Ten Years of Skillet: Evolved Street Food for the Masses

Skillet’s food has a personality and flair that stands out. It’s been that way from the get go. When I think of Skillet, I think of assertive flavors, great recipes, classic culinary techniques applied to innovative spins on American favorites, and a focus on seasonal and local ingredients. Skillet is a beloved Seattle restaurant and I’m proud they’ve chosen Macrina rolls and breads for many of their classic dishes.

Leslie

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In restaurant years, ten makes you a veteran. For Skillet, the ride has been adventurous. Skillet’s wild years began in a renegade Airstream trailer, involved a few skirmishes with a health department unfamiliar with food trucks, and a couple of run-ins with aggressive tow-truck drivers. But ambition, talent, and a few unforgettable dishes have carried Skillet to a successful but never dull maturity.

In 2007, street-food trucks weren’t a phenomenon. You could actually find downtown street corners without one. Beyond taco trucks—fabulous, yes, but one dimensional—there wasn’t much. Then Skillet’s pioneering street-food truck came along. People stood in long lines to eat the Fried Chicken Sammy, the Bacon Jam Burger, Poutine (not at all ubiquitous then), and the Kale Caesar. When discussing local food trucks, it’s fair to divide the conversation into Before Skillet (the dark ages) and After Skillet (the enlightenment).

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Fast forward ten years, Skillet has grown into a Seattle institution. There are four brick and mortar restaurants—Capital Hill, Ballard, Denny Regrade, Seattle Center—and two food trucks. What hasn’t changed is the food. Skillet’s chef-driven take on American-inspired classics has become a brand unto itself. Their greatest hits—the chicken sandwich, the burger, the Caesar, the waffle with braised pork belly, the griddle cakes with compote—couldn’t be pulled from the menu without risking insurrection, maybe a little like a Pearl Jam concert in which the band refused to play “Evenflow.” It’s not that the new stuff isn’t worth trying—it is—it’s just that Seattle fell in love with Skillet’s classics first and won’t let go. And that’s just fine with Skillet. They continue to source great local food, fix it up, and serve their favorite dishes to customers, many of them long-time devotees.

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The diners are spacious, light and airy, with a menu that expands upon the original food truck menu. To celebrate their tenth anniversary, Skillet is featuring a throwback menu all year that features recipes culled from old newsletters. March features the Lemongrass Pork Sammy with pickled ginger slaw. April features the Porchetta Sammy with hazelnut gremolata.

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That catering plays a role in Skillet’s middle-aged evolution should come as no surprise. Skillet’s burgers, fries, and milkshakes were first introduced at founder Josh Henderson’s wedding. Now, with a team of over 100 talented people, Skillet can cater up to six simultaneous events. Hundreds of brides and grooms have chosen Skillet to cater their weddings.

Catering Manager, Jessica Paul Jones, says that in addition to weddings, private parties and corporate events make up the bulk of their catering. But they can handle just about anything in Pacific Northwest. They’ve even have a china box that can roast a whole pig. One memorable catering event was a party at the top of the Smith Tower. Jessica remembers carrying food and equipment up the stairs (“My legs hurt for days”). Then there was the one at a ‘huuuuge” house in Laurelhurst that sat above the lake with 103 slate steps winding down to the lakeside tables (“My legs hurt even worse”).

When major life events occur, some Skillet fans rely upon their favorite restaurant. One such customer is Brian Benjamin, a weekly food truck regular since 2009. His go-to item is the Fried Chicken Sammy. His parents met his fiancé’s parents for the first time at the Skillet restaurant in Ballard. And guess who’s catering their wedding?

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Brian Benjamin

In a world of coincidences, one that isn’t all that surprising is that Brian is also a Macrina fan. He explains, “My fiancé, Jilian, used to live right behind the Macrina Bakery on Queen Anne. I always loved waking up on a weekend morning to walk over to get a ham and cheese brioche or Morning Glory muffin. We still swing by from time to time to pick up a loaf of rosemary semolina bread. I’m often more excited to eat the bread than I am the rest of the meal.”

Maybe that isn’t such a coincidence after all since Macrina’s potato roll has long been an essential part of Skillet’s Fried Chicken Sammy. At Macrina, we’re proud to be a part of one of Seattle’s favorite sandwiches.

What’s next for Skillet? Ani Pendergast, Skillet’s Director of Marketing, says, “Our focus is on maintaining the same kind of consistency we’ve always had. We’d love to open more neighborhood restaurants. But first we have to feel that we have the capacity to do it, then we need to find the right location. Our primary focus has always been on the food and the service. Whether you hit the restaurants, the trucks, or catering we want to be sure you get Skillet food and Skillet service. So we don’t spread ourselves too thin, we’ll only grow when we’re ready for it.”

Herkimer Coffee: New World Microroaster, Old World Aesthetic

Not only am I fan of their coffee, I admire Herkimer’s employee-driven focus. It shows in the quality of their product and service. If you don’t already know them, drop by one of their three locations. You won’t be sorry. —Leslie.

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Third wave coffee refers to the direct trade, farmer-obsessed purists, many of whom feature lightly roasted single-origin coffees best brewed with a slow-motion pour over. Stumptown, Blue Bottle, and Intelligentsia Coffee are three of the big ones. All have recently taken on large investors and big expansion plans are underway. Their founders are living the dream.

But what of those who dream differently?

Herkimer Coffee, founded in 2003, roasts exquisite coffees but prefers to stay small. Mike Prins, the owner and founder of Herkimer coffee, named the business after the town in upstate New York where his father was born. For him, Herkimer Coffee is about roots and simple dreams. It’s about values that run deep. It’s a place where relationships are more important than profit and the only palpable marketing plan is to make an authentic, high-quality product.

Herkimer Coffee probably wouldn’t exist had Mike not gotten a do-over.

