Our second installment of our Dinners With Sandy. This time we get swanky at Maxwell’s
Maxwell’s Speakeasy. Did you know we had one? Nothing seemed illicit, but maybe I wasn’t looking hard enough. Despite its central location Maxwell’s seems to be fairly isolated on its corner at 6th and St Helens, apparently enough to once host a very exclusive, although legal drinking club. Walk in any direction and you’ll hit a great food joint – Corina’s, Stink, Puget Sound Pizza, Doyles, The Tap Room, and The Hub are all within a block or two – but the only immediate neighbors of Maxwell’s are an inordinately elaborate intersection and The Fabulous Fifties Hall, which is quite a conversation piece. What’s the deal with that place anyway? Maxwell’s is a place Adam and I probably wouldn’t have made it to if not for our lovely host Sandy. Not for the overt swank, or the equally swankily priced menu, but for the simple “removed from everything else” feel the place has. Dunno, maybe it’s just me.
The restaurant is classy. It feels like the lobby of an upscale hotel circa 1920, complete with chandeliers and sepia-toned walls. The wood is dark and the lighting soft. They definitely nailed the rat pack vibe. Above the dining room the careful eye will notice a small set of windows which apparently once housed the now defunct drinking club. For a mere $1000/year you too could have been an exclusive drinker. I wonder what it’s like up there? I imagine a smokey room full of tuxedos and girls selling cigarettes on trays. I predict a sweet theme party!
We arrived during happy hour, and Maxwell’s has a pretty good one: all night Mon/Sat while Tues-Fri it’s 4-6pm and 9-close. During happy hour all draught beers are $3, wells $4, and wine $5. Select cocktails are $6 and a good portion of the lounge menu is 1/2 off. There were several gritty Tacomans at the bar drinking cheap, taking the rat pack vibe down a notch. In true rat pack fashion we ordered a couple classic drinks – the menu is full of ‘em. Gimlets, cosmos, and many concoctions built around bourbons and whiskeys. I started with the Hemingway, made with Jack Daniels Honey Whiskey, muddled cucumber, dry vanilla soda and agave. A bit sweet for me, but the menu was pretty forthcoming about that – I’ll plead idiocy this time. Adam enjoyed his Sandstone Old-Fashioned made with eagle rare 10 year bourbon, bitters, muddled orange, lemon and cherries, raw brown sugar, and a splash of soda. He seemed happy. Sandy sent her drink back – they seemed to forget the alcohol. They did however return it, this time with all of the ingredients.
Appetizers were great, although pricey. At $10 the seared scallops were delicious but few. The meat was delicate and extremely flavorful, but the sauce (sautéed spaghetti squash with hard cider tart cherry butter) was the true secret to this dish. Very unique and good enough that I was scooping up the remainder and eating it straight.
The Yellow Split Pea puree was a lot more food for the money at $8, and very flavorful. This would be a good buy for those app, beer and out eaters.
Sandy kicked things off with the toasted orzo pasta. At $12 the dish was well balanced and cooked right, but Sandy wasn’t blown away. Don’t get me wrong, she liked it, but she wasn’t singing “Luck Be A Lady” from the bar top…although I doubt she’d do that regardless. The dish drew some parallels to a couple menu items at Marrow. Don’t know…can’t bring myself the hit the “Arrow” side of that cork board yet.
It didn’t take much arm twisting, but Sandy was able to convince Adam and I to order big. Adam opted for the sautéed duck leg ($20). The flavor was big and savory, the fattiness of the duck leg pairing well with the squash, but I thought the meat was a touch overcooked. Adam disagreed. Whatever.
I too went big. Huge in fact. The Ciopinno is one of the highest priced menu items at $26. The thing is enormous and totally loaded with seafood goodness. They should seriously consider offering a bowl version of this at a reduced price for those who don’t want the cauldron. Because the bowl was so monstrous the soup was also a bajillion degrees. I spent dinner loudly sipping between little yelps of pain.
The seafood was all fresh. There must have been 12-15 clams in this thing, plus a ton of prawns, a good number of scallops, and slightly chewy but tasty seasoned fish. I was sipping this most of the night, and definitely well past my table companions’ plates were cleared. I ended up taking home a pretty big soup container full and had dinner the next day taken care of. The flavor was adequate, but I feel ciopinno is one dish where the chef can absolutely craft a flavor bomb. This was good, but it certainly fell short of bomb-dom.
The burger at Maxwell’s in considered by some to be one of the best in town. The Walker Burger is a half pound of grilled chuck with white aged cheddar, hickory smoked bacon, arugula, tomato, grilled onion and aioli on a brioche bun. It wants to eat you.
Dessert may have been the best part of dinner. I will definitely be back for some happy hour wine and bread pudding. Oh man.
The chocolate cheesecake was phenomenal, and again it’s straight from Corina’s Bakery just up the street. After trying the torte at 1022 a few weeks back, Adam tried to order it straight form Corina’s and was denied. I imagine this is the same. If you want this little beauty head on in to Maxwell’s.
I’m very much an ice-cream-with-dessert kind of guy, but held off tonight due to my ciopinno-induced distended stomach. Turns out I didn’t need it. This custard infused bread pudding was amazing and moist enough to make ice cream superfluous. Flavorful and totally qualifies for the melt-in-your-mouth cliche. My mini hunt for the best bread pudding in Tacoma may have come to an abrupt halt. I’ll keep you posted.
Maxwell’s is a swanky throw-back restaurant with decent drinks and food that is solid but pricey. There may not have been enough to set Maxwell’s apart food-wise from the other higher end places in town, but I found it preferable to Stanley’s and Pac Grill. We also found out soon after arriving that the lead chef, Vivian Irish, recently left. So we likely came in the midst of a transition period. Too bad, we’d heard good things about Chef Irish.
Like always, mention us and get…diddly squat. Sorry.
Maxwell’s Speakeasy & Lounge