Seattle Restaurants Meet Retail: The New Take-Out
You’re heading home from work and remembering your lunch at the new Pioneer Square eatery meets perfectly arranged retail shop, The London Plane: that amazing, crusty house-made sourdough bread you enjoyed with a trio of bright and flavorful dips (the squash tahini was out of this world). With your busy schedule, though, returning for dinner isn’t an option, and—stomach grumbling—you’re kicking yourself now for not ordering an extra serving to go.
In an era of Seattle dining when a restaurant’s ambience and “extras” parallel—and sometimes even outshine—the food, reliving the delights of your favorite restaurant or café at home has never been easier. Look around next time you’re dining out. You’re no longer limited to a doggie bag. Now you can take home the chef’s preferred olive oil, jarred pickles, wine, flowers, glassware and even the wine key used by the sommelier you’ve come to know by name. (Photo: London Plane)
Why the desire to ratchet up “to go” possibilities? Is this the new Chinese takeout or an effort to appease more complicated appetites? Pasta & Co. was way ahead of its time when it started selling its own handmade pastas back in the early 1980s. Upscale grocers such as Metropolitan Market and Whole Foods further revolutionized take-home meals with their prepared gourmet meals to go. Melrose Market on Capitol Hill may have been an important local launch pad for the trend of artisan food shopping under one roof, but now traditional restaurants are claiming a piece of the action.
Matthew Parker, the self-proclaimed director of vibe for the Huxley Wallace Collective (Skillet, Westward, Little Gull Grocery, Hollywood Tavern, Cone & Steiner) and a 2014 James Beard Foundation Award nominee for his design work for Westward on North Lake Union, thinks there’s a shift going on in the way people eat and manage their time.
“We still love to cook, but what we’re doing is we’re composing…our dinners by taking some packaged foods and some cooked foods,” he says, as a way to make it easy on ourselves. It’s one of the reasons haute mercantile Cone & Steiner (532 19th Ave. E; 206.582.1928; coneandsteiner.com) took off when it opened on Capitol Hill at 19th and Mercer last December, offering charcuterie and fancy bulk candy in jars, and a bar where you can enjoy draft beer while you wait for your growler to be filled.
But the desire for these special products goes beyond the convenience of composition; it’s about wanting to connect with a particular restaurant experience. Maybe you want to relive a memorable lunch at Seattle Fish Company, so during a break in your day, you stop in for a bottle of Chardonnay and a jar of shucked oysters to go. Work may be a drag, but at least you know you get to swim in saltwater memories when you get home. Or maybe it’s just one special ingredient that satisfies, such as the Jacobsen sea salt (which you tasted sprinkled on the poached chicken salad at The London Plane), or the house-made pork maple breakfast sausage served at Lola—all of these extensions of the experience are available for purchase. Remember when everyone had to have the latest Starbucks mug? It wasn’t just a vehicle for coffee; it was a token of belonging.
“As things become more complicated and busy because of technology, we have this desire—this need—to simplify and to search out some consistency, some clarity through all of these images and all this information traffic,” Parker says. “This is what brings us back to the table. It’s what brings us back, wanting to communicate with friends over food.”
And chefs are also a big part of the equation. “[People] see Ethan [Stowell] and Tom [Douglas] and Matt Dillon as these stalwarts of industry within the city and they want to align themselves with that,” Parker says.
Above and below: At Tom Douglas’ market Home Remedy, you can pick up sauces and foods from his popular spots
One place Seattleites can go to capture a little Tom Douglas magic in their reusable grocery tote is Assembly Hall, a group of restaurants and lifestyle shops occupying the entire ground floor of the Via6 apartments in Belltown. Here the grocery-café hybrid Home Remedy (2121 Sixth Ave.; 206.812.8407; tdhomeremedy.com) features frozen lasagna from Cuoco, pretzels from Brave Horse, breads from Dahlia Bakery, porchetta from Seatown and spreads from Lola. “That’s something people have developed an affinity for, for sentimentality,” says Jessica Moore, Assembly Hall’s executive general manager. “People will call and get it for a gift basket for someone, or because they always took their daughter for her birthday to Lola, but she moved….”
But Home Remedy’s grocery mix goes beyond frozen versions from Douglas menus; it is an editorial pantry—a carefully curated list of beverages, food, wacky staff favorites, and odds and ends, such as novelty Asian snacks and discounted Riedel glassware. (Douglas is a prolific eBayer. A bunch of his kitschy stuff, from dinnerware to figurines, is available for purchase at Assembly Hall for those looking for a more intimate interaction with the celeb chef.) Not only does Home Remedy need to appeal to the general public, but because it’s housed in an apartment complex, it needs to cater to residents, who make up a vast majority of its evening clientele. That means you can find Band-Aids and soap mingling with freshly baked cookies and charcuterie.
It seems that restaurateurs who have cultivated a desirable escapist experience would be silly not to sell their branded items in their eateries. It’s a way of sharing their coveted world that starts the minute a consumer opens the door and can end with the purchase of a branded item. And yet for chef/owners, it’s often about more than simple promotion.
For Matt Dillon’s newest Pioneer Square venture (with Katherine Anderson of Marigold and Mint, a flower shop in Melrose Market), The London Plane (300 and 322 Occidental Ave. S; 206.624.1374; thelondonplaneseattle.com), it’s just a variation on the restaurant theme. Located on two corners of Occidental Plaza, the original, smaller London Plane is more of a gathering space, a place to host private parties or after-work meetings. It’s also a stopover for those who want a glass of wine and a charcuterie plate or perhaps some housewares, a bottle of wine or a cookbook to take home. The newer, much larger atrium-like London Plane is part cafe and part specialty food shop. It houses Dillon’s pastry, bread and deli production, while also offering take-home items that range from a roasted chicken to a bouquet of flowers and much of what’s available on the menu; it’s sort of like raiding a well-appointed pantry.
“In a way, restaurateurs are kind of our local celebrities,” Huxley Wallace’s Parker says. “We want to be a part of that. We want to take a part of that home.”
You can bet consumers’ dining and shopping habits will continue to evolve in 2014. Despite the desire to simplify, Seattle diners are more sophisticated than ever. They take cooking classes, read cookbooks, follow foodie blogs and Tumblr postings, and track reviews. They get it. And now, with ingredients and products from their neighborhood haunts at their disposal, they can be a part of what has typically been reserved for a fortunate few.