To walk down Ballard Ave is to notice that funny old green house. It looks like a home where Laura Ingalls Wilder and family might have hunkered down for a long prairie winter, dropped improbably in a tight-shouldered row of brick and stone storefronts otherwise pulsing with bars and boutiques.
The structure is actually two houses fitted together in a T shape (known as the Pioneer Houses). They might actually be Seattle’s oldest intact residential properties…and they’re about to get new life as an Italian restaurant. The name is forthcoming, but a major restoration of these humble shotgun shacks is already under way.
Jeff Ofelt and Wade Weigel, the guys behind Percy’s down the street and various other establishments around town bought this most unusual property last summer. They brought in partner Tim Baker to help turn this fascinating building into a two story, 50-seat restaurant, complete with a spiral staircase, open kitchen, banquette seating, wide plank floors, and a bar area in back. The house has character in spades, right down to the plank walls that still bear the marks of a nineteenth century sawmill.
“We want to get people inside of it and give it another life,” says Baker, who started his own Seattle culinary life working for the legendary Carmine Smeraldo and bartending at Serafina. These days he manages operations at Percy’s and heads a restaurant consulting firm called Red Sled Studios.
The menu won’t be large, but it will be a blend of seasonal Italian riffs (say, ramp agnolotti) and Italian American standards. “People ask me, 'What region of Italy?’” says Baker. “I say, 'New Jersey.’”
Obviously menu details are subject to change this early on, but salads, pastas, gnocchi, risotto, beef and tuna carpaccio, and nightly braises like osso bucco and braciole will rule the dinner service. Lunch will be served at the kitchen counter (oh, how Ballard could use more weekday lunch) and offer a mix of pastas, salads, sandwiches, and the like. Baker promises a great minestrone by day, and an equally great spaghetti Bolognese by night.
Baker’s son Sam West is currently the sous chef at Percy's but will move over here and apply his training acquired through several culinary training sojourns in Italy. Baker describes the father-son project as "the romantic Italian restaurant we always wanted to open." Percy's chef Derek May will oversee both restaurants.
The pair of shotgun shacks began their lives somewhere between the late 1850s and 1880 in what is now the International District, at the corner of present-day South Lane Street and Ninth Avenue South. A historical report on the property heralds its unusual vertical-plank construction and concluded the two dwellings "appear to be the oldest intact residential properties remaining in Seattle."
In 1976, Rainier Bank purchased the site of the two buildings, donated the structures to Historic Seattle, and helped move them to Ballard. There they sat, protected from major changes by Ballard Ave's historical district designation—home to a variety of professional offices, but still outliers on the street. A patio along the building's north wall faces an ivy-draped brick wall; it will undoubedly be prime outdoor space come next summer.
Turning this space into a restaurant will require some major reconstructive feats (the talented folks at Mallet are on the case), so the projected October opening date is subject to change. But whenever this place is done, it will likely look incredible.