Brian Clevenger gets bored easily. This isn’t conjecture; he readily admits that he’s the kind of chef and restaurateur who likes to work, which is why you’ll see him in the kitchen, at least a few nights a week, at his newest restaurant, Haymaker in West Seattle. When he’s not there, he’s cooking at one of his other full-service restaurants: Vendemmia (Madrona), East Anchor Seafood (Madrona), Raccolto (West Seattle) or Le Messe (Eastlake). He even swings by G.H. Pasta Co. (Denny Triangle) to make sure that the casual lunchtime bowls of pasta served there—extremely popular with the neighborhood’s lanyard-wearing tech set—are up to his characteristically high standards.
Chef Brian Clevenger has grown his restaurant empire General Harvest Restaurants to six, with the newest addition of Haymaker in West Seattle
Clevenger says he’s addicted to the process of opening a restaurant—taking an idea and bringing it to fruition, solving problems along the way. That helps explain how his empire of General Harvest Restaurants has already grown to six; his first, Vendemmia, opened just four years ago. Although the themes of all of these places are similar—a “simple approach to great product; I don’t like fussy food or fads,” he says—each feels very much like an individual neighborhood restaurant, not part of a larger restaurant group. That’s because Clevenger has intentionally chosen locations that allow his restaurants to be an integral part of the neighborhood, not in splashy new construction downtown or trendy hot spots like Ballard or Capitol Hill. He believes 80% of a restaurant’s business comes from 20% of its customers.
Judging by the buzz in West Seattle leading up to Haymaker’s opening in August, he’s not wrong. Residents of the neighborhood, where Clevenger also lives, have been showing up since day one, many ignoring the online reservation option and stopping by in hopes of scoring a table. With its high ceilings, exposed brick, seating for 50 (and another 18 on the patio), and location near West Seattle’s most congested nexus, this white and gray space has far more foot traffic than any of Clevenger’s other spots.
Pasta, like this agnolotti, has put Clevenger’s restaurants on the map
Most of the accolades for Clevenger’s food have centered on his pasta dishes, all made fresh in house. Even at G.H. Pasta Co., where the fusilli and bucatini cost less than $12 and are served in compostable bowls, the quality is unexpectedly high. At Haymaker, pasta makes up only a fraction of the menu—three dishes to be exact, though the chef says the choices will be rotated. Examples include delicate stuffed agnolotti ($16), accented with plump cherry tomatoes, and perfectly al dente ziti ($16) with rich guanciale and Calabrian chiles. Clevenger says he wants the focus at Haymaker to be on entrées, of which there are roughly twice as many as pasta options. Among them are the unctuous, umami-rich butter-aged steak ($34), piled with golden fries; and fresh king salmon ($29) with seasonal vegetables, such as chanterelles or corn. Vegetable dishes and smaller plates, like burrata with eggplant caponata ($13), complete the menu, and all are intended for family-style sharing. Portions are larger than you may be expecting based on similarly styled menus; order accordingly.
Haymaker also features a beefed up menu of entrées like butter-aged steak frites (above)
Reflecting Clevenger’s itch to keep moving, menus change daily. “We live by this idea of ‘What’s great today?’ Product yesterday doesn’t matter; product tomorrow doesn’t matter,” he says. Though he admits this unpredictability occasionally upsets customers who want reassurances that they can order their favorite dish year-round—which may be especially important to the kind of neighborhood regulars whom he says make up much of the business—it’s essential to purchase seasonal products to keep quality high and costs as low as possible. “It’s one of the small ways that we can show guests we care,” he explains.
Pasta, in some form, should be on every table. So, too, should the charred octopus with ’nduja ($15), if it’s available; though not a revolutionary combo, it’s excellently executed.