Watching tickets flow into Homer’s open kitchen, Madison Steinkamp and Caroline Pond say they can tell first-timers from the repeat diners. According to the pair, both sous chefs of Beacon Avenue’s newest destination restaurant, newcomers dive straight into the signature lineup of spreads. They tear off pieces of pita, direct from the oven and still hot enough to singe your fingertips, and drag them through plush hummus or a flavorful stew of charred eggplant.
The second time around, diners turn their attention to the rest of the menu. That’s when they order the proteins, says Steinkamp. “Meatballs, whipped garlic, and two extra pita? Yeah, you’ve been here.”
Repeat customers are plentiful at Homer. Last September, chef Logan Cox opened what he thought would be a basic neighborhood joint, with reasonable prices, even a soft serve window that dispenses cones to passersby. Instead, customers seized upon his aptitude for big, broadly Mediterranean flavors put in crunchy context, and went all in on supposedly less-accessible plates. They came back for lamb ribs—fall-apart tender within, the exterior a sticky, caramelized landscape for cumin, pistachio, lime zest, and the best fruit of each season. They came back for finely ground meatballs in a rich sauce of stewed tomatoes.
I came back, too, over the course of this munificent year of new places, each plate of roast chicken and intricate salad remix confirming the notion that first flickered into my mind during my inaugural dinner at the six-seat bar: Homer is Seattle Met’s Restaurant of the Year.
In a warm (literally, from that oven) dining room bedecked in cool ostrich wallpaper, Logan Cox balances the identity of a genuine neighborhood restaurant with unabashed culinary ambition. Homer is the sort of place where a bartender might pause to greet a passing dog and its owners through that open soft serve window, then hand you a tomato salad decked in enough black lime powder and toasted quinoa and caraway seeds to render this seasonal staple mysterious and noir.
Homer’s showstopper staples tend to be meat—the lamb ribs, the meatballs, the chicken served atop a pita dedicated to soaking up its juices—but the vegetable dishes display the kitchen’s full capabilities. “We don’t have to just do caesar salads and things like that,” marvels Cox. “People have been pretty accepting,” he says of unexpected combos like tender gem lettuce, blackened over flames and punched up with fermented poblanos and avocado. Or blistered green beans in brown butter, walnut puree and pomegranate molasses delivering subtle pops of sweet and circling back into Mediterranean territory. Cox and crew almost apply a cold brew coffee mentality, drawing oft-overlooked nuance from familiar Northwest produce.
It’s a formula not unlike that of Sitka and Spruce, where Cox was previously executive chef. Though Homer is undoubtedly his own territory, one enlivened by lots of what he terms “crunchies,” those final fistfuls of toasty grains or seeds or chopped nuts that vault a dish into something textural and new. The chef also has his own way of running a kitchen. Diners may never know that cooks get to choose their own stations, based on when they arrive each day, but having every person on the line equally versed in working oven or grill plays out in food that’s shockingly consistent, even when Homer’s 50-odd seats are full from open to close (lingering on the chairs outside, ordering gamay spritzes through the soft serve window, is definitely one of the more pleasant ways to wait for a restaurant table).
Earlier this year, when Cox and wife Sara Knowles learned they were having a baby, he promoted Pool and Steinkamp to co–sous chefs; the kitchen runs seamlessly when he’s absent, while front of house manager Ahmed Suliman, known to most as Suli, practices that tricky art of offering welcome without any immediately available seats. Knowles was the inspiration behind the soft serve window, which remains in service through the winter. Inside, though, swirls of fig leaf or salted date provide a down-to-earth conclusion to a meal that kicks prevailing restaurant trends to the curb in favor of one crunchy-loving chef’s neighborly vision.