Back in the early 90’s, while working for a Seattle company that sold and repaired espresso machines, Mike visited B&W Specialty Coffee, a small roaster in Minneapolis. “I wanted to open a small café that roasted its own coffee, but it seemed unattainable. Then on this business trip, I met the folks at B&W who were young and making great coffee in a small-batch roaster. The main thing I remember is their passion and how much fun they seemed to be having. It was just a brief visit, but it sparked a dream.”

In 1994, Mike opened Caffe Vita on Queen Anne with a partner. Their little café took off, and in 1995 they began roasting. By 2002, the business had flourished. But it wasn’t that little roaster on the corner anymore. Mike sold his stake in the business.

“I thought I’d left coffee for good,” Mike says. “I was in limbo, no job, not sure what would come next. Some months later, walking home from the store in my Greenwood neighborhood I noticed a corner building with a For Lease sign in the window. That’s a good spot, I thought. I made a phone call and away it went.”

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This time though he wasn’t going to let the dream get away from him. Herkimer Coffee, whatever it would become, would remain small and sustainable, and it would focus on relationships with employees and customers. And most importantly it would be a place he enjoyed coming to each day.

“This place is really well thought out,” Candace Harter, the Greenwood café manager, says. “We focus on traditional coffee bar fare. Espresso drinks and drip coffee. We don’t try to do too much. We use Macrina products and Mighty-O donuts. It allows us to focus on what we do well, serving coffee to the community.”

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Mike started the café using coffee roasted by Caffe Vita. That changed in 2007 when he added a roaster in the space adjacent to the café. Mike then brought on Scott Richardson to buy green coffee, to roast, and to be the wholesale manager.

“Scott and I go back to 1996, Kara, too,” Mike says (Kara MacDonald was the first hire at Herkimer and now runs the Ravenna shop). “We all worked together back in the Vita days. Scott was roasting and overseeing wholesale while Kara was managing retail.”

Much has changed in elite specialty coffee since then. In the mid-nineties, Seattle was in the midst of the European-inspired, espresso-oriented second wave. (The first wave occurred in the early twentieth century with the establishment of national brands like Maxwell House and Folgers.)

“When I started sourcing coffee for Herkimer I wanted to take it to another level,” Scott says. “I wanted to know the producers. The old style was to buy the best coffee on the commodity market at the lowest price. But that’s not very fair to the grower, nor does it get you the finest coffees.”

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Scott now travels to source countries frequently and purchases much of Herkimer’s green coffee directly from the producer. “My interest is a long-term reciprocal relationship. Farmers come out better, we can both budget, and I can count on excellent coffee.”

Some of that coffee goes into single-origin roasts. But most of it is blended for espresso. “Seatle was born as an espresso-driven market. And it still is,” Scott says. “Old world aesthetic means I love a big, gooey espresso. One with high oil saturation, high carbohydrates, good acid balance, but not sour. Too many pull acidic espresso with light roasts. Those light roasts are great in a pour over, but as espresso they’ll curdle milk. I like where espresso comes from, its history, everything about it. I go out of my way to source coffee from very high elevations. The coffees I put in our espresso blend have what it takes to make them big and balanced, a coffee you won’t get sick of drinking every day.”

Herkimer’s quality is a function of relationships: relationships with employees, with customers at the coffee bar, with wholesale accounts, and with coffee producers.

“We have 24 employees, including myself,” Mike says. “Over a third have been here more than five years, and many more than ten. That’s pretty unique. I try to put everyone in a position where they can succeed at what they like to do.”

Choosing the right person for the job is like choosing the right coffee. The wrong one can sour the blend.

Two early employees, Nathan Reasoner and Reid Hickman, both worked at Zoka before coming to Herkimer soon after the roastery opened. They both roast and help with sales. In addition, Reed built and manages the company website. Nathan manages the wholesale accounts.

IMG_6324 “Now that the third wave, the premium farmer-focused coffee movement, is getting a lot bigger it puts us in an interesting position, trying to manage our own growth and retain what makes our coffee special,” Reid says. “We find these small lots that are beautiful. We have great people roasting. If we grow too fast we wouldn’t be able to source enough of the best coffees or find and train the right people to roast and prepare it.”

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“We’re lucky to be in an environment, around people we enjoy, doing something that we like,” Nathan says. “I wanted to find a career where I could have a good life and make something I’m proud of. In this day and age, in this city, that’s hard to find.”

Mike says, “People make strange decisions that aren’t always the best when they’re trying to grow too fast. For us, quality of life is the most important factor in our growth decisions. We want to continue to do for our customers and staff all that we say we are going to do. That’s very important to us.”

This focus on relationships is the beating heart of the extended Herkimer community, on both sides of the coffee bar, with the wholesale buyers, and with the coffee producers.“I like coming to work every day,” Mike says. “I like being around all the great people we have. I love coffee. Those are boring statements, but it’s what I enjoy.”

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Herkimer Coffee has locations in the Queen Anne, Phinney Ridge and Ravenna neighborhoods. Find out more at https://herkimercoffee.com/.

Edible City: A Delicious Journey

On view at MOHAI through September 10, 2017

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(Photo courtesy of MOHAI)

There may be no better way to know a city than by the way its people eat. Seattle’s Museum of History & Industry (MOHAI) currently has a beautiful new exhibit, Edible City: A Delicious Journey, which explores Seattle’s culinary history over the last two centuries. You journey across shorelines that provided abundant seafood to Native Americans in this area and trace the influences of Pacific Rim nations on signature dishes in four-star restaurants. If you haven’t already seen it, put it on your calendar. You’ll appreciate this place we call home all the more.

The exhibit, which runs through September 10, 2017, was curated by two-time James Beard Award-winning food writer Rebekah Denn. An exhaustive researcher, she writes beautifully. Enthralled by the exhibit, we recently asked her some questions to learn more.

Leslie

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(Photo courtesy of MOHAI)

How did you get involved in the project?

