Right down the road from Virgil's Café in Bellevue is a newly opened (since November) neighborhood burger joint, The Elusive Cow. Originally, I had heard that it was a vegan or vegetarian pub, but one look at the menu made it clear: This restaurant is much more than that.
The owner of The Elusive Cow, Jim Fisher, wanted to create a space where eaters of every kind can sit down and enjoy something off the menu. His fiancé is vegan, and Fisher spent several years as a vegetarian, making the duo experts on the frustration of finding somewhere to eat where they didn't ride backseat to meat eaters. In turn, Fisher created a menu that supports the omnivore in us all, including dishes with bison, tofu, fish and, of course, hamburgers. He also wanted his food to come from the best places in the area and focused on sustainable and organic farms.
My friend and I walked into a full restaurant on a cold Friday night. Like the Tardis from Dr. Who, the restaurant looked bigger on the inside. We opened the door and stood in a space among tables. There was no space for a host or sign telling us to wait to be seated. A busy server in all black walked by us and instructed us to sit wherever we wanted. We chose a couple spots at the bar right by the drafts and in front of their fully stocked liquor shelves that highlight the bourbon and whiskey selections.
They have an extensive beer menu with 90 bottles to choose from — mostly micro brews — and six beers on tap, including familiar names like Founders and Southern Tier.
They have a sizable wine list as well. I ordered a glass of sparkling wine ($9) and my friend chose the Eurotrash Pils by Southern Tier ($5) on draft.
The menu is filled to the brim with starters like salads, onion rings and loaded fries, then a slew of different meats or non-meat options for sandwiches as well as different breads and sides. The bartender gave us an additional sheet of paper listing the specials.
We started our meal off with a half-order of house-made onion rings ($6.95). These onion rings far surpassed the typical vehicles for ketchup. The batter burst with substance, flavor and crunch. Another upside: They were cooked to perfection, hardly a greasy hand between the two of us. Whatever carnival onion rings I had eaten in the past, these guys blew them out of the water. Speckles of black pepper and corn grits hold together the rest of the batter in a deep golden brown ring. A half order was plenty to squelch our hunger for a little bit.
For my main course, I chose the falafel special ($8.95) served with the vegetable of the day, Brussels sprouts. I couldn't have been happier with the presentation. One big, tender pita folded and stuffed with three balls of falafel and crammed with pickles, fresh onions and tomatoes. To top it off, the tzatziki sauce served alongside the sandwich is house-made and dairy free. They use a recipe involving soaking cashews for the base and then add their own mix of spices and relish to brighten it up.
My friend got the signature Elusive Cow Classic burger ($9.75) with some additional toppings and a side salad with the house vinaigrette. Figuring the name of the restaurant into the decision, we agreed a straightforward burger might be a good choice. He ordered a medium, but it was served very well done. The only thing my friend lamented was my falafel being juicier than his burger. He struggled with the avocado's firmness — it wasn't quite ripe — forcing it to slide out of the burger with every bite. Also, the temperature of the bun felt like the cook pulled it fresh out of the bag. While the texture and temperature left something to be desired, my friend enjoyed the overall flavor of his entrée.
In spite of the burger misstep, I'm definitely going back. The tempeh sliders and parsnip chips ($9.75) aren't something you see on every menu. The chorizo burger ($10.25) and bison burger ($10.25) looked interesting and seem worth a try in the future. Mostly, I want a good beer and those great onion rings with a side of ketchup.