Cooper’s Food & Drink in Tacoma finally opens. Here’s a first look
Cooper’s Food & Drink is now open in Tacoma’s Westgate neighborhood. It brings with it the feel of a neighborhood restaurant, a family-friendly vibe and an outdoor dining area well equipped for socially distant dining.
Today (July 21, 2020) is opening day to the public, but the restaurant has held a week of soft opening and invitation-only events.
The restaurant and bar is the culmination of about three years of planning and labor by local restaurant owners, Greg and Tanya Troger. They thought they’d get the space open within a year of their purchase of the building, but one year turned into two-plus years. And, well, that’s pretty typical for any complicated restaurant project that includes taking a business down to the studs and building it back up from scratch. The transformation of the building is remarkable.
Longtime locals will know the space as Barb’s Westgate Inn (and a bunch of other bars before that), but it most recently was called Westgate Bar & Grill. The building at 5928 N. 26th St. has stood for more than 40 years and its footprint has adjusted significantly over time.
THE NEW LAYOUT OF COOPER’S FOOD & DRINK
When diners previously walked into the building, the entrance was on the left back side of the building. The Trogers shifted that entrance to the right front side of the building, which is the side closest to North 26th Street. At that entrance, diners will find a host station and waiting area. The footprint of the building makes far more sense for a restaurant that’s divided between a family-friendly dining area and a bar with an outdoor patio attached.
Diners walk past bathrooms and down a hallway to the main dining room. Booths line the room, with four-seat tables filling in the center. The restaurant is stylish and built for comfort, a complete shift from the building’s former life as a gritty bar. The main dining room is decked in earth tones and muted drop-pendant lighting. High-back booths invite lounging.
The kitchen shifted to the back of the main dining room. Flanking that all-ages dining room is a separate bar with seating for diners 21-and-older only.
That spacious bar offers a combination of high-top tables for small and large groups (when large-group dining is allowed again). High-top and low-top tables sprawl across the long-and-narrow patio just outside the roll-up garage door. A lounge area with couches anchors the far end of the patio by the bar. That bar opens to the patio via a roll-up window. Diners can belly up to an al fresco bar with direct access to bartenders. Bar seating extends around the corner and inside the building, as well.
The bar’s roll-up garage doors allow diners to spill out into the outdoor dining area. In our current era of dining restrictions due to Covid-19, that outdoor dining area will be a hot ticket for 21-and-older diners. Every other table was marked unavailable, in keeping with current dining restrictions.
The character of the restaurant feels distinctly like a neighborhood destination. And in a residential part of Tacoma big on families with kids, a restaurant with an enormous parking lot is not only welcomed, but it’s also a rarity with typical Tacoma neighborhood restaurant real estate (think: Downtown, Sixth Ave, Proctor and McKinley. And then try and think of how many restaurants in those neighborhoods have huge parking lots). So many families – the ones that have to tote kids and car seats – have told me they’d dine out more often if Tacoma restaurants had better parking. Well, families, your request has been answered and you won’t have to lug that car seat five blocks in Westgate.
“I have a hard time seeing the end vision in the beginning,” explained Greg at last week’s soft opening. “It ended up looking better than we could have imagined.” He credited their contractor and designers with pushing the design to where it ultimately landed. The Trogers worked with Sharp Construction, a company owned by Bruce Hoessly and his son B.J. Hoessly. B.J. was the lead on the project. They also consulted with Tacoma’s Bargreen Ellingson on the interior and also had reinforcement from Alex Osborn, the girlfriend of Justin Troger, Greg and Tanya’s son who helps run the restaurant.
A member of the family that built the building more than 40 years ago attended the soft opening and he remarked that he didn’t even recognize the place. “It’s changed so much,” he said. “I can’t believe what they’ve done with this building. It’s wonderful.”
THE EATS AT COOPER’S FOOD AND DRINK
The Trogers know their way around a casual eats menu. They also co-own The Forum restaurants with locations in Puyallup and Tacoma. Those restaurants are known for their lengthy menus of pub favorites, infused booze and exhaustive list of housemade dipping sauces (it’s the best destination in the area for people who like to dip their fries in something other than ranch and ketchup).
Cooper’s Food & Drink carries a distinct feel separate from The Forum, and a different menu, but the two restaurants have one thing in common: The menus at both restaurants are priced below market, making them affordable for nearly every wallet.
