Handmade pasta baked in a wood-fire oven.
Experimental vegetarian fare served alongside roasted bone marrow.
Argentinian steak paired with South American wines.
East Coast deli sandwiches.
And plenty of craft beer.
If you want it, Sixth Avenue’s got it.
Now add these to Sixth: lavender ice cream, a loco moco plate, Carolina pulled pork and Oklahoma burgers.
This is the summer for movement on Sixth Avenue — Tacoma’s most varied restaurant neighborhood — with four openings and two restaurant moves along a 2-mile stretch from Stevens to Steele streets.
So far this summer, Sixth Avenue has gained a Hawaiian plate lunch restaurant, a Southern restaurant with Carolina roots, an ice cream cafe and a pop-up restaurant operating out of a bar.
Next up is a big move for Primo Grill. That longtime Sixth Avenue anchor and respected chef-owned restaurant closes at Sixth and Pine on Saturday, with a planned reopening Aug. 8 a few blocks away at Sixth and Oakes. Another restaurant on the move this summer was The Red Hot, Tacoma’s go-to tavern for craft beer and gourmet hot dogs.
And then there’s this news: Hilltop Kitchen owners Chris Keil and Matthew Schweitzer are purchasing Sixth Avenue’s Marrow, the upscale restaurant with a dual purpose menu for vegetarians and meat-eaters opened by Jaime Kay Jones, Jason Jones and Kyle Wnuk in 2011.
Happening next on Sixth
2701 Sixth Ave., Tacoma; 253-383-7000, primogrilltacoma.com
When Primo Grill reopens Aug. 8 in its new perch off Sixth and Oakes, the menu might appear familiar, but the Mediterranean restaurant will sport a complete face-lift.
Owners Charlie McManus and Jacqueline Plattner call the makeover part modern, part Northwest. Reclaimed wood will cover tabletops and floors. A 30-foot mural of a corridor representing the Puyallup Valley, painted by Tacoma Community College art students, will add a vibrant backdrop. Old schoolhouse light fixtures discovered during the building’s remodel will hang in the restaurant.
Its remarkable smoke-infused menu covering broad Mediterranean terrain remains, courtesy of a new wood-fire oven (the old one wasn’t structurally safe to move) and the addition of a house smoker that also will boost the menu of neighboring Crown Bar, a sister establishment about to see a menu makeover.
Diners will find familiar farmers listed on the menu — something for which Primo Grill is known. Terry’s Berries in Puyallup has signed on to grow the restaurant’s salad greens.
McManus and Plattner plan to close Primo Grill after dinner service Saturday and spend the next two weeks readying their new space.
Consider Primo Grill the patriarch of the Sixth Avenue restaurant district. Husband-wife team McManus and Plattner opened Primo Grill on Sixth Avenue in 1999. In the following years, the neighborhood gained X Group restaurants Asado and Masa, the nightclub Jazzbones, and newcomers such as Dirty Oscar’s Annex and Marrow.
Marrow Kitchen Bar
2717 Sixth Ave., Tacoma; 253-267-5299, marrowtacoma.com
Marrow Kitchen Bar opened in August 2011 with an ambitious mission and dissonant undercurrent: A restaurant with a menu of finely crafted cuisine for vegetarians alongside meat-eaters in an atmosphere that felt vibrantly social by design.
The concept stuck with diners. The menu introduced Tacoma to the garlicky jiggle of roasted bone marrow — but also a vegetarian menu washed in grains and beans, with no gimmicky meat substitutes. The line at the 21-and-older destination often sprawled at the door, a consequence of the restaurant’s no-reservation format.
Three years later, co-owners Jaime Kay and Jason Jones, who also own Top of Tacoma, and co-owner/chef Kyle Wnuk have taken the concept as far as they could.
In the next few weeks, they’ll hand over the keys to Chris Keil and Matthew Schweitzer, co-owners of Hilltop Kitchen, a stylish Latin-themed cocktail lounge known for its craft cocktails and small-plates menu. Like Marrow, Hilltop Kitchen focuses on classic techniques infused with a Northwest sensibility.
