Oaky’s Tex-Mex is coming to the Central District. That means Tex-Mex ‘queso’, the hot, melted cheese made for dipping tortilla chips or drizzling on dishes, is soon to satisfy that comfort food craving. If queso isn’t your thing (yet) Matt Davis, co-owner of Wood Shop BBQ just across S Jackson, is bringing his passion for food to each of his menu items.
With a rotating taco menu, meaty burritos, queso, and cocktails, Oaky’s expects to open any day now.
“The connection to comfort food is pretty intense for us,” Davis says.
“We found next level BBQ in Texas, and we fell in love with Austin too, the standard of food quality there is awesome.” Davis said. Co-owner James Barrington and Davis would take trips down to Texas during the early years of Wood Shop for BBQ tours.
“We would go down there in February because the weather was better there. In doing that, we fell in love with the place and got more into Tex-Mex. People give a shit about what they do there.” A few years back, Davis and Barrington went to pick up their “Snoop Dogg” smoker in Texas and while driving from Austin to El Paso they “ate their faces off,” trying all the Mexican food they could find.
Sometimes it was a small-town restaurant with 4,000 Yelp reviews like Mi Casa Restaurante in Arizona where you could taste how much care is put into the food. On occasion, it’s the people who stand out.
“The main spark for it (Oaky’s) was Valentina’s Tex-Mex, Miguel and Modesty (Vidal), two amazing human beings down in Austin.” Davis, too, wants to take the simple, modest, and delicious route, “blurring the lines” between BBQ and Tex-Mex.
“I want to take his kind of stuff and put it into a burrito. We started playing around, making staff meals, and learning that our brisket in a burrito is ridiculously good.”
The smoky flavors of Oaky’s and Wood Shop are also part of a tradition of BBQ in the Central District where you can satisfy your need for Southern comfort food. C. Davis on Rainier Ave. has been doing a series of food truck style pop-ups and catering since the pandemic changed business. And The BBQ Pit, which has found a home at the old R&L BBQ space on Yesler, is a favorite of Davis.
“I love Pookey. That hospitality is something you can’t train. You have to guide people to that. Pookie has that. We like each other’s stuff, but you can tell he likes his stuff better and I like my stuff better, that’s just part of it. I would say his ribs are by far his best thing.” Although they both own BBQ restaurants, there’s just as good a chance they’re talking shop about their other shared background, construction.
At Oaky’s, a Central District tradition that’s been as much a part of the food as the place, will live on. “It needs to mean something to somebody otherwise you’re just selling bullshit,” Davis says.
The concept of Oaky’s has long been in development after its start as a pop-up but with an approach as casual as Wood Shop. “Fine dining was getting saturated,” Davis says. “We wanted to give another version of what we love about Seattle. People who love great food. Everything across the board has to be great, but it doesn’t have to be stuffy, fine dining, fancy. It can still check all the boxes but can also be casual at the same time. You don’t have to sacrifice quality to have a casual atmosphere.”
Davis believes Oaky’s will bring a similar vibe to the area as neighbors Broadcast Coffee, Reckless, and Standard Brewing.
While bigger than Wood Shop, which sits at just over 800 square feet, one third of the 1,500 square feet at Oaky’s is dedicated to dining, with nearly half of that in their bar area. According to Davis, “people in the neighborhood were looking for a cocktail bar” and while their cocktail menu will be inspired by the South, Davis’s Kansas roots will show up as well.
With two giant smokers just across the street, and a dedicated Oaky’s fire pit, the flavors are a BBQ chef’s dream.
“I love having endless access to smoked peppers, we’re doing the same thing with tomatoes. I’m trying to give them the capabilities to play with flavors in a big way”. His smoked pepper queso will be unique, but “not overpowering” Davis says. “I want it to be something you can’t get just anywhere. I have to stand behind whatever I’m putting out.”
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