There’s a convivial, sophisticated atmosphere upstairs at Bantam 46 in Bellingham, an adults-only zone in a two-level restaurant that’s easy to fall in love with. The décor is stylish with ceilings twinkling with bling, wainscoting on the walls, comfy armchairs and bookshelves lined with books. Brick walls testify to the age of the building and large windows make this a light, airy space that overlooks Railroad Avenue. We took a seat at the bar and inspected the cocktail menu, ordering a sweet cantaloupe-cava-vermouth beverage called My Future Self ($13), which was light, refreshing and tasty.
It’s a good way to describe Bantam 46 in a nutshell, really. Ben Scholtz’s new restaurant on Railroad Avenue is a well-thought-out enterprise created with strategy and deliberation and it’s unrecognizable from its former incarnations just a couple years ago.
Mad Hatter Vintage Clothing previously occupied the lower level while upstairs a hair salon did business. Today Bantam 46 is a bustling restaurant seating 30 downstairs and 50 up above, but it took 18 months of renovation to create this space, a process that included pouring a new floor and constructing an entirely new staircase. Since it opened in May 2019 it’s taken Bellingham by storm.
We ordered the S&P half-chicken and loved the crispy outer skin and soft meat. We also tried the root salad, a delicious kale, beet and carrot mixture with blue cheese and candied walnuts ($12), and the PNW salad, where the sweetness of diced apple was complimented by roasted fennel atop baby greens in a light vinaigrette.
Topped with rotisserie chicken it was a filling, delicious meal. If you’re opting for side dishes be sure to order the rotisserie cauliflower ($5) and the garlic, parmesan and herb fries ($9), both of which will leave you smacking your lips and vowing to order the same thing next time.
The idea for Bantam 46 was inspired by the rotisseries made by Wood Stone Ovens in Bellingham, and Scholtz built the kitchen to accommodate one of them, a vertical rotisserie that cooks 15 chickens at once. “It was exciting to build our kitchen around a high-quality piece of equipment made locally, and to have access to Wood Stone’s test kitchen and technical support,” he said.
The chicken-centric menu includes buttermilk fried chicken, rotisserie chicken, chicken sandwiches and salads with chicken – so it’s a good idea to be a chicken fan if you’re eating at Bantam. If you’re not, other options include chicken-less salads, a cheese burger, macaroni and andouille sausage with grits.
At the bar upstairs, William Canepa is adept at creating extraordinary cocktails with names drawn from literature. There’s One Side Will Make You Grow Taller (a line from Alice in Wonderland), a beverage with porcini mushroom vodka and tyku coconut sake, and Old Man in the Sea, an old fashioned with saltwater.
“I’m trying to find ways to appeal to people who are curious on the bar menu and to give people things they won’t run into every day,” Canepa said. There are a few beers on the menu, but his goal was to present other alcoholic beverages not readily available in the city. “This town is so focused on beer everywhere else, it doesn’t need us to focus on beer,” he added. “We’re trying to present an adventurous menu, to give Bellingham something it doesn’t already have.”
If tipping percentages have ever addled your brain you’ll be glad to hear that Bantam has a strict no tipping policy. One of the cornerstones of Scholtz’s business philosophy is that his staff earn a living wage. The no tipping rule is based on his belief that every job in the restaurant is valuable, and that it’s better to give staff financial incentives than to force them to rely on tips, which are unpredictable at best. Scholtz has committed to giving his employees 46 percent of the profits at Bantam, or their base wage, whichever is higher.
Scholtz is thrilled at the reception Bantam 46 has received thus far and is excited about the future. “We wanted a concept that felt authentic to our team, – Chef Jessie Tomlin, Tommie Couling and Richie Sandbom – something they would enjoy doing and could do well” he reflected. “I think we nailed it.”
If You Go:
Located at 1327 Railroad Ave., Bantam 46 is open for dinner Wednesday through Monday from 4 p.m. Info: 360-788-4507