The folks you see at happy hour, they don’t often look all that happy, do they? I mean, what kind of person goes out in the middle of the afternoon to drink? Office pals playing hooky, tourists who don’t care what time it is, lushes who don’t know what time it is, retirees who can’t make it past sunset in any event. Somehow, though, Seattle has developed a tradition of happy hour (much more than, say, Los Angeles or New York, and it’s a phenomenon virtually unknown in Europe).

And hey, I could also say: how wonderful that people without a fixed schedule can get an early and inexpensive start on the night.

The big draw at FlintCreek Cattle Co., in Greenwood, is (understandably) meat. You want seafood, stick with Rock Creek, down in Fremont. Smart folks, Eric and Christy Donnelly: they understand you can’t be all things to all people, at least not in one restaurant. And the best deal at FlintCreek is the $7 Blue Cheese Butcher Burger served on a potato roll, available only in the bar, and only during the 4 to 6 p.m. happy hour. The kitchen preps 12 of these a day, then they’re gone, so the closer you arrive to FlintCreek’s 4 p.m. opening, the better your chances. The Butcher Burger is on a par with the late, lamented miniburgers at Cascadia, a decade ago. No, it’s better because the blue cheese makes you forget about ketchup. And in an age of $15 glasses of wine, FlintCreek’s $7 Spanish red is more than serviceable. Highly recommended.


***


They were longtime friends from Mercer Island, attending college in Boston. Ben Friedman was getting a degree in advertising and marketing at Boston University, Brad Gillis in environmental studies at Bowdoin, and in their conversations about what they wanted to do next, one of the things that kept coming up was Seattle’s particularly keen awareness of environmental issues. But that sensitivity didn’t seem to extend to restaurants.

“We saw that people were committed to buying local and organic at the grocery store,” says Friedman, “but it was harder to keep that commitment when you went out to eat.” Says Gillis, “You shouldn’t have to give up your food ideals when you leave your home. Even for something as simple as a sandwich.”

Sandwich! That was it. They would open sandwich shops, but sandwich shops with an environmental conscience, made with sustainably grown, locally sourced ingredients. Not yet 23 years old, they rounded up some funding over spring break, and, in 2009, opened the first store in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood. They called it Homegrown. (Note: I wrote a book in 2013 titled Home Grown. No relation.)

Before long they had more stores than they could supply from trips to local farmers markets, so they launched their own sustainable farm along the Sammamish River, about half an hour northeast of town. They called it Sprouting Farm, and it now supplies the seasonal produce for all the stores, ten in Seattle, and, thanks to a $2.5 million round of fund-raising last year, three more in the Bay Area. Not bad for two guys who just celebrated their 30th birthdays.

But I have to say, alas, that their $11.95 seasonal sandwich was just awful: “Uncured ham, blasted brussels sprouts, roasted apples, white cheddar, dijon mustard, roasted garlic aioli & farm greens.” (I get nervous when I see brussels sprouts on a menu; they’re the new kale, “good for you” but tough and bitter,) What the menu-speak doesn’t admit to is the tsunami of astringent dijon mustard on the bottom layer of the sandwich, the bitterness of the thinly-shaved Brussels sprouts (raw, not “blasted” at all, which might have brought out some of their natural sweetness), the utter tastelessness of the cheddar, the mushiness of the apples, and the timidity of the aioli.  Ah, for a crisp bite of apple in the middle of all this! But it was not to be. If you could somehow avoid the mustard, the best part was actually the bread roll. Harsh? Probably, but if you’re going to stake your company’s reputation on its environmental purity, it’s gotta taste better than this.

Ronald Holden is a restaurant writer for Pacific Publishing. His new guide to local food and drink, “Forking Seattle,” is available from Amazon.