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On Dining: Old-time revival continues in historic area with 3 newcomers

Partners Gary Snyder and Stacey Hettinger's new restaurant, Geraldine's, will have a retro-diner feel with house-made dishes. It's opening, in mid-May, gives another boost to Columbia City's rebirth. Paul Joseph Brown/Seattle Post-Intelligencer

The next iteration of Columbia City's ongoing culinary renaissance is here.

Well, almost.

Beginning next month, Southeast Seattle's historic landmark district welcomes three new food-and-beverage businesses: Geraldine's Counter (4870 Rainier Ave. S.), a family friendly restaurant "with a retro-dinerish feel"; The Columbia City Bakery (4865 Rainier Ave. S.), creating and selling artisanal breads, pastries and rustic sandwiches; and Lottie's Coffee and Cocktail Lounge (4900 Rainier Ave. S.) -- coffee bar by day, cocktail lounge at night.

The new trio helps broaden Columbia City's current portfolio of restaurants -- which, in case you've lost track, contains Tutta Bella Neapolitan Pizzeria (4918 Rainier Ave. S.), the only pizzeria in Seattle certified by the Verace Pizza Napoletana Association; La Medusa (4857 Rainier Ave. S.), serving soulful interpretations of Sicilian and Mediterranean cuisine; and The Wellington (4869 Rainier Ave. S.), dishing contemporary Southern cooking in a fine-dining atmosphere.

There's also Columbia City Ale House (4914 Rainier Ave. S.) a 21-and-over spot for Northwest and imported brews, wine and an above-average pub menu; El Sombrero Family Mexican Restaurant (4868 Rainier Ave. S.) a popular place for margaritas and Jalisco-style specialties; and Awash Ethiopian Restaurant (3808 S. Edmunds St.), the former Fasica with a new name and new owners but the same menu and phone number.

Not to mention two smoked-meat-and-sauce dispensaries: Roy's BBQ (4903 1/2 Rainier Ave. S.), tucked in a narrow slip of a space; and Jones Barbeque (3810 S. Ferdinand St.), a Seattle favorite in its newest location.

Breakfast & lunch

First at bat is Geraldine's Counter, scheduled to open in mid-May. Owned by El Greco partners Gary Snyder and Stacey Hettinger, Geraldine's seeks to answer the question: "Where can we go for a hot, sit-down breakfast in historic Columbia City -- with or without the kids?"

When I spoke with Snyder about his and Hettinger's latest venture, he described it in concise bullet-point style: "Colorful. Big eating counter. Gearing toward family friendly, kid-friendly. Bar, but service bar: off to the side. Ninety-five seats."

For its first two months, Geraldine's will be open for breakfast and lunch only. "We'll get them up and running," said Snyder, "then launch dinner." Initial hours of operation will be 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, closed Monday.

As the restaurant aspires to an idealized version of diner-style fare -- as opposed to actual diner food -- "everything" will be made in-house, using carefully chosen providers and ingredients. "We'll keep it as small and local as possible," said Snyder.

Expect the menu to include homemade biscuits with Isernio's sausage gravy, eggs Benedict, french toast, pancakes and El Greco's famed corned beef hash. Not to mention chicken pot pie, a "really good burger" made with "all-natural" beef, sweet potato fries. To balance the menu, several salads will be offered. When Snyder said he was "thinking about adding a crab Louie," I strongly urged him to go for it.

Bread & pastries

On the opposite side of Rainier Avenue South, in the space formerly occupied by the mysterious Club Nimba, construction is in progress for Columbia City's very own artisanal bakery, where everything is handmade and handcrafted.

Scheduled to open to retail customers in August, the Columbia City Bakery is the brainchild of partners-in-baking Evan Andres and Andrew Meltzer. Andres, the head bread man, is an alum of Macrina Bakery, Dahlia Bakery and The Tall Grass Bakery in Ballard. He and his wife, Julie Andres, bought La Medusa -- a few doors north on the same block -- from founders Lisa Becklund and Sherri Serino in November 2003.

Meltzer, a bread and pastry guy with a passion for breakfast pastries, crossed paths with Andres at Macrina and Dahlia. More recently, he served as an instructor at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., where he taught bread and breakfast pastry from September 2001 to May 2004. The concept of opening an artisanal bakery with Andres lured him northward from the Napa Valley.

The business will have a wholesale side, which will launch first. When Columbia City Bakery opens its doors to the general public, it will be more than a storefront where you stop by to pick up a loaf of fresh, crusty, rustic leavened bread. There'll be banquette and table seating; espresso and coffee drinks; savory and sweet pastries; plus rustic sandwiches using two or three ingredients like prosciutto and butter or goat cheese, tomato jam and arugula.

Coffee & cocktails

The bad news? Lottie Motts Coffee, a community mainstay, is closing -- at the end of the week.

The good news? In its place, historic Columbia City will soon have its own cocktail lounge. Lottie's Coffee and Cocktail Lounge will serve coffee by day and cocktails by night.

The main force behind the new double-purpose lounge is Tia Matthies, who with her husband, Steve Freeborn owns, operates -- and renovated -- The Rendezvous in Belltown. The couple also started and ran Pioneer Square's OK Hotel, a beloved nightclub that suffered fatal structural damage in the 2001 Nisqually earthquake.

"People hang out over coffee by day and over drinks by night," Matthies said. "I'm very aware of the differences between those settings. It won't look like a day place at night or feel like a night place by day."

Matthies hopes to open the lounge in early June. "It'll be a neighborhood hangout," she said. Families will be welcome, especially on Beat Walk nights. "It definitely won't be a Belltown cocktail lounge."

The location's "tiny little kitchen" will be used to prepare "little bites of food." Another bathroom will be added, as well as a bar. Once its liquor license is obtained, Lottie's will be open 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. on weeknights, and till 2 a.m. on weekends.

If all of the above weren't enough reason for celebration, The Columbia City Farmers Market, held Wednesdays from 3 to 7 p.m., resumes May 11.

By: Penelope Corcoran


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