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Tuesday, April 9, 2013


Bourbon Glazed Pork Ribs at Maxwell's     Photo by Hudson Slater

There are restaurants, and then there are legendary restaurants. Maxwell’s Speakeasy in downtown Tacoma is destined to be the latter, and Chef Hudson Slater plans to be part of that legacy. Last week, I interviewed him to ask about the new spring menu and why he loves this place so much.

I have my own reasons for loving Maxwell's. I always find exceptionally delicious and interesting food served in the perfect setting—a warm, inviting space with a touch of Roaring Twenties elegance to match its location in the historic Walker Building. The Lance Buller Trio plays jazz on Friday nights. The private dining room above the main restaurant actually was a secret “speakeasy” during the Prohibition Era and still has a hidden door. Read on to learn about an event taking place there this Thursday, April 11. Then make your reservations, if you can still get in.

Good Life Northwest speaks with Chef Hudson Slater:

GLN: What do you like best about being the chef at Maxwell’s?
Slater: I just love this place. I’ve just always liked being here. I love the windows, the neighborhood, and the bar. It’s a great spot. It’s romantic, but it’s also where romance is more generalized, not just for couples. It has a real whimsical, take-you-back-in-time feel. When you walk in here, it’s like you’re not in Tacoma any more. You’re just kind of wherever you want to be. Call it New York or whatever.

And then there’s our food. I hate to brag, but I think it’s the best in Tacoma. We really try for consistency and quality and freshness. We make all our desserts in house, from scratch.  You should come in here and be taken care of. You should feel like it’s a treat, like “Wow. That was incredible.” But it’s reasonably priced.
And since Steve Anderson’s been the owner, there’s more of a foundation to it. He's here, and he's teaching.

Seared scallops with beet purée, southern greens and bacon, balsamic and creme friache photo by Hudson Slater
GLN: What is it like to work with Steve?
Slater: I like working with Steve. He has a lot of knowledge. It’s really nice because, you make a lot of food every day, and sometimes you have a good idea, but you may not execute it. He is there to try it. He’ll always try anything. Then he might say, “This isn’t going to work” or “I really like this.” It’s just fun. It’s like having a food friend who’s your boss. It’s like when you go out with your friends who like food, and you get surprised by something and say “Oh I love this!” He does that.

Or he has ideas. He’s like “Hey, I want you to do this.” Maybe he has something he wants to do—like he tried it at home, or he just wants to see it—so it’s fun to take his idea and put a twist on it or just do it. But he’s always got good ideas. And I bounce my ideas off him. So it’s been a good team.
GLN: Even though he’s an amazing chef himself, it sounds like he respects your talents and gives you plenty of freedom.

Slater: Very much so. I think with this menu, especially, he’s let me do most of it.
Fresh fruit tart                           phto by Hudson Slater                    

GLN: How long does it take to come up with a new menu and why a new one?
Slater: We’ve been working on it for about a month now. I always think about new dishes. For example, we have the fresh catch, which is fun. That’s always changing. We did a nice crab claw pasta.
It’s fun to try new things and try new sides and vegetables and plating with them. That’s part of it. And then we go into seasonal vegetables and what sold and what didn’t. Sometimes you lose your favorite, unfortunately, and sometimes things go that you’re kind of tired of making, like braised beef. That was fun when it was cold out, but then it gets tiresome.

GLN: Please tell me about some of your favorite items on the new spring menu.

SLATER: Well, I really like the grilled New York steak salad with the poached egg.  It’s on a warm spinach salad. I like the steak and eggs combo. So I really like that one and it will be fun to see where that one goes. (with warm buttered spinach, poached egg, sherry vinegar, parmesan toast $18
The seared half chicken panzanella is kind of a classic panzanella, but the way we’re doing it is really good. That was kind of an Anna and Steve idea that I ran with, made a little twist on it. (artichoke heart, blistered tomato, zucchini, grilled crouton, arugula dijon vinaigrette  $21)
The apple smoked pork chop is something we just kind of hung on to. It’s just so good. We have a smoker in house, which is pretty rare, especially for a place like this. So we try to smoke a little bit just to give the menu a little depth. That pork, smoked, is just wonderful. And the pork chop is plated differently now.  The maple mustard glaze on it is really good. So we grill it and then put it on baby kale, mustard greens, chard, a little sherry vinegar and bacon. (with maple and mustard glaze, mascarpone whipped potato, southern greens and bacon $26)

