Inside Seward Park’s new Third Place Books lives a restaurant serving breakfast, lunch, dinner and happy hour seven days a week, with dishes to please everyone.
Say it’s Friday night. You’re on the way home from work and discover no one has made a dinner plan. Your daughter is a vegetarian, your son wants a burger and your husband craves tacos. You just want a big glass of wine.
Or it’s Sunday morning, the Seahawks are on TV early and you wake up late, hankering for a Bloody Mary, maybe some corned beef hash, and company to watch the game with.
Or it’s a weekday and you’ve been holed-up in your home office since dawn finishing a project. A change of scenery and some lunch is in order.
5041 Wilson Ave. S., Seattle
Hours: dinner 5-10 p.m. daily; lunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Friday; breakfast 8-11 a.m. Monday-Friday; brunch 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday & Sunday; Happy Hour menu 3-5 p.m. daily
Prices: $$ (breakfast/brunch/lunch $5-$15; dinner $6-$18)
Drinks: full bar; cocktails; wine; local and imported beers on tap
Parking: free lot on site
Credit cards: all major
Access: no obstacles to entry; stairs to lower level
What can you do? If you live in the South End, you can make your way to Raconteur, the cafe and pub at the new Third Place Books in Seward Park. Open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, they serve crave-able, everyday fare, the sort of food you’d make at home, if only you [fill in the blank] had more time … were better organized … liked to cook … could.
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Your daughter, the vegetarian, will fall for the dan dan noodles. I did. Fried tofu cubes, broccolini, kale and chard steeped in chilies and vinegar join crinkly Hong Kong egg noodles coated in fiery red chile oil. It makes for a crowded bowl, though; a roomier one would make digging for all the gorgeous green-age easier.
The “drive-in burger” ought to be right up junior’s alley. It mimics a fast-food cheeseburger right down to the bag it’s served in, but the 3-ounce patty is made of high-quality beef given a good sear. You must have it their way — with ketchup, mustard and plenty of excellent house-made pickles — otherwise order the customizable house burger — same meat, bigger patty, on a brioche bun.
A pair of halibut tacos may hook the hubby, like they hooked me. Ginger in the creamy slaw added zest, and there was enough grilled fish nestled in the soft flour tortillas to warrant the $14 price. A side of smoky black bean, corn and quinoa salad tasted a bit tired, however.
For really hungry carnivores there is jägerschnitzel, held over from Octoberfest by popular demand. A foundation of sautéed spaetzle supports panko-breaded pork cutlets. They are carefully fried then smothered in brown gravy that’s a little too salty but dense with sliced mushrooms. To lighten the load of meat and carbs, they pile on Gürkensalat — crisp cucumber chunks marinated in vinegar and dill.
Much of this food begs for a beer. The tap list skews local, with a few German exceptions. Local tap wines are among several poured by the glass — a tall tumbler that goes a long way toward easing you into the weekend.
For the sports fan’s Sunday brunch, there is a bracing (if squat) Bloody Mary to chase a truly excellent corned beef hash. The poached eggs could have been runnier, but the meat and potatoes were finely diced and properly crisped.
The Guinness-braised corned beef was so good I sort of regret not having the corned beef sandwich at lunch. I was plenty pleased with the pita-wrapped falafel sandwich I ordered instead. The chickpea fritters were potent with cumin, jazzed with tzatziki and jolted with sambal.
If the 12th Man brings his vegetarian girlfriend to brunch, she might enjoy the breakfast strata. That savory brioche bread pudding is light on the Gouda but loaded with onion, chard and red pepper. A fruit cup on the side overflowed with ripe strawberries, pineapple and mango.
A fine Belgian waffle is available too, with or without fried chicken, which has been a work in progress. (I haven’t tried the most recent Creole-seasoned version.)
Serving breakfast, lunch, dinner and happy hour seven days a week is a tall order for co-proprietors Bill Coury and Brian Vescovi, who partnered with Ron Sher, the owner of Third Place Books, for this venture. Coury and Vescovi also own Flying Squirrel Pizza, where Raconteur’s head chef, Reed Vasey, earned his chops. His gumbo, though a bit too smoky for my taste, is a menu staple, available all day.
Coury says all the kitchen staff pitch in with ideas. He created quite a few recipes himself, including an excellent bagel that develops its appealing sourness from a two-day rise. He’s been making them for years, and they actually influenced Flying Squirrel’s pizza dough.
The warm, soft, salty pretzel is also very good, especially dunked into a “fondue” of Tillamook cheddar, caramelized onion and beer.
The coffee cake in the pastry case is Coury’s mother’s recipe. Roughly half the other items are from Essential Bakery. An estimable rum-spiked tiramisu is among the desserts made in house.
The spotty service could be improved. The mostly personable staff frequently lose focus. Food arrived, but forks didn’t. I had no spoon to stir my coffee. Some box leftovers for you; others take the DIY approach.
Raconteur’s main dining room is perhaps too brightly lit, but it has several high-backed booths that are perfect for two or four, plus tables that can be merged to accommodate extended families, maybe even a soccer team. A staircase connects it to the cozier downstairs bar area.
The whole place has more TV screens than you probably have at home — and definitely more books.
It’s heartening to see the multigenerational, multicultural crowd that assembles in Seward Park under the grandly arched, wood-paneled roof of this former PCC. It is the third outpost of Third Place Books in the Seattle area, each with a restaurant component that serves as a neighborhood gathering place. We are going to need more of them.