Inside Josh Henderson’s Atmospheric Dining Experiences
A field guide to Henderson's fun-house eateries
By Jessica Yadegaran
July 20, 2016
Ten years ago, Josh Henderson left a sweet gig cooking for photographers on location in Los Angeles to start a little truck in Seattle called Skillet.
It was one of Seattle’s first food trucks—and it did quite well, expanding with help from equity partners into four brick-and-mortar diners and a catering company. Henderson left the Skillet Group in 2013 to again do his own thing, that being the Huxley Wallace restaurant collective.
Today, he’s the brains behind 10 restaurants, eight of which are coming to life this year. While it’s impressive and challenging (financially and otherwise) to open so many restaurants in such quick succession, the real story is Henderson’s vision. Food and flavor, of course, are important, but equally, or more so, at one of Henderson’s restaurants is the diner’s experience.
Each restaurant in the Huxley Wallace Collective (named after Henderson’s two boys) is stylized; it has its own character or theme, but still feels part of a whole, ultimately yielding an experience rooted in customer service and attention to decor.
“We want to create joy and a sense of discovery for our guests,” says Henderson’s creative director, Matthew Parker, who is largely responsible for the look and experience at each restaurant. “To Josh’s credit, he has put design on the same level as customer service and food, which is really new.”
At Quality Athletics, it’s just as much, if not more, about the food and the hip factor as watching the Seahawks game (sorry). Westward? Channeling your inner sailor. Great State Burger is all about a stress-free lunch rush—the line moves shockingly fast—and a milk shake small enough to make you feel indulgent without being a total piggy. Saint Helens Cafe will make you want to bust out your beret and drink Champagne in coupes, while Bar Noroeste will bring out the dark and sexy side of you. Bring a journal. You’ll write some serious poetry there.
At press time, five restaurants had yet to open, but here’s our sense: Scout and its rooftop bar, The Nest, will have the pageantry and parade of old Hollywood glamour, but with grunge; Cantine Bottleshop & Bar is where you’ll devise your first—or fifth—great startup. Poulet Galore will make you want to be a better person by picking up rotisserie chicken for a sick friend.
And Vestal? Vestal is what the Seattle native has been craving for a long time: an experience for himself, a home base. “I have restaurants that are mine, but I walk in and don’t even know the prep list,” confesses Henderson, who is 43 and lives on Queen Anne with his girlfriend, Kimberly, and their kids, Huxley, Luca, Stella and Wally. “Vestal is an opportunity to immerse myself again.”
Don’t know where to start? Use this primer to tell the restaurants apart and experience them for yourself. Don’t worry, you have time. Henderson promises his next flurry of eateries won’t come along anytime soon.
Photo: Sarah Flotard
QUALITY ATHLETICS (Pioneer Square, 121 S King St.; 206.420.3015; qualityathletics.com)
A sports bar even those who aren’t sports fans can love
The name: “I wanted something a little kitschy and a little ambiguous.”
The vibe: A 195-seat sports bar on steroids flanking the CenturyLink parking lot: large, wood-fired oven, slushy and snow cone machine, rooftop garden, AstroTurf back bar, outdoor fire pits and plenty of hipster pregame revelers.
Where to sit: This is Henderson’s largest restaurant, so there are lots of options. We recommend sitting outside near the fire pits.
What to order: Jerk-spiced duck wings ($12) seasoned with cinnamon and cayenne, with pickled pomegranate seeds and lime yogurt.
Photo: Andrea Coan
WESTWARD (North Lake Union, 2501 N Northlake Way; 206.552.8215; westwardseattle.com)
Waterside seafood dining with a view
The name: Inspired by a painting Henderson saw in an antique ship supply store in Pioneer Square. “I saw it and it stuck in my head,” he says.
The vibe: A yacht club for misfits, with a DIY nautical aesthetic. Tables finished with boat paint, lights covered in reclaimed local sailcloth and framed pictures of sea captains—real and fake—give Westward a tongue-in-cheek vibe à la The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.
Where to sit: Outside, in a conjoined Adirondack chair on the gravel or around the oyster-shell fire pit overlooking the boat-bobbing lake. Or, sit at the bar to marvel at the cross-section of a boat built into the backsplash.
What to order: House-made potato chips served with tonnato and capers ($12), or grilled octopus ($17) with taramasalata, a Greek meze made from the salted and cured roe of cod.
Photo: Sarah Flotard
GREAT STATE BURGER (downtown, 2041 Seventh Ave., 206.775.7880; Laurelhurst, 3600 NE 45th St., 206.775.8990; greatstateburger.com)
Seattle’s answer to the fast, casual burger trend
The name: “Iconic burger places have somewhat generic names, so we were going for something generic but that also drew on the state pride we have,” Henderson says.
The feeling: From the decor’s signature cornflower blue color to the crinkle-cut fries and cheery polka-dot burger wrappers, Great State Burger is Americana on Prozac. Plus, there are swiftly moving lines that keep things humming along.
Where to sit: You’ll like the cozy booths against the floor-to-ceiling glass windows along Seventh Avenue, so you can stick your milk-shake-coated tongue out at Amazonians walking by. Note: The tiny Laurelhurst location is best for drop-ins, when you’re in the hood or shopping at nearby University Village.
