Family Meal of the Week: Dahlia Lounge

By: Julien Perry | Posted July 18, 2014

There are meals in almost every restaurant serving off-menu items that you would never be lucky enough to eat unless you worked in the restaurant. They’re called family meals and they're served before or after service to feed those who work tirelessly to bring good food to your table — staff members who rarely get a chance to eat during their busy shift.

Some of the larger family meals in Seattle are served at Tom Douglas restaurants, where, unlike Miyabi 45th and Spur, they’ve got to feed a couple dozen staff members.

Yesterday afternoon, I was invited into Dahlia Lounge to partake in one of their favorite staff meals: the taco bar. 

Also unlike Spur and Miyabi, where the staff meal is served after service, Dahlia gets their people fed way before the sun goes down.

“We obviously want our staff well taken care of and we want them eating healthy, delicious food, but really it sets the tone for how we do things here: deliciousness with graciousness is our motto and it starts every day at 4 p.m.,” says chef Brock Johnson, who has been the Dahlia chef for the past 5 years.

“When you cook food on a cooks are responsible for doing things as delicious as they possibly can and the same goes for family meal. We could easily put out whatever we wanted and not spend time on it, but putting out a thoughtful family meal is really just a version of putting out thoughtful, delicious food to our guests.”

The family meals are always cooked by the sea bar station, the folks who do a lot of the raw appetizers. Today’s taco bar comes courtesy of line-cook Tori Mann and features pulled pork, fajita vegetables, rice and refried beans cooked in bacon fat that was saved from brunch. And lots and lots of hot sauce.

Johnson says they always utilize leftovers if possible. “Because we’re a big busy restaurant, we have lots of scraps all the time, so we get creative. A great family meal to me is healthy, delicious of course, easy to eat and cheap.”

After dishing up, the staff retreats to the lounge area, where they have anywhere from 15 minutes to a half-hour to eat their food. “We all hang out at the bar, chat about the evening, shoot the shit.”

Here, the family meals are more about efficiency “and really just doing the best we can in the time we have and the products [we have].” The Dahlia cooks cycle through 5-10 things for their family meals, says Johnson. “We usually do a taco bar, burrito bowl, rice, veg and meat, baked potato bar; we just run through the hits and use up whatever we have. Taco bar is everybody’s favorite. People are pretty stoked on it. Everybody likes walking into a taco bar.”

Surely, there's a metaphore for life in there somewhere.