Pretzels are the platonic ideal of an appetizer.
They're usually oversized and salty, and served with a sauce or two to encourage communal ripping and dipping. It's rare to find them as the focal point of proper restaurants outside of Bavaria—but Anchor End Eurocafe is in the business of changing that.
Opened in 2015 in Seattle by twin sisters Amanda Lewis and Jessica Rachon, Anchor End began as a food cart that specialized in fluffy, golden-brown pretzels with a soft exterior and a light dusting of sugar on top. In 2017, Lewis and Rachon won $16,000 on Food Network's Guy's Grocery Games before moving the cart to Vancouver, Wash., and last January opened a brick-and-mortar on Northeast Fremont Street in the Beaumont Village neighborhood.
The pretzels remain the star of the show in the cheery, understated space, which employs minimal décor aside from a few modest Etsy-chic appointments and a mural that depicts cute and colorful humanoids riding oversized birds in space. It was nearly empty on both our visits, one of which was during prime brunch time on a Saturday afternoon. Pretzels and pierogis might not scan as the practical protein-based morning-after solution most diners are used to, but what's inside and on top of them proves to be a magical improvement over a simple product that's already damn-near perfect.
The most basic option is a plain pretzel for $6, with an optional add-on of rich and tangy beer cheese for $1 or a coating of cinnamon sugar that will render your fondest memories of sticky-sweet mall pretzels moot. It could have stopped right there, but the cafe seizes the opportunity to use its expanded kitchen to reel in foot traffic spurned by lengthy wait times at nearby Pip's Original Doughnuts and Batter Griddle and Drinkery. Itinerant brunchers will love the Seasquab ($10), which features firm scrambled eggs, gooey white cheese and maple aioli on a pretzel roll that's been cooked in French toast batter and salted just right. Add a glob of pork belly for $2 and you're in sweet-and-salty breakfast sandwich heaven. Even the basic side salad is exploding with flavor, with a cherry vinaigrette that adds just enough sour acidity to balance the bitterness of the greens.
While perusing the menu at the counter, be sure to peek at the racks of breads and pastries on the back wall. That's where Anchor End keeps a pile of sweet and pillowy paczkis, which on our visits featured a delicate whipped apricot filling and a generous dusting of sugar. These alone are worth the visit, and their impending renown should strike fear in the heart of Pip's.
No Eastern European establishment worth its salt is complete without some kind of dumpling, and Anchor End excels at churning out soft, creamy pierogis (three for $9, five for $14) that are easily some of the best in town. It's not that competition is all that fierce, but the add-ons once again propel a product that's fine on its own into otherworldly territory. The heap of caramelized onions served on the side compensates for a dumpling that may be a tad too dry for some, but purists should politely ask for pierogis covered in an extra pass of the sour-cream drizzle.
If you're feeling extra hungry (or hungover), go for broke by getting them smothered in mushroom gravy at no extra cost, then add an egg and some pork belly for an additional $2 each. Wash it down with a paprika and roasted tomato bloody mary ($8) or a glass of beet juice punched up with ginger syrup, lemon juice and vodka ($7), and you've got a meal that scratches every itch for sweet, salty and starchy flavors.
Sooner or later, the hungry masses in search of hearty brunch options or the joys of light and fluffy paczkis will find out about Anchor End, and it would be nice if its hours expanded beyond the 10 and 11 am start times, as its rotating clutch of baked goods justifies opening the doors for early-morning types who are satisfied with just a hunk of sugary carbs and a coffee. Either way, Anchor End's graduation from a food cart to a full-scale cafe is a welcome addition to a neighborhood that's slowly yet surely raising its profile in the food scene at large.
EAT: Anchor End Eurocafe & Bakery, 4641 NE Fremont St., 503-288-5019, anchorend.co. 11 am-7 pm Tuesday-Friday,
10 am-7 pm Saturday-Sunday.