Eat like a firefighter at Leatherheads Pub in Stanwood

STANWOOD — Because firefighters have to be available to answer calls any time of day, kitchens have been a part of firehouse culture as much as fire poles and Dalmatians. So, it’s not surprising that more than a few firefighters have developed culinary pursuits alongside their knowledge of handling hoses and performing CPR.

And it’s all the more natural that two Stanwood-Camano Island firefighters would see the potential in a historic but vacant fire hall in Stanwood.

Last year, Capt. Erich Schweiger, 46, and paramedic Chad McCoy, 35, refurbished the Stanwood Volunteer Fire Department, first built in 1929, and opened Leatherheads Pub, a reference to the leather-clad beavertail helmets worn by firefighters in earlier years.

Leatherheads honors the building’s heritage with fire engine-red walls and firefighting memorabilia throughout, including turnout gear hanging on hooks, shoulder patches from departments across the country and a wooden ladder railing that separates the bar and dining room — which once opened its bay doors for fire engines and ladder trucks.

As you might expect, the menu at Leatherheads features the kind of hearty pub fare that would sustain a firefighter: sandwiches, burgers, chili, chowder and ribs.

For the last three months, Marcus Irwin has run the kitchen at Leatherheads, adjusting and adding to the original menu and rearranging the kitchen to handle busy nights when live music brings in a crowd.

Irwin earned his culinary degree from Seattle Central Community College 17 years ago. Along with running his own catering company, most recently he was chef for another Stanwood restaurant before answering the call at the firehouse.

Appetizers include thick-cut onion rings ($5.99); pub nachos with cheddar, tomatoes, olives, jalapenos, sour cream, salsa and guacamole; chicken wings served with celery and blue cheese dressing; a hummus platter with Greek olives, cucumber and pita bread; and chili fries.

Both the Firehouse chili and New England chowder ($2.49 for a cup, $5.49 for a bowl) are Irwin’s own recipes. The chili was well- flavored, rich and meaty, with balanced heat.

Sandwiches, served with fries or salad, include the Leatherheads Club ($9.49) with turkey, ham, bacon and cheddar; a Reuben on marbled rye with sauerkraut; a French dip; and your choice of grinders with chicken, ham, pastrami or turkey.

Burgers offer more options for fiery spice-loving diners, including a Flashover Burger with jalapenos, pepper jack cheese, salsa, spicy mayo and lettuce, tomatoes and onions.

The Backdraught Burger ($9.99) flavors its meat with beer-braised onions and Swiss cheese. Piled high with those onions, it’s a two-handed burger that may prompt you to request a hose-down when you’re done.

A chili burger pairs the burger with Irwin’s chili, which should make a great combo.

Chicken or vegetarian patties can be substituted for any of the burgers on the menu.

Most diners seem to have a favorite at the pub.

“The ribs bring them in,” Irwin said.

In fact, Leatherheads ran out of ribs during its Valentine’s Day special and was still waiting for a weather-delayed shipment earlier this week.

The five individual baby back ribs ($12.99) were moist, smoky and, cliched as it sounds, easily came off the bone to dip in some extra sauce.

The rib meal comes with a side of house-made cornbread and coleslaw. The cornbread is moist and sweet and studded with flecks of jalapeno. While the ribs will hold your attention, don’t ignore the coleslaw, at once cool and spicy from the rings of jalapeno and cumin. During Happy Hour, a special with ribs only and a 16-ounce beer is $9.99.

Leatherheads offers wine and beer in bottles and on tap, including an oatmeal stout from Boundary Bay Brewery in Bellingham that is dark, creamy and with an alcohol content that’s almost winelike. It was an excellent match with the ribs and coleslaw. Leatherheads has applied for a full liquor license.

Leatherheads doesn’t have a fixed dessert menu, but check the chalkboard for specials. Recently, Irwin offered a walnut pie ($4.99 for a slice), similar to pecan pie but using the earthier walnuts suspended in the caramel. One slice was plenty for two people.

Irwin said he enjoys working in the firehouse atmosphere of Leatherheads.

“We get a lot of firefighters coming in for dinner,” he said.

But you needn’t worry: He’s not a firefighter and won’t have to answer a call in the middle of the dinner rush.

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