50 North near University Village is a restaurant that offers something for everyone.
Melinda Sontgerath must have eyes in the back of her head. On a rollicking Friday night, the chic blond owner of 50 North stood facing the kitchen pass-through of her U District restaurant. Dressed like the businesswoman she is, in a fitted sapphire jacket and narrow skirt, she nevertheless moved as nimbly as a quarterback, expediting tickets, trading quips with the kitchen manager, giving plates the once-over and a final wipe around the rim before passing them off to servers. The youthful staff that swirled around her executed plays like a cohesive, well-practiced team.
This is not always the case at 50 North. On visits at breakfast, lunch and dinner, I encountered servers that were tentative, even lackadaisical. But they were also unfailingly pleasant, and the kitchen team pretty much delivers what the menu promises: “great good food.”
The bill of fare puts a modern spin on a virtual hit parade of American standards. It’s reasonably priced considering the kitchen’s preference for organic, natural or sustainably raised ingredients. And while the menu says, in effect: give me your vegans, vegetarians and your gluten intolerant; send these, the dairy and cholesterol-challenged to me — it doesn’t forsake indulgence. Breakfast includes airy doughnuts (gratis before 11 a.m.) and brioche bread pudding French toast. Later on there are hamburgers, fish and chips, pasta, pizza, steak, seafood and fried chicken.
I spied Sontgerath one afternoon heading for the kitchen bearing a lofty apple pie, a star among desserts, baked at her other restaurant, The Hardware Store, on Vashon Island, where she resides. She is courier, as well, for the island produce that tends to steal the show here.
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The cheddar and tofu-topped “artistic skillet” on the breakfast menu is notable for the variety of roasted vegetables baked into the scrambled egg: leek and purple potato among them. The “seasonal shavings” in a stunning citrus-dressed tossed salad of pungent greens might include watermelon radish, purple carrot and fennel. In another salad, apple, fennel, roasted beets and arugula bolster warm, chewy farro grains tangy with pomegranate vinaigrette.
In the evening, excellent scallops and short ribs vie with their seasonal sides for your attention. Peppered, flash-seared scallops nestle in sweet, dense English pea purée alongside sautéed spring onions and chard in a gentle saffron butter sauce. Pomegranate glaze inserts a welcome acid wedge between a rich short rib and its smooth escort, celery root and parsnip purée; but the brisk fennel and apple salad makes the dish really pop. (Both scallops and short ribs, by the way, come in scaled-down starter portions that would fully satisfy as an entree, and at half the price.)
A fancy succotash of corn, peas and chard accompanied buttermilk fried chicken that might better be called reduced-guilt fried chicken. A skinless, boneless breast is floured and fried just enough to provide a veneer of golden crunch. But the meat has real chicken flavor, as does the pale gravy covering a mountain of mashed Yukon Gold potatoes. True cod is also lightly battered (and gluten free); both fish and chips (delicious dusky fries) are flattered by a zesty dill-speckled sour cream and cider vinegar sauce.
Skip the buckwheat quinoa pancakes, which had the taste and texture of loamy earth. Bypass the bucatini, whose sweet, ultra-smoky tomato sauce is better suited to a rack of pork ribs. But do try a burger, or one of the delicate cracker-bread pizzas or the sassy, rhubarb-sauced chile relleno oozing a ginger-spiked purée of sweet potato and goat cheese.
The restaurant should do well in this area of upscale shops and educated consumers. An interior designer-turned-restaurateur, Sontgerath cozied up the soaring modern space in Northcut Landing across from University Village with paint and upholstery in soothing shades of green and purple sage.
It beckons shoppers, welcomes families and accommodates large groups as comfortably as couples. There’s a snug lounge with a capable bartender, and patio seating perfect for sipping summer cocktails or nonalcoholic refreshers like the Nifty 50, a crisp, berry-packed sparkler. Add to that the something-for-everyone menu and you have the makings of an ideal neighborhood restaurant.
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