RD: MOHAI first contacted me in October of 2014 to see if I had ideas for how to tell the story, so I’ve been working on it on and off for two years.

What came first: the idea for the book or the exhibit?

RD: The exhibit idea definitely came before the book! But we ultimately wanted a way to preserve some of the exhibit and expand on the stories.

When I first met with the MOHAI staff, they asked me if I had any questions about doing the exhibit. I said, “What’s my biggest problem going to be?” One of the designers said, “You won’t have room for everything you want to say.” That was so true, but the book helped get at least some more of the information out there, and some of the really striking photos from MOHAI’s archives. We also got to include some recipes that we think of as Seattle signatures, and artist Julie Notarianni illustrated them for us.

In your research, what are a few things that surprised you?

RD: a. How many times what is old becomes new again. There’s a 1927 letter I love from Pike Place Market warning a vendor against selling spinach from California when local spinach is available (they threaten to confiscate his spinach!). Similarly, back in the 1940s, Angelo Pellegrini was encouraging Seattleites to eat fresh, local, seasonal foods — his writings are absolutely on-point for modern diners. You could also slip some of the menus from oyster bars 100 years ago into a modern restaurant without anyone noticing (except maybe the price list.)

b. How it seems that people have always wanted to find a way to stay in Seattle once they got here, and how prescient some observers were about what Seattle’s food scene would become. Actually, let me quote you a paragraph from the catalog about the Boeing bust years (which in turn quotes Roger Sale): “Given the flagging economy, it might have seemed an odd time for a restaurant renaissance, yet food provided an entry point into business for job-seekers who didn’t want to leave their beloved hometown. Restaurants were perhaps the best example, wrote historian Roger Sale, of a new consumer culture where it seemed everyone laid off from Boeing wanted to turn a lathe or cook an omelet. Young workers and female entrepreneurs entered the field, attracted by small-scale projects that weren’t beholden to banks and didn’t require a corporate slog to the top. “Cheeses, wines and coffees Seattle had never heard of became available,” Sale wrote. It was possible, he presciently suggested in 1976, that this rush of activity could push the city into an era of culinary greatness.”

c. I’ve written about food in Seattle for well over a decade, and I learned so much that I hadn’t known… like the story of the huge Crescent spice company that was based here (now part of McCormick), producers of Mapleine, a hugely popular imitation maple flavoring. Or how every era seemed to have its own version of our Tom Douglas. Again, from the catalog: “In the ‘20s and ‘30s the name Clare Colegrove was “associated with good eating in Seattle,” by one account, with alliterative eateries like the Purple Pup. Walter Clark, known as the dean of Seattle restaurateurs, owned an astonishing 55 restaurants between 1930 and 1970 (including the iconic Twin Teepees), according to old-Seattle expert Clark Humphrey. A critic once wrote that it was unlikely anyone in Seattle had not heard of Clark’s restaurants. A few decades later, it was unlikely that anyone had.”

What primary sources did you rely on for foods and restaurants for Seattle’s early history?

RB: I spent some time in MOHAI’s archives and found some fabulous materials (menus… matchbooks…photographs…cookbooks…the sign from the original Manca’s and the equipment from the Sagamiya bakery!) The museum staff members and public historian emeritus Lorraine McConaghy were also invaluable in helping track down material, from ancient newspaper advertisements to a still-working farm machine used to make berry-picking boxes. Nancy Leson let me raid her archives and interview notes from her decades covering the Seattle restaurant scene. People and institutions were unbelievably generous. Angelo Pellegrini’s children shared stories of their dad and agreed to loan us family treasures. Bob Kramer invited us to tour his workshop and see how he forges his world-famous knives. Jerilyn Brusseau and Greg Komen loaned us original Cinnabon items, including their cinnamon tasting notes from the Restaurants Unlimited Inc. kitchen. Jon Rowley brought us letters from Julia Child (they had a running correspondence on salmon and on peaches, among other subjects.) The Seattle Public Library let us borrow items from the library’s Pike Place Market collection, including a grand old ledger book from the wartime years and buttons from the Save the Market campaign. (Speaking of SPL, their online archives are an amazing resource. When we had questions like “When was Maison Blanc destroyed in a fire?” the library website let us simply search Seattle Times archives from 1895 onward from our desks. (The answer: It was front page news on April 30, 1960.) The owner of the Monorail Espresso cart delayed her own plans for the cart so that we could include it in our displays. “Starbucks Melody,” the blogger, brought over pieces from her personal collection like bottles of “Mazagran,” the company’s first bottled beverage. Mario Batali gave us permission to use a video of his grandmother Leonetta making ravioli… and then, when we visited Armandino Batali and his daughter Gina at Salumi, they loaned us a Merlino olive oil tin that was the “Leonetta” brand, also named for her (Armandino’s grandparents founded the Merlino company.) Serendipity! And the people who are a part of Seattle’s modern food history shared their expertise (including Matt Galvin, who served on the advisory committee) and their stories. The founders of the Beacon Food Forest sent over the original maps for the project; Seattle Neighborhood Farmers Markets dropped off the bells that they ring to open and close the market. Allrecipes staff members did Seattle-based recipe searches for us. The thank you list could go on for pages.

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(Photo courtesy of MOHAI)

Out of the Kitchen: Relaxing Stowell Style

Ethan and Angela Stowell probably don’t need an introduction, but just in case, they’re the couple behind 15 esteemed Seattle restaurants, namely Anchovies & Olives, Ballard Pizza Co. (3 locations), Bar Cotto, Bramling Cross, Goldfinch Tavern, How to Cook a Wolf, Marine Hardware, Mkt., Red Cow, Rione XIII, Staple & Fancy, Tavolàta Belltown, Tavolàta Capitol Hill. Ethan is the chef, Angela the CEO. That they ever relax may come as a surprise, but they make time. I’ve always loved Ethan’s cooking and his dedication to using local and seasonal ingredients. I’m honored that they use Macrina breads at their restaurants. They are wonderful people and one of Seattle’s premier restaurateurs. Learn more about their life outside of the kitchen right here.