Keil and Schweitzer promise diners “very few changes” when they announced the purchase of Marrow. Jones intends to stay focused on Top of Tacoma, the McKinley neighborhood bar, and is looking forward to taking some time off. Wnuk will do the same, said Jaime Kay by phone. ”There wasn’t anybody else I would sell to. They’re really driven young men and they’re going to do a phenomenal job,” said Jaime Kay. ”Our diners can look forward to the same concept. They’re buying our brand. They want to maintain the quality of our food.” One small tweak she’s expecting they will make, ”What we were short on in wine knowledge and craft cocktail knowledge, they’ll fill in the blanks nicely.”
Quick takes on new spaces
2715 Sixth Ave., Tacoma; 253-272-2514, southernon6th.com; serving lunch and dinner Tuesdays-Saturdays
Gloria Gentry and Angela Hernandez tried to start a catering company, but wound up with a Southern restaurant on Sixth. The sisters from North Carolina opened Southern Exposure in May in the space that previously held the wine bar It’s Amore.
It looks something of a Southern supper house, with an upright piano and a charming dining room awash in Tiffany blue and flickers of silver with substantial chairs that take some heft to peel from tables.
Southern Exposure is at once as appealing for family dining as it is for ladies who lunch, thanks to nods to the sisters’ background in catering (just push those distracting, tall table centerpieces aside like we did).
I found Southern-tinged classics kissed with Carolina flavor and a Caribbean touch or two, courtesy of Hernandez’s Puerto Rican husband.
Southern treats are on display in the side dishes, from crunchy-fried okra ($3.75) to the sweet, satiny texture of the banana pudding ($4.50).
Order the menu standout: a fried chicken dinner ($14.95), piquantly spiced, lightly breaded and fried until golden, with two sides.
The Carolina heritage also shows up in oven-baked ribs ($9.95 at lunch/$16.95 dinner) and a pulled pork sandwich ($9.95 lunch/$14.95 dinner), served with a puckery slaw infused with Carolina-style barbecue sauce, served on the side.
Da Tiki Hut
4427 Sixth Ave., Tacoma; 253-625-7690; serving lunch and dinner Tuesdays-Saturdays.
The term “plate lunch” is so common in Hawaii, it’s earned its own culinary category.
Casual cafes throughout the islands serve the combination plates with marinated meats, steamed rice and macaroni salad.
Now Sixth Avenue has its own plate lunch cafe. Da Tiki Hut opened in July in a fast-food space that used to hold a Taco Time.
Da Tiki Hut’s menu focuses narrowly on plate lunches with a choice of kalua pork, Tiki chicken or Korean-style chicken. The menu also lists a loco moco plate and Spam musubi. Prices are low: $2-$8.50.
Owners Steve and Tamara Lerma intend to expand the menu after they “nail the basics,” as Steve described by phone.
He intended to start his business as a food truck — diners will see the bright orange trailer parked outside the restaurant — but he lucked into the Sixth Avenue location. The food truck will come later. So will daily menu specials at the restaurant.
Order the kalua pork ($6.50 small/$8.50 large), a plate of tasty smoke-tinged pork shoulder slow cooked inside a banana leaf, with the requisite rice and macaroni salad. The loco moco ($6.50) tasted like what I’ve had at other local Hawaiian haunts, but with heftier flavors. A griddled burger patty with dark brown gravy came with an over-easy egg, just as ordered.
The Red Hot
2914 Sixth Ave., Tacoma; 253-779-0229, redhottacoma.com; serving lunch and dinner daily
Note: This bar is 21 and older only.
You can measure the Red Hot’s move in steps, not miles. In June, the popular craft bar and gourmet hot dog emporium from brothers Chris and Stu Miller moved a door down to a space that has tripled the size of the 7-year-old establishment.
But don’t think the move means you’ll find a beer hall with seating-o’plenty and servers wearing suspenders with flair. It’s still the old Red Hot you know and adore, with about 20 more seats. The space mirrors the no-frills design of its predecessor, with stools and seating in configurations big and small, dark red walls and concrete floors. While the old Red Hot felt crammed, the new Red Hot is airy with better-spaced tables.
