While the dark wood interior of the Topside Bar & Grill looks welcoming enough, particularly with the numerous windows looking down to the quaint Steilacoom street and out to the Puget Sound, there is no question about where you want to sit, even where you need to sit. Its deck - outfitted with about 15 umbrella-protected tables and several coiled heat lamps to combat the summer chill here - is the big draw.
While glancing at the chalkboard menu listing of what was on tap that night, I spotted the Topside Amber Ale ($4.34) and inquired where they could possibly be making their own beer, given that the building is not equipped for that. Turns out the Harmon Brewery in downtown Tacoma created the beer for them and keeps them supplied ... a nice, trendy addition to any menu. While the taps at Tospide rotate frequently, current selections include limited edition beers such as Dogfish Head Brewery or Double Mountain, so I feel confident that the beers will always tend to be craft rather than crap.
To start, we ordered the prosciutto wrapped prawn caprese ($13), if only out of curiosity. We were pleasantly surprised when it came skewered and atop a mixed green salad, though admittedly, with only four prawns, I felt that $13 might be a little steep. That being said, the basil leaves were strong and plentiful, the tomatoes were ripe and the dressing was not pooling on the plate - all of which went toward boosting the flavor of the lightly grilled prawns and prosciutto.
My dining companion opted for the Steilly ($11) sandwich, which is the restaurant's take on the old classic cheese steak. Served with grilled roast beef instead of steak, caramelized onions and red peppers, it was a savory choice, but it was the roll that really stood out. By toasting the bread on inside, the sandwich refused to get soggy, despite the heavy four-cheese sauce inside.
I ordered the wild salmon burger ($15) after confirming it was indeed fresh and not frozen. They spoke the truth: this thick, firm piece of wild sockeye was for serious aquatic diners only - no breading or seasoning whatsoever in this burger - and topped with a lemon, dill aioli that I wished had a little more tang. Lettuce, tomato, pickle and onion are served on the side, so perhaps they could add a wedge of lemon to the plate as well and reach true perfection.
While there was a soup of the day included with the meals already, we opted for the chowder - which costs an additional $2 per cup - based on the waiter's recommendation. Luckily, I was happy to pay it since the soup was chock-full of seafood and the broth was just peppery enough. Strangely, the item is not a permanent menu fixture and I really think they should add it and let diners order it by the bowl.
On Tuesday nights, Topside hosts team trivia starting at 7 p.m. and then there's also Wine Wednesdays, when by-the-glass pours from their wine list (which ranges from in-state vineyards to German wines, not a bad selection) are just $5.
So whether you are in the area and looking to grab a quick meal or you want to sit out with a beer and look over an unparalleled view of the Sound, walk upstairs to the Topside ... it's worth the climb.
[Topside Bar & Grill, 215 Wilkes St., Steilacoom, 253.212.3690; open Mon. - Thurs. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m., Fri. - Sat. 11 a.m. - 11:59 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m. - 9 p.m.]
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