Winner winner chicken dinner
What: Bantam 46
Where: 1327 Railroad Ave.
WHEN: 4pm-9pm weekdays; 4pm-10pm Fri.-Sat. (closed Tuesdays)
Wednesday, June 26, 2019
Next time you’re in the mood for some really tasty chicken, you’ll want a table at Bantam 46. The restaurant on Railroad Avenue in downtown Bellingham is the brainchild of Ben Scholtz, who owns Mallard Ice Cream—directly next door.
Scholtz is a serious 48-year-old who approaches his restaurant projects with a deep sense of purpose and strategy. When Mad Hatter Vintage Clothing, the previous neighbor to Mallard, shuttered its doors he knew the time was ripe for a new project.
“With this space available it seemed like a great opportunity to do something new in this building and be our own neighbor,” he says. Inspired by the rotisseries produced by Wood Stone Ovens on Bakerview Road, Scholtz created a chicken-centric menu and installed a vertical rotisserie that cooks as many as 15 birds at a time.
“It was exciting to build our kitchen around a high-quality piece of equipment made locally, and to have access to Wood Stone’s test kitchen and technical support,” he says.
It took 18 months of renovation before Bantam 46 was ready. Scholtz’s construction team poured a new floor and built an entirely new staircase, keeping the large windows on the upper level and the rustic brick walls. Downstairs there’s seating for 30 people and upstairs in the bar, room for an additional 50. The two levels share the same menu but have distinctly different themes and atmospheres.
While downstairs feels like a family restaurant, the upstairs area is at once sophisticated and casual, with barstools, lounging chairs and cocktails with names drawn from literature. Since its opening mid-May the restaurant has been full every night.
You can choose your chicken fried, cooked rotisserie style or on a sandwich at Bantam, but most locals are going for the buttermilk fried variety. If rotisserie chicken is more to your taste you’ll want to check how long to go before it’s ready, as the rotisserie takes an hour and there’s no rushing this dish.
A half-chicken sells for $22 with a selection of sides and $15 without, while a whole chicken costs $25. The quantities are ample and come with a choice of sides—cheddar grits, bourbon-baked black eyed peas, mac and cheese, or our favorite, the rotisserie cauliflower, which packed just the right amount of crunch. The root salad was another great choice; a delicious kale, beet and carrot mixture with blue cheese and candied walnuts ($12). Portions are ample, which makes sharing a no-brainer.
Don’t look for a broad beer menu at Bantam. There are a few on the menu, but they’re not the focus of the bar.
“This town is so focused on beer everywhere else, it doesn’t need us to focus on it,” bartender William Canepa says. “We’re trying to present an adventurous menu, to give Bellingham something it doesn’t already have.”
House cocktails have names drawn from literature, including One Side Will Make You Grow Taller (a line from Alice in Wonderland) and Old Man in the Sea, an old fashioned with saltwater. “I’m trying to find ways to appeal to people who are curious on the bar menu and to give people things they won’t run into every day,” Canepa says.
The number 46 in the restaurant name refers to Bantam’s no-tipping policy. Ensuring his staff receive a living wage is one of the cornerstones of Scholtz’s business and it’s highlighted at the top of the menu, the first thing patrons see as they start reading.
The no-tipping rule is based on his belief that every job in the restaurant is valuable, and that it’s better to give staff financial incentives than to force them to rely on tips, which are unpredictable at best. Scholtz has committed to giving his employees 46 percent of the profits at Bantam, or their base wage, whichever is higher. “It was a policy that definitely made me want to work here,” our server told us.
Scholtz is thrilled at the reception Bantam 46 has received thus far, validation that his concept has struck a chord in the community.
“Most restaurants start with a concept and go looking for a location, but we did it the other way around,” he says. “Bantam started with a team of three Mallard employees—Chef Jessie Tomlin, Tommie Couling, and Richie Sandbom. They were folks who had restaurant background, training, experience and a desire to do more with food. We wanted a concept that felt authentic to this team, something they would enjoy doing and could do well. I think we nailed it.”
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