The new location funneled its increased space where it counts for a craft beer bar, in cold storage for more brew. The tavern long has had a reputation for the finest craft beer tap list in town, and an addition of several taps brings even more choices.
Find an expanded two-page hot dog and sausage menu with almost a dozen toppings for the all-beef dogs, and about half that number for the gourmet sausages. Vegans will appreciate four choices. All are priced $4-$6.75.
Order the Red Hot’s version of a Chicago dog ($4.50), built on a poppyseed bun and sprinkled with the requisite celery salt, with a pickle spear, tomato slice, mustard, diced onions and sport peppers piled over an all-beef grilled hot dog. With the substitution of sweet pickle relish for the neon green variety, it’s as pure as a Chicago dog gets in Tacoma.
The Cowboy ($5.25) with a beef and cheddar smoked sausage, baked beans, barbecue sauce, bacon and onions was worth every moment of the heartburn that ensued.
Ice Cream Social
2914 Sixth Ave., Tacoma; 253-327-1660, icecreamsocialtacoma.com; open daily at 11 a.m.
It was right outside her new ice cream shop that stay-at-home mom Layla Isaac began her dream business in summer 2012. She sold homemade ice cream with lofty flavors at the Sixth Avenue Farmers Market.
Isaac, with help from her daughter Sayge (one of Isaac’s six children), developed a Tacoma-centric philosophy, making ice creams with berries from South Sound farmers and ingredients from Tacoma businesses, such as Libertine Tacoma salt, Valhalla coffee and Mad Hat Tea Co.
They first made ice cream in the kitchen of Medi’s (now Half Pint Pizza) before moving to their own commercial kitchen in downtown Tacoma’s old Post Office building, still home to their production.
The ice cream cafe on Sixth — two doors from The Red Hot, a brilliant placement — was an immediate hit, with the business struggling to keep ice cream in stock during its initial weeks.
The Sixth Avenue cafe is a flexible space with seating for singles or groups. The small menu features only ice cream, but Isaac has plans: ice cream sandwiches and sundaes for sharing.
Flavors are written on the daily changing menu. Diners might find fanciful blends such as French toast, Earl Grey tea, roasted banana, cherry chevre, salted caramel, buttered popcorn, vegan-friendly lavender coconut and dairy-free strawberry sorbet.
The basics also are covered: dark chocolate, vanilla, strawberry.
Scoops ($3-$4.75) are sold in a cup or tucked into warm waffle cones, made fresh at the counter. Pints are sold for $7.
Parker’s at O’Malley’s
2403 Sixth Ave., Tacoma; 253-627-9403 or facebook.com/Parkers.at.omalleys; serving lunch and dinner daily
Note: This bar is 21 and older only.
Mike Parker has made his living managing kitchens at Tacoma’s bar institutions, and now he’s creating his own inside O’Malley’s on Sixth Avenue.
Parker’s at O’Malley’s opened in late June in a tiny kitchen in the backroom of the bar. The menu lists bar food, but with flourishes representing Parker’s signature kitchen moves: handmade dressings, hand-dredged onion rings and cod, house-braised corned beef, and so many ingredients created from scratch, with thoughtful layering of ingredients and focus on details.
Yes, it’s bar food. But it’s bar food that tastes as if it came from a chef.
Parker’s most recent job was kitchen manager of Eleven Eleven, a neighborhood destination created by Tacomans Robby and Justin Peterson. That bar became known for Parker’s sandwiches. The same crowds flock to the McKinley neighborhood hangout, Top of Tacoma, where Peterson previously worked as kitchen manager.
At Parker’s, find four each of appetizers, sandwiches, burgers, salads and Irish-themed entrees that fit O’Malley’s loose interpretation of an Irish bar.
Order the Oklahoma burger ($10, with fries or chips), with grilled onions embedded in a patty with sizzled edges and a juicy middle. The messy Reuben with pastrami or corned beef $9, with chips) tasted punched up with a housemade dressing with slightly more horseradish than Parker’s version had at the Eleven Eleven.
It’s a tough call between the airy house-made potato chips or hand-breaded onion rings that shatter upon impact. Order both.
Sue Kidd dines anonymously and The News Tribune pays for all meals.