Mercer Islander brings innovation to Seattle's Belltown with 'Spur'

Spur owner and chef Brian McCracken, left, and chef Dana Tough. - Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter
Spur owner and chef Brian McCracken, left, and chef Dana Tough.
— image credit: Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter

It’s not every day that someone who grows up on Mercer Island becomes a chef and owner of his own restaurant, but this is just what has happened to Brian McCracken — the owner of Spur, Belltown’s newest and greatest gastropub. Along with Chef Dana Tough, McCracken has turned what once housed Mistral into a sophisticated restaurant and bar.

Both chefs are young, just 27, and very creative. Their menu is small but incredibly innovative. Flavors that I tasted wowed my palate as well as that of others who dined around me last Saturday night.

In explaining a gastropub, I can easily say that it specializes in high-quality food a step above the more basic “pub grub.” The emphasis is placed on the quality of food served. That is just what I discovered at Spur. Both Chef McCracken and Chef Tough are blazing their own trails with New American Cuisine, creating interactive and seasonally pure plates to share.

Schooled in techniques from around the world, these chefs have designed sustainable-conscious dishes. Plus, their bar drinks are innovative, also making it a gastronomical experience.

Chef McCracken was born into a family of fisherman, farmers and restaurateurs. He trained with some of the nation’s top chefs in Boston, New York, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. In Seattle, he worked under Chef Maria Hines, who he accompanied in the kitchen at a James Beard dinner in New York in 2005. He has also worked with the culinary team at Mona’s Bistro in Seattle and owned his own catering company, Flyte. Chef Tough was a former Chef de Cuisine at Tilth Restaurant in the Wallingford district in Seattle. Together, they can be found creating their seasonal menu nightly.

What inspires these chefs is the quality of the local farmers’ crops. “We have Bill and Steff’s tomatoes, arugula and peaches from Bill Alstott’s farm, and Annie’s French heirloom melons and cap goose berries from King’s Garden, to name a few,” says McCracken.

Spur is located in a historic building in Belltown at 113 Blanchard St. For reservations, call (206) 728-6706. Check out Spur’s Web site at I highly recommend it!

Chef McCracken sent me three recipes to share with you. I have also included some recipes using produce from our Mercer Island Farmer’s Market, plus two recipes for the Jewish holiday, Rosh Hashanah, beginning Monday evening, Sept. 29, and Yom Kippur “break the fast” on Thursday, Oct. 9, at sundown.


Serves 3-4

8 ounces cold smoked


8 ounces mascarpone

16 pieces crostini

4 ounces pickled shallots

2 ounces capers

Extra virgin olive oil to taste


1 (each) baguette

Extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper

Thinly slice the baguette on a bias so that your slices are three inches long. Place them on a cookie sheet and brush them with oil. Season with salt and pepper, then bake in a 350-degree oven for 10 minutes. Let them cool.



Serves 3-4

2-3 heads of heirloom lettuces

3 (each) Easter Egg Radishes shaved thin

1 (each) shallot finely diced

1 TBS. finely sliced chives

1 TBS. finely chopped parsley

2 TBS. Ricotta Salata crumbled

Salt and pepper to taste

2 T Champagne Vinaigrette


1/4 cup Champagne Vinegar

3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

In a mixing bowl, drizzle the olive oil slowly into the vinegar while whisking to combine. Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl, and gently toss together to coat the lettuces. Garnish with extra Ricotta Salata.


Serves 3-4

12 (each) Sea Scallops

2 cups English pea puree

2 cups chanterelles

1 cup English peas


1.5 cups of shucked English peas

1/4 cup of butter

3/4 cup of water

Salt and pepper

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Blanch the peas in the boiling water for 2-3 minutes. Place them immediately into a blender with the butter, water, salt and pepper. Blend until smooth and creamy. Heat in a pot when ready to use.

Season the scallops with salt and pepper, then place them in a very hot pan with a little bit of oil. Let them get golden brown on one side (approximately 2 minutes), then flip and turn off the heat. They will finish cooking in about 2 minutes. In another pan, sauté the chanterelles in a little bit of butter; once golden brown, add the English peas and a splash of water. Season with salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice. To plate: Begin with a quarter cup of English pea puree on a plate. Top that with the chanterelles and peas. Place 2-3 scallops on each plate and serve.


Ann Lovejoy, author of “Fresh from the Garden Cookbook,” suggests using produce from an organic fall garden. So pick up some of the vegetables at the Mercer Island Farmer’s Market on Sunday. Makes 4 servings.

1 cup brown or jasmine rice

1 TBS. olive oil

2 cloves garlic, mashed

2 small yellow pattypan or summer squash,

thinly sliced

2 small zucchini, chopped

1 cup sliced green beans (1/2-inch pieces)

1 cup sweet corn kernels

1 Walla Walla sweet or any sweet onion chopped

1/2 tsp. kosher or sea salt

1 tsp. minced fresh lemon thyme or any thyme

4 sprigs lemon balm, minced (it’s a leafy green

herb with a lemon flavor and fragrance)

4 sprigs of silver mint or any mint, minced

4 ripe tomatoes, diced (juice reserved)

1 tsp. drained capers

1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

1/2 to 1 cup sour cream for garnish.

Cook the rice according to the package direction. In a frying pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the garlic, brown on all sides to flavor the oil and discard. Add the squash, zucchini, green beans, corn and onions, stir to coat with oil and cook until soft, 3 to 5 minutes. Sprinkle with salt, add the herbs, and cook for about 30 seconds to bloom the flavor. Stir in the tomatoes with their juice and the capers. Fold the vegetable mixture into the hot rice. Serve warm, topped with freshly ground black pepper and garnished with sour cream.