What to order: Steaming hot crinkle-cut french fries ($3) are a must with the organically raised grass-fed beef burger ($5.50—for real), or get a combo, with a 16-ounce soda, for $10, or add on an 8-ounce shake made with organic, locally made Parfait ice cream.
Photo: Courtesy of Huxley Wallace Collective
BAR NOROESTE (downtown, 2051 Seventh Ave.; 206.775.7070; barnoroeste.com)
A Northwest take on tacos
The name: It means “northwest” in Spanish. Enough said.
The vibe: Small, dark and sexy, with charred-wood elements and blue-gray-green concrete Mexican tiles that change color depending on the light shining through the streetfront windows. It’s another world from chirpy next-door sibling Great State Burgers.
Where to sit: At the bar, so you can watch as bar manager Cara Stuber mixes mezcal-based cocktails with house-made ingredients, such as puréed sea beans and strawberry whey.
What to order: Tacos for two ($45): 10 handmade tortillas with your choice of two proteins, served with chef-paired veggies, dressings and a selection of house salsas.
Photo: Sarah Flotard
SAINT HELENS CAFE(Laurelhurst, 3600 NE 45th St.; 206.775.7050; sainthelenscafe.com)
An American-style brasserie
The name: Another regional nod, this time to our lopped-off mountain to the south. “The ‘saint’ was the part that showed a bit of brasserie,” Henderson says. “I also just like how the words look.”
The vibe: Bright and feminine, with mismatched vintage china, gold cutlery and locally made pink paper flowers. Super intimate—just 40 seats.
Where to sit: Tuck yourself into the tufted gold velvet banquette for premium views of the marble-topped bar and upper deck patio (with fire pit), which overlooks the Burke-Gilman Trail.
What to order: Slow-braised chuck ($24) in a spring onion soubise with charred savoy cabbage and demi sauce, or spring bucatini ($18) with hen of the woods mushrooms, English peas, miner’s lettuce and pecorino.
Photo: Suzi Pratt
SCOUT (downtown, Thompson Hotel, 110 Stewart St.; thompsonhotels.com)
The hipster fine dining hotel spot
The name: “A scout is a youthful explorer, and we consider ourselves explorers of creating excellence in food and service, all the while being playful in our approach,” says Parker of the street-level space.
The vibe: Like you’re on the set of a TV show about the Pacific Northwest. Playful but high end and rooted in the materiality of the region, with reclaimed Douglas fir wood tables, cream linen drum shades, and upholstery in mix-and-match wool plaid fabrics.
Where to sit: At one of the central flannel-clothed booths.
What to order: Trout with smoked artichoke cream, braised artichokes and clams. Or splurge on the tasting menu, designed to tell the story of the Pacific Northwest in eight to 12 courses.
Photo: Logan Smith
THE NEST (downtown, Thompson Hotel)
The swank rooftop bar we’ve been waiting for
The name: “The Nest is about being at the top of the tree, an intimate and cozy enclosure perched high above the cityscape, where we nurture and feed you,” Parker says.
The feeling: A little Hollywood. The intimate 13th-floor rooftop bar and lounge at the top of the new Thompson Hotel offers live green plant walls, a counter-height bar and custom-made, mint green speed carts (think dim sum meets tableside service) featuring oysters, desserts, cocktails and other dishes prepared tableside or, er, lounge-chair side.
Where to sit: On an outdoor sofa on the 250-capacity rooftop deck, with a 180-degree view of Puget Sound.
What to order: Tableside oysters with a crisp Washington rosé.
THIS JUST IN.
Three spots slated for early August, one address: South Lake Union, 513 Westlake Ave. N
CANTINE BOTTLESHOP & BAR (cantineseattle.com)
The stylized corner bar
The name: “I needed a simple name for a beer-driven watering hole,” Henderson says.
The vibe: An industrial beverage lab with a heavy beer presence. Picture exposed beams, a black steel bar top and a large patio with stoops for perching, plus charcuterie and other light bites. Also includes a perch to land on to nosh on your to-go chicken from next-door sibling Poulet Galore.
Where to sit: On a vintage sofa in the 1970s-esque living room in the back of the space, listening to some vinyl on the record player.
What to eat: Country ham with cheddar cheese, pickles and whole-grain mustard on a milk roll.
The neighborhood rotisserie chicken takeout spot
The name: “A cool name with a James Bond reference,” says Henderson.
The vibe: You know the markets in Paris with the perfectly cooked rotisserie chickens to go? Like that, with charming blue-and-white, Delft-inspired ceramic tiles and lighted marquee signage.
Where to sit: No seating at this takeout joint, but you can take your food into neighboring Cantine Bottleshop & Bar.
What to eat: A whole, half or quarter chicken with kicky chimichurri sauce and crispy chicken-roasted potatoes.
The cozy date-night spot
The name: A Roman reference to the hearth, which, to Henderson, means home. “This place represents, in a sense, my home base and where I’ll be based and cooking,” he says of the intimate, 49-seat restaurant next door to Poulet and Cantine. Translation: he plans to cook at Vestal three nights a week.
The feeling: A masculine, mid-century modern living room with walnut wood paneling and a 350-year-old Douglas fir stump fashioned into a hostess stand. Henderson does the cooking in the open kitchen, with its brass details and exposed pots and pans.
Where to sit: At one of eight seats at the chef’s counter.
What to order: Ricotta gnudi with roasted pork broth, hazelnuts, sorrel and Washington truffle.