Montlake Pub Owner Picks Prime Location

XX Grady's Pub & Eatery, 2307 24th Ave. E. Lunch and dinner (same menu: $3.50 to $9) 11 a.m. to midnight Monday through Saturday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday. Brunch ($5 to $8) 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday. Beer, wine. Major credit cards. Nonsmoking area. No children. No reservations. 726-5968. ------------------------------------------------------------ The best prime rib French Dip sandwich in Seattle is alive and well right next door to where it was first created.

Grady's Pub in Montlake is a few steps away from where Perry Kelly's Big-K Bar-B-Q became a University District institution back in the 1950s and '60s at 2305 24th Ave. E. Grady's space was once occupied by Jilly's East Tavern.

Jilly's and Kelly's had a symbiotic relationship. Kelly would cook his 250 pounds of prime rib every morning (as students and others lined up down the block for waits up to an hour), and as each happy customer came scurrying out clutching the huge sandwiches and a tub of au jus dip, they would duck into Jilly's for a cold beer to wash down the warm sandwiches.

Perry Kelly eventually sold out and retired back in the 1970s (his old place is now occupied by the Cafe Lago). But when Christopher H. Grady took over the tavern next door last year, he got hold of Perry Kelly's recipe for roast beef, the two sauces that were served with them, and even the stove that Kelly cooked it all with.

Therefore, you can now get the same sandwich and drink a cold one without having to shift locations. And, as far as I can tell, you do not have to stand in line for an hour to do so. In the words of Kurt Vonnegut: and some skeptics say there is no progress.

Grady's is an uncommon pub and Grady is an uncommon publi-can. He came to tavern-keeping from a career as a stockbroker, and he did so with the intention of making his bar a center for quality food instead of just another watering hole in the wall.

As a result, his customers drink less than usual and, as I have witnessed, eat more than they should.

"Seventy-four percent of our sales are in food," Grady said. At present he is trying to get a license change that will allow him to shift to a full-service food operation that would include children and families.

First things first. You have to try the French Dip sandwich. At $7.50 it is three times the price I paid during my college years at Kelly's in the roaring sixties. But it is a heck of a sandwich and I prefer the regular "natural" sauce to the southern-style barbecue sauce.

The sandwich comes with a massive mound of potato chips. For an extra dollar, they will substitute hand-cut, skin-on French fries cooked in a no-cholesterol oil. There is too much of either to finish at one sitting.

Vegetarians can opt for the Cold Cucumber Sandwich ($4.50), made with Grady's own herbed cream cheese, tomato slices and sprouts; or for Gretchen's Veggie Burger, a grilled 6-ounce soy patty with garnish and sprouts on a sesame seed bun ($3.95).

Soups by chef Cindy Thompson ($1.50 a cup; $2.50 a bowl) are particularly good, as is the house Irish Stew ($6.25), made with lean lamb, potatoes, onions and a touch of thyme. I thought one bowl of Taco Soup I tried, however, was a bit thin.

Thompson is not the usual burger-flipper cook found in the typical tavern kitchen. With 13 years of experience in restaurants and roadhouses from Alaska to California, she has a range of skills that produced a diverse menu.

Nachos, for example, are made from homemade chips; onion rings (and fish and chips) are coated in freshly made beer batters, and the soups constructed solely from fresh, local products.

The Rueben Sandwich ($4.50) is a winner. The grilled corn beef is well-trimmed, the sauerkraut tastes like it was not recently popped cold from the can and the melted Swiss cheese on caraway rye holds it all together.

There is a list of daily specials on the menu (Monday, Meatloaf; Tuesday, Mexican night; Wednesday, all-you-can eat spaghetti, etc.), along with two or three other specials listed on a blackboard. Prices are modest: from $7.95 for a Top Sirloin marinated 48 hours in the Big-K Bar-B-Q sauce, to a mere $4.20 for a platter of nonstop spaghetti and garlic bread.

The signature item, of course, is the prime rib sandwiches, which Grady has some reason to lament.

"Frankly, with the quality and quantity of the beef that we use, we really don't make any money on them. Still, they are part of the neighborhood and its history," he said.

The tavern is more open and brighter than most, and it has a nonsmoking area, which is unusual for the genre. There are more women than men at lunch, Grady said, and the mostly-male atmosphere of the former tavern is gone.

"The college drinking crowd has moved elsewhere," he noted. "The midnight closing hour may have been the smartest thing we did. Most of our evening trade comes from the neighborhood, which is exactly what we had hoped for."

Harp's Irish Lager is the house brew, along with a dozen other premium beers and ales on tap.

Several months ago, I asked Times readers for suggestions of inexpensive eateries with food quality beyond the ordinary. It was one of our reader's tips (from Dick Ficke) that led to a happy couple of weeks hanging around Montlake.

Thanks to Ficke and, of course, cheers.