides (a bit smaller than I expected, at $3.50 for 6 ounces of mac ‘n cheese, but good). Later, Monty Slimp, who owns the place with brother Gabe, filled me in on their northward move.
The brothers initially meant the Mountlake Terrace storefront near I-5 as a second branch, Slimp said. Then electrical problems “came crashing down” at their rented Ballard storefront, and they decided to just move the whole operation. Part of it was personal: Slimp lives in Mountlake Terrace, and he felt the area just had “nothing to eat, as far as somebody (making) some homemade food.”
They gutted and completely renovated the place, building and installing a bar (with local beers on tap) and putting in new flooring and siding and paint and signs.
The brothers specialize in Texas-style dry rub barbecue, offering a handful of regional sauces (I liked the Carolina vinegar), and pride themselves on scratch cooking and buying American, and sourcing more regionally when they can, as with their Grand Central Bakery rolls. “Our desserts are homemade, they are our recipes. We don’t buy rubs, we make them. We don’t buy barbecue sauces and doctor them up, we make them ourselves…It’s not liquid smoke, it’s 100 percent wood-fired, it’s not gas assisted or heat assisted,” Monty Slimp said.
Gabriel is the brother with the professional cooking resume; he was chef for years at the College Club. Monty’s work background is as an elevator mechanic and auto body painter, but “I know how to smoke food really, really good,” he said.
Their barbecue journey began decades ago, on a camping trip with a friend experienced in the ways of ‘cue, where they wound up fishing and barbecuing a salmon. “I really took a liking to it,” Monty Slimp said, and got himself a little Weber grill.
Then he got a bigger grill.
Then his wife-to-be said their ribs were good enough to serve at their own wedding. Then the thought of a restaurant began. “You just keep stepping up,” he said. And eventually, it seems, you rebuild the steps and a whole lot more, and open the doors.
Rebekah Denn iPhone photo of a to-go sandwich and sides, about to be consumed