There's the halibut. (with spring pea and bell pepper risotto, snap pea and pepper slaw, roasted tomato beurre blanc  $30) We wrapped it in prosciutto last fall, with a mushroom squash risotto. It was a big hit so we just updated it with spring vegetables. We’ll probably change it eventually, but people really liked it so we want to have things that people remember.

Grilled steelhead with chickpea olive hash, tomato ragout, and cucumber apple relish                  photo by Hudson Slater
 GLN: What about the grilled steelhead?

SLATER: I’m excited about that one, with the chickpea hash. We’re trying to do more vegan/gluten free options. Obviously, the steelhead is not, but the chickpea hash that we serve with it has roasted tomatoes and olives, a little cumin, and we sell it as a vegan dish as well. (roasted chickpea and tomato hash with tomato ragout, castelventrano olive, grilled zucchini $16) It’s packed with a lot of protein. We have two options for vegan/gluten free with the quinoa too. (grilled fennel and leek quinoa with haricot vert, warm shaved rainbow carrot, balsamic reduction, toasted almond  $16) 

GLN: And of course the Walker Burger is an institution. (grilled certified angus beef, white cheddar, bacon, arugula, tomato, grilled onion aioli, brioche bun AND choice of: house fries, potato chips or fuji and fennel slaw  $14)

SLATER: It’s our number one.
GLN: What about this chicken sandwich called “Das Huhn?” (grilled chicken breast, golden raisin mostarda, white cheddar, bacon, apple fennel slaw, pretzel bun - choice of: house fries, potato chips or fuji and fennel slaw  $14)

SLATER: That’s my baby there. That’s the chicken sandwich with the pretzel bun. It’s kind of German. It’s just a pretzel bun with our golden raisin mostarda, mustard incorporated with golden raisins. And there’s the bacon and the slaw. It’s really tasty. So that’s a fun sandwich.

Ahi crudo with cucumber apple relish, crostini and wasabi avocado purée   Photo by Hudson Slater
GLN: Anything new and exciting in the starters?

SLATER: We went from an ahi tartare to a crudo (with wasabi avocado puree, crostini, cucumber apple relish   $12) That’s really tasty. It’s really thin-sliced ahi with the wasabi avocado puree and then we spread it on a crostini. It’s separate, so you build your cracker, your bite, the way you want it, how much wasabi or how much tuna you want.

The pickled prawn cocktail I like a lot. So it’s poached prawns marinated in kind of a pickle vinaigrette. And then we have the horseradish cocktail sauce and then the wasabi avocado, so it’s kind of like two different horseradish profiles. We serve it in a little mason jar so it’s kind of fun.

GLN: I can picture how, while other people dream about certain things, you’re dreaming about food all the time.

SLATER: That’s right. All good cooks just think about food, dream about it, and are interested in it. I could just Google images of things like scallops, and just keep looking at them. That’s fun for me.


Make your reservation for this fun event in Maxwell’s Speakeasy, at 7 p.m., celebrating the tasty offerings of Tacoma with a special menu.
Slater says: "We’re going to be showcasing primarily the wine and beer (four wines from 21 Cellars plus three craft beers from Wingman Brewers) and pairing the food to that. We have four cheeses from Backcountry Creamery coming in and then four wines and three beers. I’m going to pick up some greens and eggs from Terry’s Berries. We’re doing poached eggs of course.
I brought in Cheryl the Pig Lady. We’re going to use her chorizo with the paella. Of course we’re doing steak, but if I can find something local for that steak I’ll just swap it out. We're going to pair an IPA with dessert. You don’t see that too often. It’s going to be a ginger spiced cake, similar to a carrot cake."
For more information, including menu, call (253) 682-4115

Ask about the Mother's Day Brunch too.

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