When food businesses team up, diners win.
Coffee beans from Tacoma roasters Valhalla or Bluebeard on the menu a Tacoma breakfast spot? That’s a great find, as is spotting Tacoma’s Mad Hat Tea at a favorite coffee house.
South Sound brew on tap at a favorite watering hole? Even better.
Sometimes we are treated to truly fun chef pair-ups, such as crepes from Tacoma’s Savor Creperie on the menu at Tibbitts @ Fern Hill in Tacoma’s Fern Hill neighborhood.
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Then there’s this mash-up for your to-try list. Newly opened Brimstone PNW has a must-order dessert with a delightful Tacoma bakery connection.
You know those big, fluffy raised doughnuts in the bakery case at Pao’s, the cash-only doughnut shop on the Narrows end of Sixth Avenue?
They’re the base of a dessert Brimstone calls “Big Fluffy Doughnuts.”
Brimstone chef-owner Thad Lyman, who opened the restaurant with wife Katie Doherty in late November, said they’re longtime Pao’s fans (as am I).
“I just loved their stuff and started buying lots of them, then Morokat asked me what I was doing with them, and I got a little nervous, thinking she might take offense to my treatment of their doughnuts,” said Lyman.
Marokat Lo, who runs the bakery with husband Pao, said she was thrilled to learn Lyman and Doherty were featuring the family’s doughnuts.
“I’m proud that I’m part of something on his menu,” she said. “It’s a great idea. It’s different. Nobody’s done that before with our doughnuts. People, as they get to know it more, maybe they’ll like to try our doughnuts?”
And you should really, really try all of Pao’s doughnuts, whether it’s at Pao’s or Brimstone PNW. But trust me, you’re going to want to try them at Brimstone.
Beyond those doughnuts, Brimstone is a fun and unusual find in Gig Harbor that defies being categorized.
On first glance, some might mistake the restaurant for a barbecue place. It’s not, doesn’t want to be and doesn’t describe itself as such. Rather, Brimstone PNW is a tour of smoked meats with a concept that dips into Austin with a tease of the Northwest (see: coffee-rubbed brisket), bends to Guangdong (smoked char siu spiked with five-spice) and detours back to the seafood-rich landscape of the Pacific Northwest (smoked trout).
What barbecue restaurant in the south has Asian barbecue and Northwest smoked fish on the menu? I’m guessing zero. This is a quintessential Northwest mash-up borrowing elements from a number of cuisines and scrunching them up into something else.
Here’s a first-bite look at the restaurant and what to order on a first visit.
The owners: The couple also operates Netshed No. 9, the breakfast-and-lunch cafe in Gig Harbor, and Brix 25, which formerly operated in the Brimstone space before Brix moved to its new waterside perch in 2018. Lyman is from Alaska and Doherty grew up in Gig Harbor and Tacoma. That they’ve created a Northwest mash-up concept comes as no surprise. We Pacific Northwesterners are good at mixing up cuisines and creating something new (case in point: Korean tacos and burgers).
The concept: Says Lyman, “What we are really trying to do is create an atmosphere that promotes having fun. Video games, beers, brisket tacos, cocktails, good music, nachos and doughnuts don’t lend oneself towards putting on airs or being stuffy. We want to have fun cooking great food in a place where the whole family is welcome.”
Atmosphere: The restaurant is effortlessly come-as-you-are casual, feels a little roadhouse around the edges with a side of funky retro. Picnic tables comprise the seating and rolls of paper towels plopped on tables make for easy cleanup from sticky ribs. Kids will love the retro stand-up video games in the back dining area where the high chairs are stashed.
Those bar stools and tables etched with initials? Doherty bought those from an old casino. Graffiti painting in the bathroom is intended to jar diners, much like the surprises on the menu.
The bar: Sequestered behind a separate entrance with seating around a giant U-shaped bar that invites moseying up to strangers. A happy hour menu offers a choice of a meat and a side for $10, plus tacos ($8) and $1 to $2 off beers and wells during happy hour, which starts at 2:30 p.m.
The menu: Divided between taco plates and meats plates in three sizes. Expect menu tweaks and additions as Lyman and the restaurant’s chef, Will Rieck, who is also a business partner in the venture, play around with new dishes. Austin Nolan is also an on-site chef at Brimstone.