Leslie

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Out of the Kitchen: Relaxing Stowell Style

Everybody knows running restaurants is not for the lazy or the faint of heart. Add kids and a serious commitment to philanthropy and you’ve got a recipe for a life few would call relaxing. Humble, as Angela and Ethan Stowell both are, they’d be the first to point out that they have the support of a great team in all they do. But even with a strong team, Ethan and Angela work long and hard and are pulled in many directions. Still, they remain deeply committed to spending quality time together with their two young children, Adrian and Franklin.

Given their culinary prowess you might expect them to spend their free time teaching the kids how to foraging for chanterelles or morels in the forest, or out on the beach digging for Manila clams. Turns out they’re just like most parents with two young kids, racing home from brunch at their neighborhood dim sum restaurant before their two-year-old, Franklin, falls asleep.

Ethan explains, “Because when you’re doing naps—you know what it’s like having kids—after lunch you’ve got to race home before he falls asleep. If you have a half-hour drive, you’re in trouble. The last thing you need is a twenty-minute power nap.”

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Because Ethan frequently works in the evening, mornings become family time.

“The nice thing about our schedule is we have family breakfasts every morning because we have the luxury of not leaving the house until nine,” Angela says. “Breakfast is our long time together, kind of the reverse of most families.”

Ethan gets up with the kids and starts breakfast. When he can he gets them involved, often making pancakes, eggs, or oatmeal.

Angela adds, “Well, we try not to do pancakes more than two mornings in a row.”

Presently, in fact, Ethan is skipping the pancakes nearly altogether. About a year ago, he lost over 50 pounds through a mixture of diet and exercise and has kept the weight off. He is very careful about what he eats for breakfast and lunch, then lets loose at dinner. And he is religious about getting in an hour of exercise each day. Angela has always been a fitness and health advocate.

“Before having kids I did lots of triathlons and a half ironman,” Angela says. “I’ve been a runner for a long time. For me, it’s a stress relief. This may not be the most romantic thing in the world at 9 p.m., but if we’re both home, when we get the kids to bed, we’ll both go exercise. Sometimes it’s the only time we have, especially if it’s a Sunday and we’ve been busy with them all day. We both get our hour workout in.

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One key block of time for Angela to sneak in a long run is Saturday mornings when Ethan and a group of dads take the kids out without the moms.

“Saturday I just work a half day, so it’s dad and kid time,” Ethan says. “I have a friends’ group of five to six guys. A text thread goes out. Not everyone can make it every time. We meet somewhere at ten, go to the zoo, or the Science Center, or Golden Gardens. Then we get lunch and rush home for nap time.”

In the summer, weekends are often spent on Whidbey Island where Ethan’s parents have a vacation home. The island is Angela’s favorite place to be.

“Our weekends there are kind of always the same,” Angela says. “In the summertime we go to the farmers market in the morning, we go to Primo Bistro, we always go to Moonraker Books to check out what’s happening there and visit the owner Josh, then we visit a couple of farms with stands, maybe grab a loaf of Screaming Banshee bread. The cool thing about Whidbey is that there are a lot of people who knew Ethan when he was five years old. Those people are now super invested in our family.”

In Seattle, when the Stowell’s have the occasional night together they frequently go out to eat.

“We are definitely a family that doesn’t shy from taking them out to restaurants,” Ethan says. “I’m a big believer in bringing kids to our restaurants. You want kids getting used to eating good food, getting used to being out socially.”

In fact, this January they will be starting a family dinner night at Rione.

“I’m super excited about it,” Angela says. “From five to seven anybody who makes a reservation will be told that there will be kids around. It’s an opportunity for families to come out with their kids. Don’t feel bad if things get spilled. It’s gonna be hard to keep the kids in their seats.”

“There’s gonna be spaghetti on the windows,” Ethan says with a smile.

Angela adds, “We’ll be there. And at some point our kids will have iPads out. I think it’s good for parents to see that it is okay to do what you have to do to get through dinner at a restaurant. Because it’s not always going to be like this, and sometimes you just need a moment’s peace to finish your wine.”

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While they may be a more high-profile couple than most in Seattle, they both stress that their private lives are much like any other family.

“My life isn’t much different than any working mom,” Angela says. “You wake up and someone needs you right away—this morning it was who gets to sit next to mom—then you go to work and someone needs you. Then you get home and they need you again. Then maybe I squeeze in a little workout. Not anything different than any other working mom. We’re just really appreciative of the window of time we get together.”

Visit www.ethanstowellrestaurants.com to learn more and make reservations at your favorite spot.

Space Needle

I had the pleasure of dining with Phuong Bui, Macrina’s head baker, and his wife at the SkyCity restaurant to celebrate his 10 year anniversary. It was a big treat and fun for him to see the bread he bakes on the tables of one of the most iconic locations in the country. Nothing beats the remarkable view or the delicious food of this longstanding Seattle restaurant.

Leslie

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The Space Needle

Imagine this: It’s 1961. Seattle is soon to host the World’s Fair. You walk into a bank and announce that you plan to build the tallest building west of the Mississippi and slap a revolving restaurant on top. Oh, and so it’s ready in time for the fair, you need to build it in about 400 days. Might as well ask for a time-traveling DeLorean while you’re dreaming.

But somehow they pulled it off, sans the DeLorean. A group calling itself the Pentagram Corporation, which included a few of Seattle’s most recognizable businessmen, didn’t need a bank loan. They were the bankers and developers of the day. The risk was sizable. 550 feet of risk. 467 dump trucks of cement poured to a depth of 30 feet of risk. $4.5 million dollars of risk. They sought nothing less than to present a vision of the future to the rest of the world.

