Call it third helpings.
A re-dine. A do-over.
One of my favorite things to do as this paper’s hired belly is to tell success stories about restaurants that have pulled a great turnaround.
In 2013, we saw a cascade of openings that made the South Sound a more robust dining region. While some restaurants nailed the concept on their first try, others proved they required more time to settle into their kitchens.
This Friday and next, I’ll be writing about third helpings of restaurants that debuted in 2013 with concepts I applauded, but with shaky early deliveries.
They’re performing just fine.
Netshed No. 9
3313 Harborview Dr., Gig Harbor, 253-858-7175, serving only breakfast and lunch Thursdays-Mondays (open until 4 most days).
Gig Harbor’s Netshed No. 9 opened last March and caught my attention for offering breakfast until late afternoon. Short of a handful of greasy spoons, all-day breakfast can be a tough find in the region.
Thad Lyman and Katie Doherty are the restaurant duo behind Netshed and nearby Brix 25, a fine-dining restaurant they purchased in 2009.
Netshed No. 9 – named with a nod to Gig Harbor’s historic netshed structures – isn’t an eggs and ’browns sort of place. It’s a restaurant with a fun sensibility – a place that nudges pancakes with ricotta and pairs chicken and waffles with an unlikely companion of chimichurri. It’s a restaurant that takes great pleasure in presentation, from adorable mini skillets of cinnamon rolls to Lincoln log stacks of French toast. It’s not especially fancy, but it is playful, just like the atmosphere.
The decor is muted, with a nautical nod, but if you look closer, you’ll see neat finds, such as the bench seating in a shade of golden-orange not appreciated since the ‘70s. Rehabbed and reclaimed items fill every cranny of the restaurant – from the 100-year-old waffle irons to the dishwasher, and the golden-orange bench seating that was salvaged from a Key Peninsula church.
Moving outside, it gets even better. During the al fresco dining season, Netshed’s deck is the must-visit breakfast destination for waterside dining.
Overbaking and temperature problems during early visits were a distant memory when I recently dug into the restaurant’s signature baked chicken thighs paired with waffles ($13), the dish zapped with a spicy-sweet chimichurri slaw that is worth ordering on its own.
A ham steak ($13) topped with over-easy eggs, with a side of beans and a red gravy, was absolutely stunning – so big you should share, but so tasty you won’t want to.
A PB&J waffle ($9.50) sounded like a kid dish, but showed up with plenty of grown-up appeal in the form of bacon candy, a decadent drizzle of peanut butter and macerated strawberries with a lick of sweetness.
The sausage breakfast burger ($13.25) was just as it sounded – a sausage patty tucked into a dense bun smeared with tomato jam. An over-easy egg spilled a ribbon of yolk, offering a rich dose of instant flavor.
Although I tout Netshed No. 9 for its fun breakfasts, they serve lunch, too. A “Rubenesque” pastrami sandwich ($10) contained smoky beef and got its pucker from pickles, not kraut. Vegetarians will rejoice at the veg-friendly Pantheon sandwich with a housemade hummous ($9.75). Sandwiches come with chips or a salad.
Art House Cafe
111 N. Tacoma Ave., Tacoma, 253-212-2011. Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday, brunch and dinner on Sundays.
I’ll remember 2013 as the year the Stadium neighborhood turned into a better dining destination. The addition of the retro burger diner Shake Shake Shake and Art House Cafe anchored that end of Stadium.
The Art House Cafe is the project of John and Lucy Armstrong, longtime Tacoma artists who also operate the adjacent Open Arts Studio.
Art House’s opening chef Dustin Joseph built a menu of scratch-made sandwiches baked on bread made at the cafe, as well as flavor-teased pizzas and light cafe eats. Joseph departed in June and now is chef of Community Plate in McMinnville, Ore. The new chef is Aimee Cox.
The opening months of Art House left me with an impression of a restaurant that was good, but aspired to be great. Two recent return visits showed the restaurant has settled into its display kitchen, one of the neatest perches in Tacoma for watching chefs at work.
Earlier visits yielded pizzas with uneven toppings that required diners to search for flavor. Dishes suffered from overcooking.
Recent visits found those problems had been overcome.
A roasted butternut squash pie ($15) yielded a tender crust. Evenly distributed toppings – fresh sage, onions, blue cheese and sweet mounds of butternut squash puree – meant I didn’t have to chase ingredients to appreciate the balance of sweet and savory.
A visit for breakfast made me kick myself for not trying that menu in my earlier visits. A stuffed buttermilk biscuit ($10) proved biscuits don’t have to be dull. The house-baked biscuit squished together a pile of scrambled eggs and chorizo reinforced with pico de gallo.
A Dutch baby ($6) was well-priced considering the size of the lacy-textured puff that tasted more crepe than souffle.
Art House’s arty dining room – with a tufted banquette lining one wall and handmade mosaic tiles sprucing up the coffee counter – seals this restaurant as a ladies-who-lunch destination.
But the lunch menu isn’t fussy. A molasses-rubbed pork shoulder sandwich ($12) reminded me of a take on the Carolina specialty, only with molasses more pronounced than vinegar. A grilled turkey and brie sandwich ($12) with apples came with an unannounced, yet welcomed, puckery red onion relish instead of the promised caramelized onions.
Both sandwiches were flanked with sides worth mentioning: crispy fried potato chips and a lightly dressed arugula salad.
One problem that hasn’t been fixed and probably cannot be: The restaurant can be loud at capacity.
Sue Kidd dines anonymously and The News Tribune pays for all meals.