Smoked meats plates: Start at $23 for two meats and two sides, $36 for three meats and three sides and $71 for a platter of all meats and sides on the menu, plus cornbread. (Deal seekers should check out the one side/one meat $10 combo at happy hour).
Those meats: The opening menu listed six smoked meats and fish — chile-rubbed pork shoulder, coffee-rubbed brisket, honey-glazed ribs, sausage links, garlic-smoked chicken and roasted whole smoked trout.
The sides: Slaw, baked beans, house pickles, German potato salad. A $3 upgrade swaps any house side for cornbread biscuits, Frito pie, street corn or macaroni and cheese.
Taco plates: Come with a choice of pulled pork, brisket, chicken, char siu pork belly or chorizo dressed with various crunchy toppings and sauces, and served with house pickles, slaw and beans ($15 to $15.50 per plate).
The appetizers: Meatless ($11) or meat-loaded nachos ($16); creamy macaroni and cheese ($9) also comes topped with brisket, pulled pork and smoked chicken ($12); Frito pie (a corn chips dish loaded with nacho-style toppings, $9); street corn ($5); and smoked nuts ($6).
Those cocktails: The menu is divided into fun riffs on old fashioned cocktails made with bourbon, whiskey, rye and more ($10 to $15), boozy drops ($10 to $11) and classics such as a margarita and martini ($10 to $11). Nine beers on tap (7 Seas and Wet Coast represented) and in bottles, plus wine-by-the-glass ($6 to $8).
No booze: Arnold Palmers, scratch-made lemonade, sodas and a cinnamon-spiked iced coffee ($2.50 to $5).
Order the: On a first visit, do try the coffee-rubbed brisket, a long-smoked slab of beef that jiggled at the nudge of the fork, as did the supple pork belly, flavored char siu style, that cut with the gentlest of pushes. Ribs were four bones deep and coated in a honey shellac and tasted like pork crack. The ribs were smoke spiked, as was the juicy pile of smoked pork shoulder. The garlic-rubbed bone-in chicken carried a mahogany lacquer on the skin and broke to juicy dark meat. The smoked trout surprised with a swirl of smoke and a delicate, silky texture.
For sides, the cabbage-carrot-onion slaw was an unexpected delight with a coating of puckery vinaigrette. Baked beans were left-of-center with black-eyed peas and thick with sausage and drippings. Potato salad, as promised on the menu, tasted tangy, German style. A pickle pile came with vinegared carrots, onions, cukes and red peppers.
Taco plates on one visit arrived with corn tortillas but with a wrapper closer to flatbread on another. Roasted corn and cotija cheese topped a brisket taco with a portion so big, it could have fed two. The char siu taco plate held two jiggly slabs of slow-cooked pork belly beneath a green papaya salad. Both plates were dressed with pickles, slaw and beans.
Try these cocktails: The “bacon” cocktail was a hilarious riff on an old fashioned cocktail, flavored with maple and topped with a slab of char siu pork belly as a fun cocktail glass accessory ($15). The Galveston iced tea cocktail offered just enough sweet tea and cola to mask the potent combination of vodka, gin, rum and triple sec ($10). King’s Ransom was a complicated elixir served chilled and up, with a clash of limoncello, brandy and lime juice ($11).
Those sauces: What do you get at a Pacific Northwest smokehouse? Coffee-spiked barbecue sauces, of course. They came in two spice strengths (I preferred the zing of the sassy version). The Carolina gold mustard sauce is a must-try. Every table has those sauces, plus chile-spiked vinegar and jalapeno pepper sauce. All are made in house.
Save room for dessert: Pao’s doughnuts beckon, so save room for a big fluffy doughnut menu ($8 each). The El Chapo tasted like it had a tiny dash of salt to intensify the flavor of the tongue-in-cheek named dessert drizzled with a sticky, sweet Coca Cola sauce and topped with salt-and-vinegar potato chips perched on top of a cloud of whipped cream.
Vanilla chantilly topped another big fluffy doughnut drizzled with a summery-tasting strawberry sauce. I’ve got my eye on the Elvis next time, made with banana caramel, bacon bits and peanut butter icing.
Brimstone PNW Smokehouse
Where: 7707 Pioneer Way, Gig Harbor
Hours: 2:30- 9p.m. Sunday, Monday and Thursday. 2:30-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Closed Tuesday and Wednesday.