Seattle_World's_Fair_and_Mt_Rainier_C13119Billed as The Century 21 Exposition, the World’s Fair of 1962 in Seattle also featured the monorail. Just before the fair opened The New York Times wrote, “The high-speed, quiet monorail cars catapult northward from the heart of Seattle for a few breath catching moments, then glide to a stop. There suddenly, all around you, are glimpses of the world of tomorrow.” The monorail was the time-traveling Delorean carrying hordes of visitors to the world of tomorrow.

Back then, world’s fairs were major spectacles, attended by people from around the globe. Seattle was a company town, a yawn of a city that functioned as a Boeing bunkhouse, and a long ways from growing up and joining the ranks of major American cities. Much of the world then thought Seattle rhymed with fetal.

As the structure went up, doubters arose. The Committee Hoping for Extra-Terrestrial Encounters to Save the Earth—CHEESE (an appropriate acronym) claimed to have plans from the 1962 World’s Fair that show the Space Needle was constructed to send transmissions to advanced beings in other solar systems. True story.

4171626313_f5d5797ce6Another fun fact: Elvis filmed a movie at the Space Needle during the World’s Fair named, aptly enough, “It Happened at the World’s Fair.” In the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, reporter John Voorhees described the insanity surrounding The King: “The biggest attraction at the World’s Fair continues to be Elvis Presley, who may turn out to be the biggest boon to the sellers of camera film since the Space Needle was unveiled.”

Fast forward a little more than 50 years and Seattle has been transformed from the scenic hillside town without an interstate to one of the fastest growing major cities in America. In the shadow of the Space Needle, South Lake Union has been transformed by Amazon’s growth. Boeing is still a major employer, but the local economy has diversified, much of its new growth driven by the technology sector.

amazon-campusThrough all this growth the Space Needle has provided a spectacular revolving view of the city’s evolution; neighborhoods torn down to build Interstate 5, construction cranes raising Belltown to new heights, new high-rise towers, more cranes, more towers, and suburbs oozing further north, east, and south.

While some today consider the Space Needle an anachronistic vision of the future, more Jetsons than anything that looks like the future today, it has always symbolized a city leaning into the future. So, when the weather is clear, take the elevator up 500 feet to the SkyCity restaurant and enjoy the Macrina potato rolls (or a basket of our pastries at brunch) while you peruse the menu and take in the revolving view of this beautiful city. We’re proud to play a small role in such an iconic location.

space-needle-northwest-scenescapesAnd lastly, while you’re enjoying your meal don’t forget that only the interior rotates, not the external structure. If you set your drink on the window ledge, it’ll slowly drift away from you. More than a few enterprising and frugal drinkers have enjoyed their neighbors fine scotch, or their cocktail; one after the next, helpless to resist as they just kept appearing on the window ledge next to their table.

Visit this link for a long list of Space Needle fun facts.

Walnut Street Coffee

Walnut Street Coffee is a perfect destination, whether you’re a local or looking for a little weekend adventure. Downtown Edmonds is a charming spot. The baristas are friendly and efficient and they make beautiful coffee. ~ Leslie

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A headline in the recent issue of the Edmonds Beacon declares “Edmonds is no longer ‘Deadmonds.” With a growing population and an invigorated downtown, Edmonds is on the rise. Pam Stuller, the founder and owner of local favorite Walnut Street Coffee, is just the kind of entrepreneur that has helped make downtown Edmonds the vibrant place it is today.

When she found the space for her cafe in 2006, Walnut Street was pretty quiet. She and her husband, who live in nearby Richmond Beach, were riding their bikes around town and encountered a funky cinderblock building that had originally been built as a boat engine repair shop. Its defining feature was a roll-up garage door. A dream location; downtown, but enough off the beaten track to be the place locals would seek out away from the ferry and tourist crowd. One problem: a flower shop occupied the space. So she sent the letter to the landlord and six months later he called.

“People thought I was a crazy to take the space,” Pam said.

IMG_4350Out of college Pam didn’t imagine herself running a busy coffee shop. For ten years she worked in human resources. In 2002, a friend, Michael Prins was opening the first Herkimer Coffee on Phinney Ridge. She was working for Nature Conservancy, an organization she loved. But she was restless.

“If you can’t love your job and you’re working at an amazing organization what do you do? I felt like I’d already done everything I could to love what I do and it wasn’t working.”

So she left her job to help Michael get Herkimer Coffee up and running, focusing on the things she had experience doing, such as hiring a staff. A year and a half later she found herself still working there as a barista.

“It was the most fun, most rewarding, most enriching work experience I’d ever had. I loved it. I’d always loved cafes and cafe culture but I’d always been intimidated by the art of coffee. That was where I got to learn the craft and the trade. I knew then this was what I wanted to do. In coffee, you get to know people in such a different way. Most people are pretty routine about their coffee. You have this two-minute touch. Over time you pick up all the little intimate details—a kid is sick, news of a vacation, job changes—and you build a meaningful personal relationship. It’s pretty amazing.”

That led her to Edmonds and Walnut Street Coffee. She and her husband did most of the buildout themselves.

“My goal was to do one thing and to do it really well and to keep focused on what brings me joy. I figured that if I was happy to come here every day, the customers would follow.”

They did, but it took a lot of work. For the first two years, Pam worked seven days a week.

“The business almost ate me alive. Around year three I began adding enough staff that I could have a couple of days off a week.”

Keeping things simple has been key to her success.

“My passion and my love is espresso. But I don’t have experience making pastries. I’ve worked in restaurants and I know how much goes into food service. I wanted to keep things as simple and focused as possible.”

Initially, bakery options were few, but as Edmonds has grown so have options.

IMG_4338“I’m so thrilled to have Macrina. Edmonds is enough off the beaten track that delivery
options are few. You’re not on your way to anywhere when you come to Edmonds. When Macrina started delivering here, I was thrilled. The caliber and consistency of the baked goods are first-rate. Our customers love them.”

