It’s spring, Seattle! Locals and visitors become one as they marvel at the cherry blossoms, windows propel open with a force great enough to rush in the next season perhaps a few days earlier and, most notably, the city abruptly awakens from a wintry slumber, the likes of cotton and knee-length bottoms joining us anew, as we take to the streets…for brunch!
It’s no secret that brunch in Seattle is a coveted weekend activity. Celebrate the season at any one of the delicious options below.
A timeless brunch at Tilikum Place Café
11 a.m.-2 p.m. Friday, 5-9 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday; 407 Cedar St., Seattle; 206-282-4830; tilikumplacecafe.com
In a one-story brick building nestled between the shadows of Fourth Avenue high-rises and the monorail, a storied Seattle brunch awaits. On a recent Friday, I found myself fifth in line outside Tilikum Place Café, although I arrived 10 minutes before opening. At 11 a.m. on the dot, the door opened, beckoning myself and the rest of the single file line that had formed behind me inside like a procession of baby ducks following their mother to the pond (it’s spring, I can’t help myself!).
The space inside is warm and inviting, reminiscent of an old diner with a refined flair. Owner and chef Ba Culbert told me she imagined a space for Tilikum that transitioned from day to night seamlessly. A place “that also felt like it had been here for a while,” she said, “even when it was new … just a little timeless.”
My brunch partner and I began with an order of the eggs Benedict ($16), along with a brunch cocktail for each of us, “because you obviously deserve these,” our server crooned. Our server also brought out a house-baked curried ketchup, hot sauce and some share plates, only to be used if we were “benevolent enough to share.” I almost wasn’t.
Little heaps of cured salmon and cloudlike avocado mousse provide an understated elegance to this classic dish, one that makes each bite feel like a luxury — rich in the way brunch ought to be! A healthy portion of seasoned potatoes take right stage, and with each bite of the eggs Benny, yolk spills out of the perfectly poached egg, as if it, too, is seeking out spring. (Oh, we definitely deserved this.)
Next up, two Dutch babies, one savory ($12) with pockets of peppery sausage, fennel and onion and topped with a pool of provolone, and one classic ($11) with maple syrup, a blanket of powdered sugar and a cloth-wrapped lemon. The Dutch babies are a delightful enigma — firm yet cushy, thick but delicate, chewy and crispy all at once. Alternating between bites of classic and savory creates a balance that satisfies every possible craving. I could eat these Dutch babies for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
“My goal is for everything to be seasonal as much as possible, and local as much as possible,” Culbert said when asked about her menu, which changes once a week. Right now, she draws inspiration from spring ingredients like nettle, green garlic, wild mushrooms, asparagus and, of course, rhubarb. She doesn’t do it alone, though. “I like to bounce ideas off with other folks. I think collaboration creates for more inspired things,” she said.
Tilikum opened in 2009, right in the heart of the recession. Culbert attributes much of the restaurant’s success to the regulars who have supported the business over the course of more than a decade. “And we have a core staff that has been with us for a long time, and I really appreciate their contribution. I think that’s also what draws our customers back — the continuity of staff,” Culbert said.
“Seattle has always had small, independent restaurants that have been a backbone amongst the culinary scene. The restaurants that people talked about 30 years ago are still in the consciousness of some of these Seattle diners,” she said, “and I appreciate the tradition of that.”
And find tradition at Tilikum you will. Dutch babies are always a staple on the menu, but if you’re curious about what else you’ll find, check the Instagram page on Wednesdays for the weekly menu. Or leave it a surprise — either way, deliciousness awaits.
Fat’s Chicken and Waffles feels like coming home
11:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Wednesday-Friday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5-8 p.m. Saturday-Sunday; 2726 E. Cherry St., Seattle; 206-602-6863; fatschickenandwaffles.com
You know you’ve found good food when you smile upon first bite, or when you do a little dance in your seat. I did both when a forkful of crispy chicken, waffle liberally covered in “Henny butter” (Hennessy cognac butter, that is!), maple syrup and sausage gravy hit my taste buds. There’s a reason why the chicken and waffles is the holy-grail item on the menu, and for only $12, you can become enlightened, too.
The chicken dons a wonderfully crispy exterior that carries just a kiss of spice. Once in your mouth, the cracklelike skin melts away to reveal flavors of Creole-inspired seasoning. The edges of the thin checkered waffle are nearly just as crispy as the chicken, if you can believe it, although the interior is soft and sweet. The dish doesn’t come with sausage gravy, but I added it on the side for an extra $4. And it was worth it. I could eat an entire bowl of the sausage gravy. Get the gravy!
When I visited Fat’s Chicken and Waffles, it was a sunny Thursday, and light streamed in through the windows of this little corner spot on East Cherry Street. Maybe it was just the warmth of the sun, but sitting down in Fat’s immediately felt like a hug. The spirit of the Central District seemed captured in the photos, books and trinkets that lined the restaurant walls, collectively creating an ambience that made me feel like I had returned to some place familiar, comfortable, welcoming.
Thursday also conveniently happens to be Fat’s all-day happy hour, so for $8 I treated myself to a whiskey sweet tea, the drink of choice for a few other diners at the time. If you happen to be hung over when you find yourself at one of Fat’s tables (which is apparently not uncommon, it’s comfort food, after all!), not to worry — there’s Pedialyte on the menu, too.
Playful dishes at Sawyer
5-9 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday, 4:45-9:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5-8:30 p.m. Sunday; 5309 22nd Ave. N.W., Seattle; 206-420-7225; sawyerseattle.com
Taking a page from Taco Bell’s Crunchwrap playbook, the brunchwrap ($14) doesn’t need to be fancy to be delicious; ‘nduja queso, fluffy scrambled eggs, thick pieces of chicken and all the sauces one could ever desire are wrapped into a seared and pressed tortilla. The bananas Foster skillet pancake ($12), a warmly served pancake with surprisingly crispy edges (thanks to a little caramelization from the dulce de leche), provides for a sweet chaser. Topped with roasted bananas, orange rum whipped cream and toasted pecans, this dish absolutely does not need syrup (but if you’re like me and have an insatiable sweet tooth, I recommend scooping up the syrupy little puddles of dulce de leche at the bottom of the skillet).
If you’re looking to share, the pork belly steam buns ($11) conveniently come in twos. Find gochujang mayo, peanuts, amazu pickles and cilantro, all sandwiched nicely between an impossibly pillowy bun (you’ll almost want to lay your head on it, really). The huckleberry scones ($10), served with raspberry jam and a salted, airy butter, also come in a pair.
We’ve been starved for human interaction and food eaten within the walls of an actual restaurant, and now we must feast. Grab some friends, pull up a few chairs under the springtime sun (Sawyer conveniently has outdoor seating) and rejoice in the exuberance of all things blooming, brightening and brunching. Cheers!