Opening in Lower Queen Anne, at 144 Western Ave., is a tiny, new specialty-food store, Marx Foods. For the last four years, Marx has been an on-line retailer overseen by Justin Marx, fifth generation in the specialty grocery biz. On-line, the site offers some 1,300 items; in the shop, only 300 to 400. (The average supermarket, which must appeal to a wide range of customer needs and tastes, has 20,000 to 30,000 items.)
On-line, too, the producers take care of shipping (airfreight, usually), which means that the point of difference for Marx is customer service: an unusually rich assortment of “how to” information: recipes, background and history, and stories.
With a physical store, Marx goes head-to-head with established retail importers like Big John’s PFI (in Sodo) and ChefShop (up the road on Elliott Avenue), not to mention the ambitious Whole Foods chain.
But Marx has more than a few tricks up his sleeve, starting with a unique array of specialty meats not previously available to home cooks: elk, venison, bison, boar, kangaroo, antelope, alligator, lama, yak, poussin, poulet rouge, squab, quail and pheasant. Is anyone really going to buy kangaroo? Maybe it’s not your average family dinner, but chefs, caterers and food-service companies in the market for something unusual will buy it.
One potential drawback, a lack of on-site parking, doesn’t faze Marx. “We’re interested in building relationships with serious customers. There’s actually plenty of street parking on Lower Queen Anne,” he said.
Making the rounds
On Capitol Hill, David Meinert, restaurant and music impresario David Meinert (Belltown’s 5 Point Cafe; Big Mario’s on Cap Hill) is teaming up with Jason Lajeunesse (Capitol Hill Block Party) to build out a 24-hour diner in the building that currently houses Basic Plumbing, a gay bathhouse on 10th Avenue, around the corner from The Comet tavern and next to Elliott Bay Cafe.
“The layout will be very similar to the 5-Point,” Meinert tells us. “The menu will be the same: big portions, stiff drinks.”
Pioneer Square sandwich-and-pizzeria shop Calozzi’s has expanded into Georgetown with a sandwich shop.
In Columbia City, La Medusa is no longer for sale. That’s because the beloved restaurant’s chef and sous chef are pooling their money to buy the place.
Big news, we hope, for the empty space on First Avenue in Belltown where Cascadia and Taberna del Alabardero entertained the locals with strong drink and boldly flavored small plates. There's a new lessee for the property, said to be “gourmet Italian,” which got me thinking, who does that, now that Bisato has shuttered? It’s not Ethan Stowell, who’s got his hands full. That leaves Tom Douglas, right?
Imagine if he moved Cuoco, his highly regarded but under-performing spot in South Lake Union, to Belltown?
Bringing Rome to Seattle
The least familiar of the small plates at Rione XIII, Ethan Stowell’s new spot on Capitol Hill, will likely be the puntarelle. Normally translated as “winter chicory,” they’re prized in Rome for their crunchy bitterness, which is achieved by stripping the leaves and immersing the stems in cold water until they curl.
It’s a fussy, time-consuming preparation to undertake at home, but puntarelle are often sold in prepared form in Rome’s street markets, with naught to do but take them home and dress them with pounded anchovies, garlic, olive oil and salt. Rione XIII’s kitchen has the tangy dressing down pat, though they don’t remove the leaves from the stem.
There’s no local source for puntarelle; these come from Coke Farm, a specialty supplier of exotic greens in California.
(Rome’s 20 riones are — like the arrondissements of Paris — the numbered districts of Rome’s traditional neighborhoods. XIII is the official designation for the artsy-trendy Trastevere district, sort of like calling Pioneer Square “98104.”)
Meantime, Stowell is also opening a Salumeria next door to his other Capitol Hill joint, Anchovies & Olives. And his How to Cook a Wolf spot atop Queen Anne celebrates its fifth anniversary this week.
New chefs, new menu
Eric and Sophie Banh fled their native Vietnam while young teenagers. Now in Seattle, the siblings have started two Monsoon restaurants, two Baguette Box sandwich shops and, more recently, Ba Bar, which describes itself as “street food.”
The thing is, in Saigon, there was a French colonial class that imported wheat flour to make bread and pastries, and there was the local fare, based on rice flour and rice noodles. So Ba Bar’s new breakfast menu draws from both.
Karen Krol, shy but self-assured, has joined the Banhs as pastry chef, rolling out and baking up a steady stream of buns, quiches, brioches, jalousies and Danish pastries without rival.
New Yorker Sonny Baez stepped up to the not-normally-glamorous job of breakfast chef, with longtime Banh chef Dung Doan moving over from Monsoon to assist, while recent culinary grad Tony Le watches the ginger-and-lemongrass beef broth for the pho.
“Morning remedies” also available: mimosas and bloody Marys (with rum).
It’s open daily for breakfast at 7 a.m.
RONALD HOLDEN blogs about food, wine and travel at Cornichon.org. To comment on this story, write to CityLivingEditor@nwlink.com.