ERICKA BURKE feeds folks all day long. The neighborhood throng gathered at the old wooden tables of north Capitol Hill’s Volunteer Park Cafe, and very soon at two new venues around town.
You would think that the last thing she’d look forward to at the end of the day, when she kicks off her clogs at home on the east side of Queen Anne Hill, is conjuring up another meal.
Far from it.
“It’s so funny,” she says. “People always say, ‘Oh, your family must have cooked a lot when you were growing up.’ They really didn’t. But the one thing we always did, we always ate dinner together. So that’s really important to me.”
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Family these days is partner Matt Dailey and boys Finn and Jack. And when Burke is in the kitchen, converted not long ago from ancient avocado green with the refrigerator on the back porch to contemporary white and the fridge upgraded and indoors, the boys can be found seated at the fat marble island.
“Even when the kids could hardly sit up in the chair,” Burke says, “I had them smelling herbs. ‘Smell this: This is basil. Taste this: It’s chives.’ ” Also, much to Dailey’s dismay, she put knives in their little hands and taught them to slice strawberries and carrots.
Her return for instilling this early appreciation of food?
“The boys used to sit here with their forks and yell, ‘Hot meat! Hot meat! Hot meat!’ ” Burke has no idea why they did that, but she knows funny when she hears it. “I’m actually looking for the antique letters H-O-T-M-E-A-T to put over my stove.”
It’s not all candlelight and cabernet.
The old four-bedroom, four-bath Tudor has been under reconstruction of some sort for the past five years. Dailey did most of the remodeling himself. There was also help from friend Dave Boone of dBoone Construction. New windows are from other friends, those at Lundgren Enterprises.
Right outside the kitchen is the latest project, more kitchen. The otherwise not-too-useful backyard has been transformed into a stone terrace featuring a grill, wood-fired pizza oven and large fireplace. Tucked into the remaining nooks and crannies, Burke likes the idea of a treehouse and play space.
Burke says that even with one long-running successful restaurant and two new ventures, they still entertain a couple of times each month. “It’s a very simple thing of life, to share food,” she says. “With our group of friends, because everybody is interested in food, everybody wants to get their hands dirty.”
Eating seasonally and well, and the conviviality of assembling folks around the dinner table (Burke loves it when the hesitant sit at Volunteer Park Cafe’s communal table and leave with new friends) are lessons she learned in college.
“My first year I got super fat, so I started cooking for myself,” she says. “My sophomore year, my roommate’s father owned restaurants. After that, I moved to New York and we had bohemian Thanksgiving. You know, where none of the chairs matched, like that. I learned how important it was just bringing people together.
“Like last night. My mother came over and we had Italian pasta, salad and bread. I love cooking meals for my family and knowing we’re having a good, long meal.
“So, let’s see, today? I’ll go to the market up here on Queen Anne and I think we’ll make raspberry ice cream.”
Rebecca Teagarden writes about architecture and design for Pacific NW magazine. Benjamin Benschneider is a magazine staff photographer.