Approaching her ten-year anniversary, Pam is lucky to have two baristas who have been with her for over eight years. That’s exceptional in a high-turnover industry where the average barista stays at a job for one year. With her background in human resources maybe it should come as no surprise.

“I have a pretty amazing benefits package, especially for this kind of business. I have a retirement plan, profit sharing, health care, paid time off, holiday pay.”

She attributes much of the success of her business to her employees.

“I never underestimate the value of my people. They’re instrumental in maintaining and in continuing to build our business. Our business has grown every year since we opened, which includes the downturn.”

Occasionally she thinks about expanding, but worries she’d wind up doing more of the stuff she doesn’t love doing, like bookkeeping and back of the house work.

“I love the connection I have with my staff and my customers, and I worry that would get diluted. I live simply, and I’m happy the way things are. I hike, bike, cross-country ski, garden, walk my dog, I’m an avid reader, and I love to spend time with my family, friends, and my parents. I don’t want to lose any of that.”

Her love of the city recently led her to get involved in a business group called the Edmonds Downtown Alliance. She served a stint as president last year.

“That was rewarding, developing deeper relationships with the other merchants and finding ways to take what is so great about this town and amplify that so everybody does better.”

IMG_4345If you don’t already spend time in the seaside town of Edmonds, it’s time to make a trip. There are a couple of breweries, a distillery, a movie theater, lots of shopping, a bookstore, tasty restaurants. Most shops are small and owner-operated.

“You wouldn’t have to leave Edmonds if you didn’t want to. We kind of have it all in this little pocket, and it’s so scenic. It’s very Mayberryish in a way, but it also has an authenticity to it that I really enjoy.”

Start with a caffe latte and a treat from Walnut Street Coffee and take a stroll down 5th Avenue towards Main Street and you’ll discover that “Deadmonds” no longer exists.

Meet Linda Derschang

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For over 20 years Linda Derschang has been a dynamic figure in Seattle’s dining and nightlife scene, particularly on Capitol Hill.

It all started in 1994 on Pine Street, in the heart of the now thriving Pike/Pine corridor, with the beloved and quirky Linda’s Tavern. The tavern drew inspiration from the mountain bars around Crested Butte near where Linda grew up in Colorado. Located on a formerly gritty stretch of Pine Street, the neon sign in the window reads “TOOLS RADIO TACKLE.” When you step through the door you are transported somewhere else. The rustic wooden booths, neon signs, the rough-hewn planks that hold the liquor bottles, and the glowering bison head behind the bar are not the stuff of any ordinary scruffy bar. Add to that one of the best patios in the city, a crowd of talented creatives, and you’ve got a hit.

Twenty years on, it’s still hard to find an open table. The bar looks much as it did when it opened though the neighborhood surrounding it has changed immensely. And Linda, both the person and her namesake bar, have helped shape the aesthetic that makes Capitol Hill such a draw.

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A stream of very different and equally memorable places followed Linda’s: The Capital Club, The Baltic Room, Chop Suey, (she has sold her interest in these three), King’s Hardware, Smith, Oddfellows Cafe and Bar, Little Oddfellows in the Elliot Bay Book Company, Bait Shop, and Tallulah’s.

With the exception of Ballard’s King’s Hardware, all of them are a short bike ride away from each other. Each attracts an eclectic and devoted neighborhood crowd. What unites them is Linda’s unerring sense of design—whether it’s applied to the airy, elegant Oddfellow’s Cafe or the eccentric dive-bar feel of Bait Shop.

Linda has been a long-time wholesale customer of Macrina, a relationship we’re very proud of. Recently we had an opportunity to ask her a few questions.

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Each of your places feels like someone had fun creating them—that sense of  “Wouldn’t it be cool if….” And they feel authentic. There seems to be a real enjoyment of design down to the smallest details, such as the owl salt/pepper shakers at Tallulah’s. Would you talk a bit about your design process?

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The design process is different for each project. I approached Little Oddfellows very differently because it was a remodel of a business than from Tallulah’s, which was in new construction, or Oddfellows which is in a very old building. Sometimes I make up a story about the place I am designing. For Little Oddfellows I imagined a coffee shop in Amsterdam or Copenhagen perhaps. Sometimes I think of a few key terms like turn of the century mercantile.

You’re right about the loving of the details, that can be the most enjoyable part. I think when opening a business it can be easy to think that you’ll get to the little details later but I believe it’s really important to open with them to give a really finished feel to a place.

Found objects play a role in a number of the establishments. Are you always on the hunt?

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I am always keeping an eye out and over the years, I’ve ended up with lots of interesting, quirky objects that often I will keep at my home for a while before I find the perfect spot for them. Take the portrait wall at Smith – I started collecting old portraits because I kept running across them at all sorts of places, years ago they were very inexpensive and I felt that in a sense they were all orphans. I really loved using many of them at Smith. I feel that they add to the charm and look.

Where do you find so many cool signs, great used furniture, the drink mixer at Bait Shop, etc.?

I find things all over the place, including antique malls, thrift stores, and Craigslist. Cashmere, the huge cat painting in Tallulah’s, came from Kirk Albert in Georgetown as did the old Firebird hood mounted to the wall at Bait Shop. I love the stories these pieces can add to a space. 

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How has your design taste evolved over time? 

My taste and style has always been a mix of old and new and high and low. Having a mix of styles has always been very natural for me. I think traveling has definitely added to my taste, I get so much inspiration and so many ideas from other places. I went to Denmark a few months before I opened Little Oddfellows and the Scandinavian cafes I visited while I was there were so inspiring and influenced my approach to designing the space.

Do you come to a space with a concept in mind or does the space drive the concept?

I always think about the neighborhood the space will be part of. I try to create businesses that are meaningful to their neighborhoods and communities. Each one of my businesses is different from each other, but they are all neighborhood spots. That’s a common thread they share.

http://www.thederschanggroup.com/who-we-are/ for more information on Linda.

