You’d think Brandon Pettit and Molly Wizenberg had plenty on their plates. Their pizzeria, Delancey, is on every short list of the best in town. Wizenberg, author of the mega-popular Orangette blog, is finishing up her second book. They’re expecting their first child any week now. There’s the Pantry at Delancey. Oh — and today, they’re opening a new bar called Essex, right next to Delancey.
“We’re making as much in-house as we can, from soft pretzels and grainy mustard to pickles and preserves, bitters, and various liqueurs,” Wizenberg said in an email. “(The liqueur called Burg’s Extra Special Orange is our nod to Grand Marnier, and we aged it for four months in rye barrels. It’s named for my dad.)”
Essex is owned by Pettit and Wizenberg. The bar manager is Gary Abts (La Bete, Licorous), and the executive pastry chef is Brandi Henderson, who also does those honors at Delancey. For now Essex will be open Wednesdays through Sundays, same as Delancey, with plans to eventually expand to seven days a week.
I’m eager to eat at Essex — a sample menu grabbed me from the “toasts” and wood oven-fired produce on to the long list of pickles and preserves down to the mention of “our thin mints” on the dessert list. But I had to wonder what Pettit and Wizenberg were thinking. Wasn’t one new baby enough for the summer? They graciously answered a few email questions while dealing with the last pre-opening (not to mention pre-child) details. Stop by starting tonight to wish them well and sample drinks like a “Red Medicine” made with rye, house-made fernet, Rachel’s Ginger Beer, and rhubarb.
Q: Why a cocktail bar? (Was part of the idea to have somewhere for people to wait for a table at Delancey, a la Pok Pok and the Whiskey Soda Bar?)
A: “Initially, we did think of it as just a place for people to hang out and grab a drink in a nice environment before eating at Delancey, but over time we began to think of it as something bigger – more of a small restaurant with an emphasis on great cocktails. We wanted it to be a place you’d want to go to on its own, independent of Delancey.
“Before we opened Delancey, we asked ourselves, “What would our perfect restaurant be? What kind restaurant do WE want to eat in?” And that’s how we tried to shape Delancey – its decor, its menu, its neighborhoody location, etc. We asked ourselves a similar question when we thought about Essex: “What’s our ideal bar? What do we want to drink? What do we want to eat there?” We liked the idea of a great cocktail bar, but we wanted a lot of the cocktail ingredients to be local or made in-house…And we also wanted that housemade aspect in the food, too. For instance, we wanted to serve pretzels – who doesn’t want to eat a pretzel when they’re drinking? – but we wanted to make them ourselves and serve them with our own grainy mustard. (Brandon has been making mustard for a few years.) Basically, we really like *making things,* and we wanted Essex to reflect that. Essex allows us to play at making a lot of things that don’t really fit into the concept of Delancey.”
Q: What’s the personality of this place? Will it be obvious they’re siblings if people don’t know you own both?
A: “It’s not obvious, no. The design is very different. We came up with the name for Essex* before we decided on its personality and its decor, and the British feel of the name then sort of dictated what it would be like. There’s a pub that I love in London, the Drapers Arms, and it was a big inspiration to us, looks-wise, as we began to plan Essex. We wanted a classic British pub feel, translated to suit Seattle.”
* We chose the name Essex because, in Manhattan, Essex and Delancey Streets intersect, and the Essex and Delancey subway stops share a station. Our Essex and our Delancey share a staff, two bathrooms, a kitchen, and a hallway…
Q: I love the look of the menu, especially a pickle/condiment section. (I guess that’s not a question.)
A: “Brandon is very happy to hear that! He’s our Chief Pickler.”
Q: Why take on any other project now? It seems like your lives had just gotten on a manageable track after the crazy Delancey-opening days.
A: “The umbrella shop next door to Delancey, Bella Umbrella, decided to move to Pike Place Market, and we either had to jump on the vacant space or lose it. She moved out in April, and we dove in. The timing is definitely not great, but we didn’t want to miss the chance. Not planning anything else for a while, though!”
Seattle Times file photo of Wizenberg and Pettit at Delancey