Makes 6 to 8 servings. The casserole utilizes fresh kinds of squash, and eggplant tastes even better the next day.

2 TBS. virgin olive oil

2 cloves garlic, chopped

2 yellow summer squash, sliced

2 pattypan squash, diced

1 eggplant, peeled and diced

1 medium onion, chopped

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

1 tsp. fresh oregano leaves

8 ounces lasagna noodles,

cooked and drained

3 cups garlic and basil pasta sauce

2 cups shredded fresh basil leaves

1 cup grated mozzarella cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly coat a 2-quart baking dish with olive oil. In a large frying pan, heat the remaining oil. Add the garlic and cook over medium-high heat until golden, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the squashes, eggplant and onion; sprinkle with salt, pepper and oregano; and cook, stirring for 1 minute to coat the vegetables with oil.

Line the baking dish with a layer of noodles (use one-third of the total) and 1 cup of the pasta sauce. Add half the cooked vegetables and half of the basil. Repeat with a second layer of noodles and the remaining vegetables and basil. Top with the remaining noodles and pasta sauce and the mozzarella. Bake until hot through and golden, about 1 hour. Serve hot.


Grab the fall tomatoes, toss into the blender with herbs, and follow the directions for a quick and fresh tomato soup.

6 cups fresh tomatoes,

diced (with juice)

1 Walla Walla sweet onion, chopped

1 cup cilantro leaves

1 TBS. virgin olive oil

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1/4 tsp. kosher or sea salt

1/4 tsp. freshly ground pepper

1 cup heavy cream non-fat

sour cream is acceptable)

2 green onions, thinly sliced

for garnish

In a blender or food processor, combine the tomatoes, onion and cilantro, and process until fairly smooth; set aside. In a soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat; add the garlic and cook, stirring until golden, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the tomato mixture, salt and pepper, and then reduce heat to medium and heat through. Add the cream and heat, 2 to 3 minutes; do not boil. Serve hot, garnished with the green onions.


I found the recipe in Jayne Cohen’s new book, “Jewish Holiday Cooking from Wiley.” Ask for it at Island Books. Hint: Before measuring the honey, measure the oil using a glass measuring cup. Then without rinsing the cup, measure the honey. Every bit will slide out easily. About 10 servings.

3 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

2 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. baking soda

1/8 tsp. salt

3 large eggs

1 1/4 cups sugar

1 1/4 cups canola oil, plus additional oil for greasing the pan

2/3 cup honey (8 ounces) light or dark, according to your preference

1/2 cup brewed coffee, cooled to room temperature

1/2 cup Cherry Heering — available at liquor store

1/2 cup fresh orange juice

1 cup lightly toasted nuts, chopped

(walnuts, pecans or almonds)

1/2 cup dark raisins (optional)

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Lightly grease a 9x13-inch glass baking dish and line it with parchment paper. (The oil will help anchor the paper in the large pan.) Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. Beat the eggs with an electric mixer in a large bowl until well-blended. Add the sugar gradually and continue beating until thick and pale. Beat in the oil, honey, coffee, Cherry Heering and orange juice on low speed. Gradually add the flour mixture, beating on low speed until just combined; don’t overmix. Use a rubber spatula to scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl and gently fold in the nuts and raisins, if desired. Turn the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, or until the cake springs back when lightly pressed and a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Transfer the cake to a rack to cool at room temperature. Slip a thin-bladed knife around the cake to loosen the edges. Invert the cake onto the platter. Carefully peel off the parchment paper.


Double this recipe for a crowd and use a 9x13-inch pan.

3 cups whole milk

1 thin strip lemon zest

1 cinnamon stick

1 cup fine dried egg noodles


1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 stick (4 TBS.) unsalted butter, plus 2 TBS,

softened for topping

1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1 to 2 TBS. finely chopped crystallized ginger

2 medium-large ripe Bartlett of Bosc pears, about

1 pound, peeled and sliced about 1/4-inch thick

1 cup sour cream (8 ounces)

4 ounces cream cheese, softened and cut into bits

3 large eggs, beaten

1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

About 1 cup gingersnaps, crumbled

In a 3- to 4-quart heavy bottomed saucepan, combine the milk, lemon zest and cinnamon, and bring to a boil over medium heat. Continue cooking over lively heat, stirring occasionally and adjusting the heat if the milk threatens to boil over, until the mixture is reduced to a little over 2 cups. Stir in the noodles and a pinch of salt, and cook for 4 to 5 minutes. Add the granulated sugar and stir until it melts. Remove the pan from the heat and let it cool to room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Melt the 4 tablespoons of butter in a 9-inch square baking pan in the oven (or on top of the stove if the pan is flameproof), swirling the butter around to cover the bottom and sides of the pan. Sprinkle with the brown sugar and ginger, and arrange the pears evenly on top.

In a large bowl, beat together the sour cream, cream cheese and 1/4 teaspoon salt until smooth. Whisk in the eggs and vanilla. Remove and discard the lemon zest and cinnamon from the noodle mixture, and add the noodles to the cream cheese mixture. Combine everything well. Pour the contents of the bowl over the pears. Combine the gingersnap crumbs and 2 tablespoons softened butter, and sprinkle over the top of the kugel.

Bake the kugel for about 50 minutes, until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. The kugel should be slightly firm. Let cool until set.

To serve, run a knife along the edges of the pan, invert the pan onto a serving plate and unmold. Or cut and serve the kugel from the baking dish, if using a 9x13-inch pan. Best if eaten warm.

Eileen Mintz can be reached by e-mail at or by phone at 232-1984.

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