While The Forum locations appeal to grown-ups and cocktail seekers, Cooper’s blends into the neighborhood that extends from Westgate to Ruston. Cooper’s menu is built to satisfy parents and kids alike. The kid-friendly menu includes $7 meals with four entree choices – mac and cheese, chicken strips, sliders and grilled cheese – with a drink and choice of fries, salad or fruit.
For grownups, the appetizer menu plays to cocktail-and-beer-friendly eats with a pimento cheese dip served with toasted pita ($10), wings in three flavors ($14), deep-fried panko-crusted pickle spears with a housemade smoky sauce ($10), deviled eggs fortified with chorizo ($10), a solid looking charcuterie plate ($18), a trio of two choices of sliders ($13) and pizza-themed savory rolls ($11).
The entree menu tops out at $16, making this among the most affordable options in the area. Crowd-friendly food includes two pastas – spaghetti with marinara and hand-formed meatballs ($14) and mac and cheese ($12) with an option for the addition of bacon or fried chicken. There’s also beer-battered fish and chips ($15), a pub steak served with a side and toasted garlic bread ($16), a two-piece fried chicken with house slaw and fries ($15) and chicken parmesan ($14).
Meals-on-a-bun include an East Coast specialty that’s impossible to find in Pierce County – Beef on Weck. Troger is from New York and this sandwich is an homage to that sandwich he grew up eating. “The Beef Weck,” as it’s called at Cooper’s, was built with thinly-sliced roast beef that had been dunked in an au jus, piled high on a toasted bun from Hess, the German bakery in Lakewood, and served with a side of creamy horseradish sauce. It’s going to be a must-order for everybody, whether or not one grew up eating that sandwich in Western New York. At $14, it’s a bargain and comes with a choice of fries, tots, onion rings, or a soup or salad. I’ll be writing more about that sandwich this summer, including its origin story.
Other sandwiches include a meatball sub ($14), fried chicken made with chicken thigh ($14), a Cuban ($13), a fish wich with a Northwest spin of herbed tartar ($13) an Italian sub with capicola, salami and pepperoni ($12) and a grilled cheese ($12). Burgers include six styles – a classic ($12), barbecue style ($14), a pizza-themed burger ($14), a chorizo ($14) and lamb burger ($15), plus a vegan burger with an Impossible patty and Southwestern twists ($14). Pizzas will appeal to vegetarians and meat eaters alike with a truffle and brie pizza ($16), pepperoni and caramelized onion ($16), sweet chili pulled pork ($16) and a margherita ($14).
Soups-and-salads come in a broad range of offerings with four daily soup choices – that always includes French onion, minestrone, lobster bisque and a revolving special ($6-$8) and five entree salads that includes a cobb ($14), Caesar ($10), garden ($10), taco ($14) and barbecue chicken ($14).
A LOOK AT THE COCKTAIL MENU
Cooper’s is a family project. Son Justin Troger will help manage the restaurant and his girlfriend Alex Osborn helped with the interior decor. The Troger’s daughter, Sarah Rodriguez, and her husband, Oscar Rodriguez, will manage the bar.
Their cocktail menu includes classics and house creations alike. Many of those specialty cocktails are bargain priced at $10 and are much more thoughtfully composed than you’d expect for a ten-buck cocktail. Their rif on a salty dog includes a rosemary syrup ($10). A gimlet is fueled by fresh basil ($9). A mezcal-tequila drink merges a spicy margarita backbone and a mule finish, with ginger beer, fresh lime and jalapeno-infused agave syrup ($10). Cocktail enthusiasts will find four old fashioneds ($9 to $12), plus four sparkling wine cocktails ($8 to $12).
A few cocktails rise about the $10 price point, but the recipes merit the price increase. The mai tai comes with dark and light rum, plus a macadamia nut orgeat, orange curacao, fresh juice and an egg-foam lilikoi topper ($12). Rodriquez is most excited about his barrel-aged old fashioned that combines overproof bourbon, green chartreuse and Bigallet China-China ($14).
COOPERS FOOD & DRINK
CONTACT: 5928 N. 26th St., Tacoma; 253-503-0329
GILMAN HOUSE OPENING SOON IN STADIUM
Did you catch my story about Gilman House opening in the old Copper Door space in the Stadium neighborhood? Read about that here.