Restaurateur Linda Derschang has a proven knack for knowing who her customers are and what they want. She got it right at Oddfellows Cafe, a hangout for the quirky gang that inhabits the Pike/Pine corridor, and she gets it right again for a slightly more conventional crowd on the flip side of Capitol Hill at Tallulah’s.
The look of the place pays homage to midcentury modern design, but Tallulah’s customers are vintage 2014. At happy hour on a recent weeknight, all but one of the iconic Bertoia bar stools were occupied by women who, back in Don Draper’s day, would have been waiting at home for hubby, a pitcher of martinis at the ready. Here, all but two had cocktails in their manicured hands.
Choose from classics or try something original. I suggest a refreshing Basil Gin Rickey, dispensed from a tap, or the tequila-based Diazo bristling with a chili and lemon grass shrub. (Each is just $6 at happy hour.)
Plenty of families fill the low-slung banquettes, but the Ward and June Cleavers of today are as inclined to carouse here with friends as to cart the kids.
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There is nothing retro about the menu. Chef Walter Edwards cooked at Tilth, Golden Beetle and Crush before joining Derschang’s merry band at Oddfellows and Smith. At Tallulah’s, he champions vegetables. Every dish on the current dinner menu involves at least one, often more.
You’ll even find grilled broccoli florets in a shellfish stew, its garlicky tomato broth stoked with smoked pimenton.
Moreover, eight dishes are designated vegan; more than a dozen are gluten free. One of my favorites — caramelized cauliflower with pine nuts and plump muscat raisins — happens to be both. It tastes so rich and delicious I can’t believe it’s not made with butter.
Variously topped flatbreads are neither vegan nor gluten free, but the one I chose qualified as a salad. Fava beans, pickled ramps, peppers, chevre and lemon-dressed arugula covered a chewy-crisp crust that falls somewhere between cracker and bread.
Spring produce rocks the menu right now. Fava beans also appear alongside roasted fingerling potatoes and a carefully grilled hanger steak. Asparagus stars with grilled halloumi cheese on a bed of miner’s lettuce, and takes a supporting role in a farro salad. Cumin-spiked vinaigrette amps up the flavor in both dishes.
Pickled ramps and green garbanzos punctuated that farro salad, too, and also accompanied excellent pan-seared Alaskan halibut. Fresh peas, pea vines and baby carrots buddied up with roast chicken, beautifully browned but a bit over-brined. (Over-salting was an anomaly. Seasoning was so well-balanced I never had to use the adorable owl salt-and-pepper shakers on every table.)
Green garlic and nettles merged in a dazzling soup that was creamy without cream; it could be vegan minus the dollop of sumac-laced crème fraîche. Artichoke hearts, braised in traditional barigoule style (wine, lemon, vegetable stock), enjoyed an unconventional rouille that combines saffron, garlic, lemon and espelette pepper.
At brunch, the same feisty rouille boosted an equally unconventional BLT made with wonderful Anderson Valley lamb bacon. It came with a green salad, but the brunch menu is less veggie-focused and more indulgent overall. Maple butter turns a big bowl of Anson Mills grits into a sweet, soupy porridge. A huge blueberry buttermilk pancake is a true “pan” cake, cooked in a skillet.
Two cloudlike poached eggs topped corned beef hash: chunks of mild, house-cured meat and potatoes served with several hot sauces so you can ratchet up the Scoville units to your liking.
You could drink your veggies at brunch by eschewing any of the alcoholic “eye openers” and opting for a cocktail of fresh juices. The snappy beet-carrot-apple-ginger will mainly appeal to beet lovers, whereas the kale-cucumber-celery-pear-lemon will endear itself to many. A glass of either will lessen your guilt for devouring an entire wedge of coffee cake.
Providence Cicero is The Seattle Times restaurant critic. Reach her at email@example.com.