 

Heyday – Not Your Average Burger Joint

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In the kind of cosmic connection that makes us all smile, Gary Snyder, co-owner of Geraldine’s Counter and now co-owner of Heyday, shares a random point of intersection with that other Gary Snyder, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, Zen Buddhist, and protagonist of Jack Kerouac’s Dharma Bums. The publisher of Gary Snyder, the poet, is also named Heyday. Gary Snyder, the restauranteur, had no idea. He and his business partner, Dang Nguyen, chose the playful name because the space is located on Day Street in Seattle’s quiet Mount Baker neighborhood. “Names are really hard to come by,” Snyder said. “My partner came up with Heyday and it just stuck. It works.”

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Heyday is no ordinary burger joint. Starting with the interior. The space was designed by Graham Baba, the architect behind many treasured eating spots such as Melrose Market, Chophouse Row, and La Spiga. Floor-to-ceiling windows, sleek lighting, concrete floors, slotted wood on the walls and ceiling, and the use of lots of blue in the tile work that surrounds the bar and an inspired geometric mural that adorns a back wall give the space a warm, modern look.

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And the burgers aren’t the usual assortment. The menu was created by Melissa Nyffeler, the former chef/owner of the beloved Capitol Hill restaurant Dinette, which closed in 2013. The Saigon patty has equal portions beef, pork, and shrimp and is topped with Napa cabbage, fresh mint, cilantro, pickled daikon, carrots, and Sriracha aioli. Other offerings are made with lamb, bison, falafel, jerk chicken, and cod. All are served on Macrina Bakery’s potato buns and served with a side of the house-made pickles. Creative starters such as blackened cauliflower are excellent, and so are the hand-cut french fries that are deep-fried twice for the perfect crunch. The thick, crispy onion rings shouldn’t be overlooked. Another standout is the house-made pickled vegetables served with every burger and available as an appetizer.

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Snyder and crew went through a lengthy process to choose the right bun for their burgers, looking for one that would hold all the ingredients without getting soggy or being so firm that the filling squeezes out. “Originally I thought we should have a different bun that works for each burger,” Snyder said. “We sampled multiple buns from different bakeries. Macrina’s potato bun just worked, and it worked on every burger. Such a good bun. It toasts really well. We decided we didn’t need different varieties.”

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Heyday is family-friendly, with the space split about evenly between seating in the adults-only bar and the all-ages restaurant side. “We get a lot of families. I almost wish I had more room than I do. That’s the part that fills the quickest,” Snyder said.

While the neighborhood is quiet, Heyday is open late. Regular hours are Tuesday through Sunday, 4 p.m. to 11 p.m, with the kitchen serving until 10 p.m. At some point next year weekend brunch may become a reality. Keep your ears open. Geraldine’s brunch is so highly-regarded that the to-be-determined offerings will surely be worth investigating.

 

 

Un Bien: On Their Own

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“These are the guys that turned down Guy Fieri,” Ornella Lorenzo blurted out.

“Not because we didn’t want the exposure,” her husband, Lucas Lorenzo protested. “We’re just not the best at publicity, actually we’re pretty bad. I mean, look at us. We suck on paper. We didn’t attend a fancy culinary institute, we’ve never traveled the world sourcing the best international flavors. We just grew up working with my dad, day in and day out, learning the recipes and cuisine he brought with him from Cuba.”

Welcome to Un Bien, the child of Paseo, or more accurately, a restaurant by the children of Lorenzo Lorenzo (his real name), the founder and former owner of Paseo, arguably Seattle’s most celebrated sandwich shop. For over 20 years, until it’s abrupt closing last November, Paseo was a favorite of locals and travelers alike. Lorenzo’s two children, Julian and Lucas Lorenzo, worked weekends at Paseo while in high school and full-time for the last five years. When their father, amidst some legal trouble, abruptly closed both stores, Julian and Lucas were left without jobs.

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Four months ago they opened Un Bien at 7302 15th Ave NW in Ballard, at the former site of Burger Hero (and Lunchbox Laboratory before that). They’ve painted the building a Caribbean-pink and are serving many of the same sandwiches that made Paseo famous—such as the nationally-renowned Caribbean Roast. They use the same bread Paseo did for 20 years, the Giuseppe Roll made by Macrina, the perfect roll for a robust sandwich like the Caribbean Roast—not so soft that it collapses under the weight and juices of the marinated pork, aioli, onions, lettuce, and jalapeños, and not so firm that the sandwich’s ingredients spill out into your lap (or at least most of them) when you take a bite.

bien progress

They opened with a staff comprised entirely of former Paseo employees. Business has been brisk, largely fueled by word of mouth. To keep up, they’ve recently had to hire two new employees. Lucas works the kitchen in the mornings, Julian in the evenings. They are busy at lunch and then again later at dinner. As their father was, they are very protective of the secret ingredients in the marinades. But they’ve tweaked things a bit, finding ways to speed up the line by making the kitchen more efficient, adding a helpful new POS system, and accepting credit cards, a big difference from the cash-only days of their father’s Paseo.

On a recent weekday afternoon, Un Bien’s long outdoor communal table was full, a steady line at the order window, the kitchen a bustle of activity. Lucas, his wife Ornella, and Julian stood in front, tired from the days work, but grateful to be open and doing their own thing. “We feel very fortunate for the reception we’ve gotten,” Julian said. When asked about the future Lucas said, “We still have to get through our first winter. We work to make the food we know the best we can. We’re proud to make our father’s recipes, to carry that on, and also to be doing our own thing. One day at a time. We’re restaurant people, that’s what we do.”

