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Saturday, August 25, 2012 - Page updated at 05:00 a.m.
Oddfellows Café + Bar serves as a hipness hub, all day long
By PROVIDENCE CICERO
Special to The Seattle Times
If there were a place called Hipster U., Oddfellows Café +Bar could be its Student Union.
The brick-walled, bric-a-brac-filled storefront opens at 8 a.m. Snacks and drinks are dispensed until late at night. The kitchen is visible in one corner; there's a bar next to it. At any given hour a spirited cross-section of humanity occupies the battered benches and former church pews lined up alongside rows of mismatched tables. Many kibitz with friends; others commune with laptops; a few page through media the old-fashioned way.
Those folks wake up with Stumptown Coffee. For those on the run, the pastry case is packed with muffins, scones, cakes and more. I recommend the fancifully flavored scones (smoked salmon and dill, or ginger and fennel); the soft, cinnamon strudel coffee cake; the dense, chewy old-fashioned cookies; and the "Bull's Eye" biscuit with onion, bacon bits and a whole egg baked right into a fistful of savory dough.
The breakfast menu starts at 9. It includes the fluffiest scrambled eggs imaginable, made with a little Gruyere and flecked with parsley, served on a nice, crumbly biscuit, with a side of bacon or ham if you choose. The thick French toast is a veritable two-by-four of brioche that hints of orange and vanilla, before the raspberry compote takes over. Maple syrup comes on the side, but in this context, is superfluous.
Those refueling at midday will find big salads, hearty sandwiches and soup du jour. A recent gazpacho was pleasing but tasted more like chilled tomato soup with a smoked pimento chaser. Lemon and oil-dressed ribbons of kale and fennel mingled with chewy farro grains in a beautiful salad shingled with sheets of Parmesan.
The grilled-cheese sandwich is made with manchego melting between thin slices of rustic Grand Central Bakery bread spread with tomato jam. Do pick up the option to add sweet, salty Serrano ham to it. The Oddball Sandwich is a classic: robust marinara and superb meatballs made with beef and pork and seasoned with herbs and garlic are stuffed into a toasted Grand Central baguette glazed with melted provolone and sprinkled with Parmesan.
At breakfast and lunch, you order at the counter and take a number. A server swiftly delivers your food and drinks with silverware rolled in a paper napkin. Dinner is a full-service affair. Right now, the menu brims with summer's bounty: arugula, pea vines, corn, tomatoes, strawberries, figs, fennel, fresh herbs and sweet peppers.
Two specials showcased the seasonal produce especially well: corn-flecked pancakes blanketing a sauté of assorted vegetables, and seared albacore riding a tide of avocado, tomato, fennel and thyme.
Corn, red pepper and cilantro combined in a vibrant relish for soft ricotta gnocchi no bigger than a fingertip. Decadent cheese-laced potatoes aligot relaxed into a creamy lake alongside sautéed pea vines, button mushrooms and a grilled culotte steak, served sliced, possibly to distract from its small size.
For those just nibbling, look to dainty smoked-salmon croquettes flecked with tarragon; creamy burrata cheese paired with roasted, balsamic-glazed figs; or leggy bronze fries dipped in aioli.
Oddfellows Café opened in 2008, 100 years after the building itself. Managing partner Linda Derschang, whose knack for set design is visible at King's Hardware, Linda's Tavern and Smith, carefully preserved that timeworn look. Scuffed floorboards, exposed brick, sepia ancestral portraits, a faded flag, a display of antique seltzer bottles and ceiling fans that play with the breeze from the open windows are just a few of the visual pleasures.
And yet Oddfellows feels thoroughly modern, with a sharp-witted wait staff; an up-to-date bar; and fresh, unfussy food. Since December, executive chef Forrest Brunton, former chef de cuisine at Maria Hines' Golden Beetle, has been overseeing the kitchen. Brunton has been building a team that includes sous chefs Bryan Casey (previously at Canlis) and Sayab Poot (from Poppy). Pastry chef and Le Pichet alum Yoshiko Rhodes is a recent addition. She's the one who stocks that morning pastry case. Among her playful desserts at dinner is Hipster U.'s idea of Jell-O: lambrusco-spiked cherry gelatina served in a canning jar topped with black-pepper whipped cream.
Providence Cicero, Seattle Times restaurant critic, co-hosts "Let's Eat" with Terry Jaymes at 4 p.m. Saturdays on 97.3 KIRO FM. Listen to past shows at www.KIRORadio.com/letseat. Reach Cicero at email@example.com.
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