KIRKLAND — Since graduating from college, I have lived in five states — moving from North Dakota to Minnesota, then California with a brief stint in Nevada, Oregon and finally to Washington. Each time, I’ve headed into my newly adopted city and gathered material for my main objective: find the best restaurants. The ones I want to eat at alone as much as bring a friend. The ones good for last-minute “I don’t feel like cooking” dinners as much as ones where you have to make advance plans. The new as well as the longtime neighborhood favorites.
Naming a spot a “neighborhood favorite” is more about a feeling than an algorithm. It’s one that feels true to the neighborhood in pricing and atmosphere. There might be white tablecloths at your neighborhood joint, but there might also be scarred wooden tables and a bulletin board with community notices. It’s one where you feel familiar with the staff and they know you, too. You most likely bump into your neighbors there, because they feel the same way. Some of my favorite neighborhood spots around Seattle are Coyle’s Bakeshop and Cornuto in Greenwood; Safari Restaurant in Columbia City and Emma’s BBQ in Hillman City; Union Saloon in Wallingford and Brimmer and Heeltap in Ballard. And, of course, DERU Market in Kirkland. I love a neighborhood favorite, and am so excited that finding and writing about them is what I’ll be doing here at The Seattle Times.
I’m not quite sure how I landed at DERU Market one drizzly February morning in 2014 shortly after learning I would be moving here, but I am ever so glad I did.
At the time, DERU was still under the radar. The cafe is in an interesting part of Kirkland where houses are meshed with auto-repair shops, a Kirkland Public Works building and the unmistakable smell of a Brown Bear car wash. What is now the dining room used to be a workshop for a construction company. The outdoor seating area is a reclaimed parking lot; people milling about waiting for tables often obstruct cars attempting to park in the lot.
Restaurant manager Emma Mercer started working for chef/owners Jamie Casady and Jordan Cooper in the summer of 2013. At the time, DERU was mostly a catering kitchen that happened to also have a deli case filled with salads and sides; things for people to pick up to help round out a meal, crafted with local produce and changing with the seasons.
When the space that houses the dining room became available, Casady and Cooper took it over, personally sanding the benches and installing the great marble countertop that would become the bar. People still had to order at the counter — table service just started this past June — but they could now stay and eat. And, there were a handful of small metal tables outside.
I remember sitting on that parking-lot patio on my first visit, my hand wrapped around an oversize mug of coffee, a plate of roasted Brussels sprouts and poached eggs smothered in hollandaise sauce before me, and thinking I had stumbled onto something great. I couldn’t wait to settle in Seattle and keep exploring.
Mercer says the timing around my first visit — and really 2014 in general — was a period of extreme growth for DERU, but it doesn’t seem to have slowed down. In 2016, they added Little Brother, a larger restaurant with the same spirit situated a little closer to Kirkland’s downtown. Just a few weeks ago, two long, wooden benches were installed, adding 22 seats to the patio.
Over the years, we’ve made it a point to stop at DERU when on the Eastside; picking up a breakfast sandwich ($13) to eat on the way to Tiger Mountain or sitting in and sharing a plate of brioche French toast with whipped cream and seasonal fruit ($15). We’ve also visited Little Brother and gotten equally excited about their open-faced tartines with chicken liver mousse and radicchio salads.
We recently brought our daughter to DERU for the first time, my husband grumbling that at least “the food is worth the wait,” when we were faced with 45 minutes to kill. However, one bite of warm rosemary polenta, served with a tangle of peppery arugula ($8), had him grinning ear to ear.
It’s also tough to resist the cake; dark chocolate, carrot, coconut, salted peanut butter and a rotating seasonal are displayed proudly among towers of cookies atop the deli case. Slices range from $10 to $12, but the wedge you get is almost laughably large.
“I think it’s like an actual representation of chef Jamie’s generous heart. I don’t know if that’s what she would say, but I think she just wants it to be fun and exciting,” Mercer says.
She notes that jaws often drop when servers deliver slices of cake, and other magical things happen such as tables sharing with other tables, turning cake into connection.
“And you have enough to share. It’s really fun,” she says.
I went back again for a blissful breakfast by myself just the other day, first thing in the morning. They still have poached eggs and hollandaise on the menu ($16), always paired with these perfect, crunchy roast fingerling potatoes and a seasonal vegetable. This time it was beautiful heirloom tomatoes and a shower of fresh dill, parsley and basil. I would recommend adding on a slice to bread to sop up every last drop of hollandaise.
DERU opens at 8 a.m., another change that’s been made this summer, and Mercer says from 8 to 9 is still this secret pocket of time at the restaurant where there’s almost never a wait. It’s peaceful and quiet, the crush of 45-minute wait times still off in the distant future. She says to also try coming between 3 and 5 p.m. or “any time there’s a special event like a sporting event going on,” if you’re hoping to skip the inevitable line.
DERU is a great example of what I hope to find with this new feature. It’s not fair to call it a hidden gem — because it is beloved by its community and even beyond. I know there are restaurants just like it in Kent, Woodinville, Bremerton and Lynnwood. And it’s now my job (with your help) to find all those beloved neighborhood joints all over the Greater Seattle metro area and tell their stories. Do you have a favorite neighborhood spot? Drop me a line and tell me what it is you love about it. Maybe it’s the owner or the staff, or maybe it’s just that they serve the best darn (insert your favorite dish here) and you can’t imagine your life without it. Give me a shout on Twitter or Instagram, or send me an email. From dumpling joints to gigantic slices of cake, I can’t wait to dig in.
American; open 8 a.m.-9 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday, 8 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 723 Ninth Ave., Kirkland; 425-298-0268, derumarket.com