Best Restaurants 2010

Best Restaurants: The Morning Meal

By Kathryn Robinson With Judy Naegeli October 21, 2010 Published in the November 2010 issue of Seattle Met

Tilikum Place Café

TILIKUM PLACE CAFÉ is the restaurant morning built. “Dinner-quality food for breakfast” was its opening vision, recalls co-owner and chef Ba Culbert. And indeed, when you’re sitting in the uncommonly cozy storefront at the leafy edge of Belltown, and your Dutch baby arrives all puffed and golden and bubbling with fresh peaches in its individual cast-iron skillet alongside a little pitcher of maple syrup and your own French press of Lighthouse Roasters coffee—“dinner-quality” is right. Tilikum’s masterful dinners set the bar high, but its brunches equal them in quality and verve—and remain the cafe’s most consistent business. Omelets, quiches, eggs Bennie—all delectably wrought. Pastries, sausages, preserves—all housemade with care. The windows are steamed; the place is slammed.

Brunch has long been Seattle’s particular pleasure: late-morning enough to be daylit, indoor enough to warm us through rainy season, plentiful enough to satisfy the hibernal appetites that rev for so much of the year—and lubed with Seattle’s signature beverage. But in recent years a slew of dinner houses have leapt into the game, including Spring Hill and Dahlia Lounge. Monsoon and the Bellevue Wild Ginger have begun weekend dim sum. Newbies like Mistral Kitchen, June, Emmer and Rye, and Nettletown opened with brunch. Even wine bars (Verve) and tapas bars (The Harvest Vine) are getting in on the action.

Nationally, since the recession began, morning meals are the only restaurant sector growing in earnest. This is no coincidence: It’s a less expensive way to satisfy one’s dining-out jones. (Weekday morning meals are coming back, too—Seatown Snack Bar and Toulouse Petit have started breakfast in recent months—but that’s a less attractive sector for restaurateurs, challenged by harried dine times, tiny tabs, diners’ expectations of tinier tabs, and—the killer—nearly nonexistent booze sales.)

Something about brunch, suspects Culbert, carries strong nostalgia appeal. Just a few months into its life, Tilikum Place ditched its weekday breakfasts in favor of weekend brunches only; it was clearly more in line with the mood of the times. Considering that two current darlings of evening haute cuisine are farm-fresh golden yolks as sauces and pork belly—by any other name, eggs and bacon—morning appears to be where our hearts are.


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