Un Bien:  7302 15th Ave NW; Open Wednesday-Saturday 11 am – 9 pm and Sunday 11 am – 8 pm; Closed Monday and Tuesday

Expect the Unexpected: Green Tables Summer Supper

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You know what they say about the best-laid plans. When I got involved in the planning stages of Les Dames D’escoffier’s Green Tables Summer Supper, an annual fundraiser for an organization I’m part of, no one could have predicted the historic windstorm we would have to deal with. August in the Pacific Northwest is about as reliably sunny and beautiful as anywhere on the globe. We get our wind and our rain alright, just not in August.

This year’s Summer Supper was an elegant outdoor tour of Washington’s Skagit Valley, a place with some of the best soil in the country and one of the state’s premier growing regions. We wanted to show off a variety of the great foods that grow in the region. Guests were invited to tour the Taylor Shellfish Farm at 12:30 in the afternoon. The next stop was Hedlin Farms, a 100-year old farm comprised of 300 acres of seed crops that ship around the world, 40 acres of organically grown produce, and 2 acres of hothouses lined with beautiful heirloom tomatoes and peppers. From there everyone moved to La Conner Flats, a scenic farm with 11 acres of breathtaking European display gardens. The capstone to the day was a dinner al fresco featuring Skagit Valley ingredients at Cathy Conner’s 1890’s home on Fir Island, prepared by several Les Dames d’Escoffier’s chefs, including myself.

Four days before the event we were very nervous about rain. Just rain, not the unbelievable winds that the tropical storm heading our way from Hawaii would bring. Cathy Conner borrowed six tents to provide cover for the dining guests. Set for rain, should it happen, we procured the best local foods and wines, we chopped, marinated, and baked. The sold-out event had to go well. It’s a really important fundraiser for Green Tables and provides grants to support teaching and training students to cook seasonally healthy foods and garden-to-table concepts.

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Low tide at Taylor Shellfish

As guests began to show up at Taylor Shellfish, the fierce wind howled off the hills, gusts reaching over 50 miles per hour. (I would learn later that we experienced record high winds for the month of August.) The tide was out and guests walked right out to the oyster fields to look at geoducks and baby oysters in various stages of development. With seriously wind-blown hair, guests finished their visit with a delicious tasting of Shigoku oysters paired with a crisp white wine from La Conner’s Hellam’s Wine Cellar. So far so good, but I sure worried about those tents.

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On our drive over to Hedlin Farms, the second stop, we saw many trees and branches down. Dave Hedlin and Serena Campbell have been farming the family land since 1974, the fourth generation to do so. Serena gave a gracious tour, explaining why the soil is so good for growing organic seed crops. The farm produces the bulk of the cabbage seeds for the kimchi market in Korea. Plump large heirloom tomatoes filled their hoop houses. Cherry tomatoes tasted like candy picked right off the vine. During high season, they pick half a ton of tomatoes every day.

In between snacking on the tomatoes and enjoying the scenery of the farm, I learned the power had gone out. I conferred with the kitchen crew. We’d prepped really well, but we still had a lot of cooking to do, heating up sauces, sautéing spinach and gnocchi, roasting the potato gratin, and so forth. With all the trees down we couldn’t count on the power coming back anytime soon. We’d all planned on going to each stop but leaving the last stop before dinner a little early. Scratch that. We needed more time to deal with the unknown. A bunch of us made a beeline for Cathy’s house to see what we were up against. Stressful as it was, I never doubted we’d figure it out, somehow. One thing you learn working in a busy kitchen is to expect the unexpected. You hone your improvisational skills and make the best of what you’ve got.

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The group moved on to La Conner Flats, a smaller family-run farm, with beautiful gardens that, I hear, got a little roughed up by the winds. The farm would be a perfect venue for a wedding, with its beautiful broad lawn filled with different varieties of pear and apple trees, and at the back a gazebo surrounded by circled rows of different colored roses. Amongst many other crops, they grow delicate teeny-tiny cucumbers, all of which are reserved for Canlis restaurant. It was at this farm that the Seattle Culinary Academy created the farmer/student partnership that Les Dames d’Escoffier made possible. The guests enjoyed wine from Hellam’s Wine Cellar in La Conner and local cheese while touring the gardens.

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Meanwhile, back at Cathy Conner’s house, we surveyed the damage. The wind had blown the tents many feet from where we’d set them up. And there was no power. Fortunately, we had several grills, and the stove top was gas. A team worked on fixing the tents and readying candles while the rest of us tackled the food. As we were lighting the grills, the winds began to die down, thankfully. Between the grills and the gas burners in the house, we were able to do most things. The challenge was the potato gratin that needed to bake for 45 minutes. We improvised. Grilled gratin it would be. After starting it, we moved it to the grill’s warming rack. While we couldn’t caramelize the top, it cooked beautifully.

The candles cast a beautiful light on the tables. It would be a lovely setting. But without any electricity we would have to be sure we got everyone back to their cars before the daylight vanished. Out in the country it gets very dark. We would have to stay on a tight schedule. Everyone worked together and we stayed on pace.

The guests arrived on time and in good spirits, despite the wild weather. Cathy’s home, barn, and gardens are absolutely stunning. The guests were led on tours by the women of Les Dames while enjoying a summer berry vodka spritzer and passed appetizers. Mother nature had whipped up quite a storm, but it wasn’t going to stop us. We seated everyone for a starter of homemade gnocchi and grilled spot prawns, followed by an entree of sockeye salmon and a chimichurri spiced lamb chop, and finally an apple crostata with my quince caramel and Cathy’s soft cream. Exhausted, but exhilarated, I gave my best heartfelt thanks to everyone, while holding a candle that kept blowing out. It had been a fantastic day. Everyone had a great time. The rain even held off until just after the last guest made it to their car.

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Leslie

Leslie Mackie opened Macrina Bakery in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood in 1993.  Leslie has been an active and devoted member of the Seattle chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier since 1992.  She finds her work with the Dames to be a wonderful source of mentorship, camaraderie and resource sharing.

To find out more information about the Les Dames d’Escoffier Green Tables programs, click here.