There's a category of restaurant, more elaborate than a coffee shop, more elaborate than a salad bar, that's not quite fast food, not quite fast-casual, that targets a specific clientele. Not your voracious, burger-scarfing roommate (he's a lost cause) but, more likely, your fussy, salad-forking cousin. Call it fast, healthy food; call it healthy food served fast, but it's a real thing. Especially in Seattle.
Chipotle wants to dominate this lucrative segment, especially now that Subway, which used to be a contender, has fallen into disgrace. It's not a category that lends itself to chains but rewards sincere, hands-on operators. A couple of years back, Heather Nuicifora and Steve Hooper opened Kigo Kitchen in South Lake Union to feed Amazon's hordes of hungry, busy worker bees. In Pioneer Square, Gaba Sushi represents the concept.
And, as of today, a new entrant: Sweetgrass Food Co. It opened in the Metropolitan Tower at Westlake and Virginia, a long-awaited venture from a first-time restaurant couple, Colleen Kerr and Mike Moon. Eater.com first reported on their project back in February.
Kerr is an executive with Washington State University; Moon is a former business consultant. Their venture, which already includes a second store (still under construction in Pioneer Square), is based on the concept of locally sourced, mostly organic ingredients with minimal processing. Meals are available for sit-down diners as well as grab & go. Most of the dozen or so items are salad bowls assembled to order. Nothing is over $10.
The owners are getting support from a couple of restaurant veterans, concept guru Ken Batali (Chop Shop, Athletic Supply) and Sharon Fillingim (Grub, Le Reve). "We've never opened a restaurant before," Kerr admits, "so we need all the help we can get." The branding company Civilization, on Capitol Hill, provided assistance with concept development and the logo, and Huxley-Wallace chef Brian O'Connor contributed recipes.
Moon says he never imagined how much work was involved in remodeling the space, which used to be a jewelry store. "I built the bathrooms, the mezzanine, the stairs, the banquettes." The couple ended up with a 2,400-square-foot space, with downstairs seating for 60 in addition to the 30-seat mezzanine level.
The signature dish is called Five-Color Sweetgrass Rice Pottage, a flavorful variation on Asian congee. "The name sounds like French for soup," Kerr explains. (In the Bible, Esau sells his birthright for "a mess of pottage." In England, there's also a thick lentil stew called pottage.) Sweetgrass's rice pottage is made with long grain brown rice, shiitake mushrooms, greens, adzukibeans, pickled sweet chilies, cilantro, shaved fennel, fresh ginger and scallions.
Another flavorful dish is the Buddha Bowl, consisting of coconut brown rice, quinoa, kale, brussels sprouts, cabbage, avocado, lentils, dressed with a citrus vinaigrette scented with kaffir lime and turmeric. "Everything has to be delicious," is Kerr's motto.
Sweetgrass plans to be open from 7 AM to 7 PM Monday through Friday, and from 8 AM to 3 PM on Saturdays.
Sweetgrass, 1923 7th Avenue, 206-602-6656