I'm reluctant to even say the “V” word here, let alone the “G” word. As someone who eats and adores meat, I'll be the first to admit that I'm apt to stop reading a profile of a vegetarian, or even—god forbid—a vegan or gluten-free restaurant after the second paragraph. I guess it comes from having eaten at too many vegetarian restaurants and attended too many hippie parties where everyone around me is ooh-ing and ahh-ing over food that just isn't that good. They'll tell you with all the conviction in their soul that the dairy-free, butter-less cheesecake you're about to eat is the best you'll ever have, and as you force down a bite and force up a smile you think, “no, you poor creature, it's the best you'll ever have.”
So it has been for a year now that one vegetarian, sometimes vegan, and sometimes even gluten-free restaurant has been flying relatively under the radar. Tucked into a mixed residential/commercial strip of struggling development along Martin Luther King Jr Way in the Rainier Valley, St. Dames has become a stand-out destination for vegetarians throughout the city, and it's here where my pity party for them ends.
To neighborhood locals, St. Dames, with its romantic and slightly quirky decor and truly memorable service, has just become a destination for simply great (and affordable!) food and a crafted cocktail list that never fails to banish the thought in my mind of just ordering a glass of wine. And you know what? Us carnivores honestly don't miss the meat for one second.
After half a dozen or so great meals spent here with friends, whether for happy hour and bar bites (4:30-7pm Tuesday-Saturday), dinner or Sunday brunch, I began to realize this wasn't your average militant vegan punk rocker or part-time yoga teacher slingin' beans in the kitchen. No, in fact it's Amy Weems, a catering chef for Tom Douglas and still part-time bartender at the Bravehorse Tavern (only the most recent resume highlight in a long career in the Seattle restaurant scene), along with partner Sarah Murphy, a born-and-raised vegetarian who used to run the deli at the Seward Park PCC, who are keeping diners of all stripes coming back for more.
“We kept resisting the temptation to open on Capitol Hill,” Weems explained to me as I tried to slow down on my St. Fignatious cocktail, a shaken concoction of Buffalo Trace Bourbon, house-made fig syrup and balsamic ($8). “We've lived in the south end for eight years and really thought there was a need to be filled here."
And while there certainly is a lack of vegetarian options in this area of town that more gentrified neighborhoods don't suffer (even nearby Columbia City doesn't have much to offer), whether Weems and Murphy realize it or not, they are tapping into a bit of socio-culinary zeitgeist that has come to the fore as of late, as more and more meat eaters are cutting back on their regular consumption of animal flesh for health and financial reasons, buying up cookbook titles like The Meat Lover's Meatless Cookbook (by Seattle's own Kim O'Donnel), or committing to only eating meat when they know it comes from a trusted source (insert Portlandia wisecrack here).
"We just wanted a place that was comfortable enough to want to hang out in with an interesting-enough menu to make them want to come back," Weems says. Case in point: St. Dames' Pear & Brie Bruschetta: grilled baguette topped with house-made cinnamon pear chutney and balsamic vinegar ($7.75). Corn Cakes: creamy jalapeno masa cakes with fresh nectarine salsa ($5.75). Delicatta Risotto with sage mushrooms and braised kale ($10.75). Breakfast Burrito: house-made vegan chorizo with eggs, jalapeno, corn and cotija cheese in a flour tortilla. Carnivores, please raise your hand now if brain was searching for mentions of meat as you read any of the above.
As they celebrate their anniversary on November 17, Weems says that they consider their first year to have been a smashing success. As for what's to come? She doesn't miss a beat: “Lots more deliciousness.”
St. Dames, 4525 MLK Way S, 206.725.8879, stdames.com