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Originally published January 24, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified January 24, 2007 at 8:31 AM

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Taste of the Town

Closing shop on Queen Anne's hilltop

Take a drive along Queen Anne Hill and you might wonder: What's with all the dead restaurants? Poof! Gone are Banjara Cuisine of India...

Seattle Times restaurant critic

Take a drive along Queen Anne Hill and you might wonder: What's with all the dead restaurants? Poof! Gone are Banjara Cuisine of India, Gorditos, Pete's Pizza and Q.

The closure of Gorditos (1507 Queen Anne Ave. N.), open only six months, was perhaps the biggest surprise seeing as it was a slick, inexpensive newcomer, sibling to the ever-popular Gorditos Healthy Mexican Food in Greenwood (213 N. 85th St., Seattle; 206-706-9352).

Owner Marlene Hall, who (get this!) skates as Sassy Chassis with the Rat City Rollergirls' 2006 season champs the Sockit Wenches, explains it took forever to get the doors to Gorditos open.

The building that housed her new restaurant underwent a lengthy earthquake retrofit that delayed its debut by (yikes!) a year and nine months. Hall adds that proximity to the Greenwood location made the new store less viable than she and her husband-business partner Gabriel Ramirez expected, prompting its end-of-year closure.

Now, before you suggest they should "sockit" to their Queen Anne landlords, relax: They are the landlords. What's more, Queen Anne's loss is Everett's gain: There's a new Gorditos across from the Everett Events Center (1909 Hewitt Ave., Everett, 425-252-4641). That busy location is open daily and offers a full bar and karaoke Friday and Saturday nights.

As the Crow flies

Meanwhile, the shuttered Gorditos on Queen Anne has been sold — lock, stock and kitchen equipment — to chefs Craig Serbousek and Jesse Thomas, owners of Crow (823 Fifth Ave. N., Seattle; 206-283-8800 or www.crowseattle.com), who expect to open their second restaurant in May.

Leson on KPLU


Seattle Times restaurant critic Nancy Leson's commentaries on food and restaurants air Wednesdays on KPLU-FM (88.5) at 5:30 a.m., 7:30 a.m. and 4:44 p.m., and on Saturdays at 8:30 a.m. (This week she talks about "sick soup.")

Leson's commentaries are archived on KPLU's Web site, www.kplu.org and may also be heard at www.seattletimes.com/restaurants

"I can't tell you how excited I am to start something new," Serbousek says. "We're really hoping the new place is going to be as much fun as the first one, and that it will be embraced the same way Crow was." The restaurant's yet-to-be-determined name will reflect "simplicity," he says, and we can expect a menu "along the lines of Crow, with fresh seasonal ingredients."

Having barely nailed down the lease, and only just told his crew, he says the place "is so new it's hard to talk about details because there are so many unknown variables." This much he does know: They'll make aesthetic changes to the very modern space, envisioned as a 70-seat restaurant and lounge. As at Crow, the design is set to include an open kitchen counter. Unlike Crow, this place will serve lunch. If the city permits, they'll build an outdoor deck.

Serbousek and Thomas plan to oversee both restaurants as executive chefs, while continuing to cook at Crow. They expect to promote some of the young talent there — kicking them up Queen Anne Hill, so to speak.

Another jewel on the Hill

The interior of the former Banjara Cuisine of India (2 Boston St.) has already been demo'd to make way for a new restaurant: Opal, slated to open in April. Set to offer world cuisine and a globally inspired wine list, Opal is the brainchild of restaurateur Orrapin Chancharu, owner of Orrapin Thai Cuisine (10 Boston St., 206-283-7118) and neighboring O Lounge (2208 Queen Anne Ave. N., 206-352-6594).

Speaking from Burma, where she was on a tasting tour of Southeast Asia, Chancharu says she's had the idea for Opal fomenting for some time and was on the lookout for a venue. When the lease came up at Banjara — a very visible corner spot between her two existing restaurants — she grabbed it. A research trip last summer took her to France, Scotland, England and Morocco, and those countries will be represented on the menu at her new 65-seat dinner house, along with South African dishes, courtesy of a friend from Johannesburg.

Meanwhile, she says, she has a potential buyer for O Lounge, and if that sale goes through, we can expect to see changes there, too.

The King is dead

With his 10-year-lease coming to an end, and his pizza shop slated for a visit from the Condofication Department, Sean Curran chose to close Pete's Pizza — the Calzone King (1919 Queen Anne Ave. N.).

"We had an opportunity to sell the place," and went for it, says Curran, who, along with business partner Rob Angel, owned Pete's Pizza in the U District, closed since 2005. "My joke is I've been trying to get out of the restaurant business since I got into it," says Curran, a lifer who hopes to take six months off "to clear my head and try to figure out a way of not working restaurant-owner hours."

Despite his affection for Queen Anne neighbors such as the 5-year-old Pete's "regular" who burst into tears when she heard her favorite restaurant was set to close, Curran turned down an opportunity to lease a space in the retail section of the condo complex set to rise with Pete's demise. At thrice the rent, he says, it was an offer he could refuse.

Q-ing up for a new owner

A year ago, Rob Smith and Rick Fox, owners of Fremont's Triangle Lounge (3507 Fremont Place N.; 206-632-0880; www.thetrianglelounge.com), bought The Restaurants Formerly Known as Sapphire — one on Queen Anne (later dubbed "Q"), the other in Madrona (which they re-envisioned as Drey's).

"Queen Anne is a very finicky neighborhood," says Smith, though he admits that their troubles reached critical mass when executive chef Steven Hazell — who oversaw the kitchen and menus at their trio of restaurants — left on short notice. "We tried to patch things together with other chefs," he says, but when that didn't work, the partners decided to cut their loses. "Lesson, learned, I guess."

Drey's, sold late last year, is already doing business as the estimable Coupage (see last week's rave review at www.seattletimes.com/restaurants. Queen Anne should be so lucky as Madrona, should someone as worthy as Portland star chef Tom Hurley — who bought Drey's and turned it into something really special — come knocking on Q's door.

Q officially closed Jan. 1, says Smith. "For now, we're talking to interested parties," with hopes of a quick sale. "We'd rather focus on our money-making endeavors," he says, noting that Triangle will soon be open for breakfast.

Speaking of breakfast

Karsten Betd and Eladio Preciado, co-owners of Julia's on Broadway (300 Broadway Ave. E., 206-860-1818), Julia's of Wallingford (4401 Wallingford Ave. N., 206-633-1175) and Julia's of Issaquah (375 N.W. Gilman Blvd., Issaquah; 425-557-1919) are opening a fourth Julia's at 1825 Queen Anne Ave. N.

The latest Julia's — famous for its breakfasts and open for breakfast, lunch and dinner — will occupy a big Victorian that till recently housed law offices. "We're bringing it back to the old charm," says Betd, who plans to be open by mid-February with two levels of dining space, a private-dining facility/wine room in the basement and a warm-weather patio.

Betd began his career at Julia's as a busboy, rose through the ranks and eventually bought the business from his former boss, Julia Miller. When he bought Julia's in Wallingford in 1993, a pair of patrons were so tickled over the story of his rise from busboy to owner they offered him a second space on Queen Anne Hill. He declined.

Then, this summer, a woman came into the Wallingford shop and flagged him down, he recalls. " 'Do you remember me?' she asked. 'I'm the lady with the property on Queen Anne. I offered it to you in '93 and it's available now.' " He and Preciado drove up the hill to take a look, he says. "And we instantly said yes."

Nancy Leson: 206-464-8838 or nleson@seattletimes.com.

More columns are available at seattletimes.com/nancyleson.

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