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The Un-Sports Bar – Quality Athletics

Welcome back to The Carnivore’s Dilemma where I feature picks for offbeat places to eat meat from Seattle chefs that venture well beyond steak and burgers.

Much has been written and said about the burgeoning restaurant empire of Josh Henderson and his Huxley Wallace Collective, which includes Lake Union’s Westward as well as Quality Athletics in Pioneer Square. The former has been lauded locally and nationally for both its food and interior design while the latter has been characterized as the ‘un-sports bar,’ changing the game of traditional bar food by offering different, sometimes offbeat renditions on the classics.

Sure, there are games playing on screens all over and the place is packed on Hawks and Sounders game days like any bar in Pioneer Square. But the real differentiation between the traditional ‘sports bar’ and Quality Athletics is the food created by Chef Seth Richardson. That’s not to say you can’t get bar food standards like wings and burgers. But Richardson gives you those classics with a twist such as charred, sweet chili chicken wings and jerked duck wings instead of greasy Buffalo wings covered in fiery orange hot sauce that you feel the next morning.

I recently sat down with Richardson to talk about his journey from being a deckhand on a commercial fishing vessel to finding his calling in the kitchen—and his true love of meat.


Richardson manning the pass at Quality Athletics


So why did you become a Chef?

Well, I just kind of fell into getting a job at GameWorks after spending time as a commercial fisherman. I needed a job so I went out and got one. I’d blown all my money on a big screen TV, a couch, and a bunch of stupid things you buy when you’re 20-something and have a little money for the first time.

It was a horrible place but I realized there that I had a knack for cooking and I really enjoyed it. I loved working the line, getting a rush from the pressure, and making the best of a bad situation. As I moved into other restaurants I realized that I really enjoyed it.

My next job in food was at a Pan Asian restaurant. I grew up in a small town on the Oregon coast and shitty Americanized Chinese cuisine is what you had. It really opened my eyes to the possibilities that existed in food.


What do you love about being a Chef?

The best thing about cooking is that I know could study for years and I would never know everything. In this job I keep learning all the time—about different cultures, cuisines, and cooking techniques. It’s fun to strive to learn everything but I know it will never happen in food.


How did you conceptualize the Quality Athletics menu?

We wanted to go with a family-style concept while still having some familiar things on the menu. We knew we had to do some kind of wings. Sports bars have eclectic mix of food when you think about it—from Italian to Asian to Hispanic. When you think about bar food you have your pizza and nachos and spring rolls and such—they are all Americanized, though. Here we try to pull in some traditional Asian and North African influences—a bit outside the box but still in a vein to allow people to find the food somewhat familiar.


The bar, complete with lockers


What are you doing with meat that nobody else is in this town?

From a sports bar perspective I’d say it’s the ramen with tonkatsu broth. To make a proper broth you need to get the right bones and cuts of bones which is a science. I’d done some work with this preparation in the past but have gone back to reading up on it and it’s very interesting.

The major difference is that the technique to make tonkatsu stock is totally different than Western stocks which you try to get all fat out of. For a broth used to prepare ramen—you want as much fat as possible in it. And different cuts of bones with their collagen and marrow is really important. We’re doing a pressure-cooked tonkatsu broth here and we continue to dial it in.


The main dining room at Quality Athletics


Ramen seems to be hitting the mainstream here in Seattle. What are some of your favorite places to go for it?

I like Arashi Ramen in Tukwila as well as Ramen Man Noodle House in Wallingford. I don’t much care for the broth at Samurai Noodle but the noodles are great.


What chefs have inspired you?

Martin Picard for sure. I saw him on Anthony Bourdain’s show and he really inspired me with the things he’s doing at the Sugar Shack. David Burke is another one—he’s just so playful with food. When you see what he’s prepared it’s kind of fun to watch. Even though it might be ridiculous and over the top you want to eat it.


Have you ever witnessed an animal slaughter and butchery?

Yes. I’ve seen a pig get its throat slit and it is interesting, but all part of the process. Since I used to commercial fish I’ve eviscerated thousands of pounds of fish. I have memories of going to bed on the boat with caked on halibut blood, sleeping for three hours and then getting back up to go on deck.


How often do you go out to eat and where do you go?

My wife just had a baby over a year ago so I don’t go out as much as I used to. We just moved down south and we go out for pho quite a lot in Des Moines. I also love Kau Kau in the I.D. It’s just the best for roast pork and duck. Little Uncle is another great place. When I lived on the Hill I would go there all the time.


Where can I get a good cheesesteak now that Philadelphia Fevre is closed?

It closed? I loved that place. The owners left out all these romance novels you could pick up and borrow. Tat’s was always my #2. I loved their Philly cheesesteak bread—it was so greasy you could see right through it.


What do you think is the next big thing in meat?

Braising and off-cut cooking. The price of meat just keeps pushing us in this direction. It’s getting harder to build a menu around steak cuts and remain profitable. Ramen is making a big boom right now, using cheap bones, etc., and I think you’ll start seeing more refined soups on menus.

When I was building my menu here I wanted to do steak frites and was stuck trying to figure out what I can afford and still make money. We’re at the point where we don’t have those ‘magic cuts’ with hanger and skirt steak and such. I used to be able to get those for $4.50 a pound and now they are becoming mainstream and are drying up.

My meat guy was trying to push me into beef belly. I tried it and was like, meh. I braised it off and it just kind of tastes like corned beef. Not a fan.


Beef, Lamb, Pork, Chicken, Goat or Other?

I’d have to go with pork just because it’s so versatile. You can use everything—belly, shoulder, shank,  bones for tonkatsu. I like the flavor of beef and lamb better but if I had to choose one to use forever I could just do so much more with pork.


Who’s the best butcher in town?

I’ve gotta go with Russ at Rain Shadow Meats. His product is awesome. I love going in there—but I can’t do it every day.


Best non-traditional cut of meat to work with?

Oxtail. I love it when it’s braised just right. That gelatin fat sticks to your lips and it’s so greasy and delicious.


Looking into Quality Athletics…


What off-beat meat dishes should people look for?

I just had Boat Noodle Soup for the first time the other day. It’s a Thai soup that’s similar to a Pho. It’s a peasant broth with all the bones thrown in there and simmered down.


What meat should people learn to cook if they only know the standards?

Grilling. So many people do it in their own back yard and so many fuck it up. Temperature control is a big deal. You want that char, but most people burn it on the outside and it stays undercooked in the center. I’ve been to so many backyard barbecues and many have had bad food.

I just got a Big Green Egg and it’s awesome. I just made pork shoulder and smoked then shredded it for tacos. The temp control on it works well and is really nice.


What’s your go-to for charcuterie in Seattle?

Salumi. It’s the go-to spot. I know it’s the boring answer but it is #1 for a reason.


Best after-hours activity for food service.

Drinking?! That’s the answer right there. What else is there to do at that hour? You get off work at midnight and you might as well stay up for a few more hours. I lived on Capitol Hill for ten years and spent my fair share of time at Clever Dunnes and Harry’s Bar on 15th.


What’s your go-to karaoke song?

That’s easy. I rock Iron Maiden’s ‘Run to the Hills‘.


*Portions of this story originally appeared in Eater Seattle

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