Back for seconds

Three sorely missed neighborhood restaurants—Cyclops, Swingside, and Olympia—will soon rise from the ashes.

"Don't it always seem to go," sang Joni Mitchell, "that you don't know what you got till it's gone." The lady never wrote a truer word. We foodies are a fickle bunch, always ready to rush off to sample the Next Big Thing, taking all the proven pleasures of the past for granted—until one day we drive past an old favorite and see a "for sale" sign in the window. Swingside Cafe benefit Tractor Tavern, 633-4057

$25. November 1, 26pm The pain is particularly plangent when the place in question's not just a restaurant but the locus of a community. When Cyclops was displaced in April 1997 from Western Avenue, signature Jell-O molds and all, by yet another monument to expensive downtown living, Belltown died a little. The plague hit Queen Anne early this summer when a sparking exhaust fan set fire to the roof of the Olympia Pizzeria and Spaghetti House at the top of the Counterbalance, burning the tiny shed-like building to the ground. Water did in Fremont's fixture Swingside Cafe when its kitchen ceiling collapsed under unseasonable torrential rain in late July. It doesn't matter if we only pass through its doors just once in a blue moon: When such a place shuts its doors, it's as if something as personal and necessary as a tooth has been removed, leaving behind a hollow space. Food fads come and go; places like the Swingside and Cyclops and Olympia are part of ordinary life for their customers. So it's remarkably good news that over the next six months or so, all three establishments will be back, with luck better than ever—at least better appreciated for having been severely missed. In a way Olympia has never really been gone. Queen Anne and Magnolia residents who got used to having their thick, chewy "Greek-style" pies delivered from Bob Kokkovas and Angelo Pappas' shop were out of luck when it burned, but they could still savor a very similar product by visiting the Wallingford Olympia (run since 1996 by Dino and Nikki Christophilis) or Harry Nickoladakis' Capitol Hill Olympia. Although the stores are independent, their owners continue to make pizza the way Spiro Aliagas taught them to make it. Indeed, "whether they admit it or not," says Christophilis, "just about everybody in the Greek-style pizza place around here learned the trade working for Spiro," who opened the first of his three-restaurant Olympia chain nearly 25 years ago. Spiro "retired" in 1987—only to open Spiro's in West Seattle, sell it, retire again, and then open the Astoria in Lynnwood before finally, grudgingly, hanging up the apron. "Bob and Angelo have to re-open on Queen Anne whether they want to or not," says an ex-Aliagas employee affectionately. "If they don't, I swear to God Spiro will come back from Greece and do it himself." Reconstruction is expected to begin in November. Until recently, it was touch-and-go whether the Swingside would be able to survive its kitchen catastrophe. Its owner, Brad Inserra, had just invested most of his savings in building an outdoor acoustic-music venue in the yard behind his tiny house-restaurant. The cost of essentially replacing the entire kitchen (plus the loss in income due to closure) pushed Inserra to the point of considering bankruptcy. If he had thrown in the towel, fans of the Swingside's incomparable linguine al'aglio-olio and coniglio alla Nannetta wouldn't have been the only ones to suffer. Over the years, Inserra's restaurant has become a home away from home for many top touring jazz, folk, and rock musicians, among them members of Pearl Jam, R.E.M., Counting Crows, and the late K. Cobain. It's been even more important as a hangout for Fremont's own resident musicians. In fact, so essential is the Swingside to the north-of-theShip Canal cultural nexus that a banker at Ballard's Viking National, Dan Icasiano, has been instrumental in helping Inserra plan a route out of his financial hole. Even more extraordinary: A band of musicians led by guitarist Jim Page and Artis the Spoonman have put together a November 1 benefit for the Swingside at Ballard's Tractor Tavern. Headliners include Bill Frisell and his trio with Eyvind Kang, Irish fiddle star Martin Hayes, Randall Baye's Portland-based band the Rashers, the Kerouac Trio, and Wayne Horvitz's out-there improv ensemble Zony Mash. The list of chefs contributing food to the event reads like a who's who of culinary Seattle: Thierry Rautureau (Rover's), Tom Douglas (Dahlia Lounge, Etta's), Christine Keff (Flying Fish), Tim Kelley (Painted Table), and Bruce Naftaly (Le Gourmand), among others. Inserra hopes to have his doors open again by mid-November. Now that the worst of his troubles seems to be over, he admits the disaster may prove to have a silver lining. "When you have an essentially one-man operation like this one, you never get time to do any serious fixing up," he said last week. "For close to 10 years I've been cooking for up to 100 people a night in a kitchen smaller than the average apartment's. It's going to seem weird working without me and the waitstaff and the dishwasher climbing over each other." Now that she's found the right place for it, Gina Kaukola is confident that Cyclops is going to carry on in grand Belltown tradition. The new space is also going to be a lot easier to work and make a living in than the old Western Avenue version. "That place was never really meant to be a restaurant," she said last week, surveying the construction chaos of the new site at First and Wall. "Free Mars, which was in the space before I took over in 1990, was basically a sandwich shop, and although my partner John Hawkley did wonders with the menu, we didn't have either the facilities or the equipment to do it right." Compared to the old, the new Cyclops seems unbelievably roomy, from the front-room bar to the backroom banquettes and tables. Diane Szukovathy's Jell-O mold frieze is slated to make a comeback—this time inside instead of outside—but the '50s-kitsch decor of the old place is due for a gentle update. "We're looking at industrial kitsch this time," says Kaukola. Occupying the ground-floor corner of the forthcoming Ace Hotel, the restaurant opens at the back onto a classic Seattle light-and-air shaft just made for summer sipping and noshing. But summer's a long time away: Kaukola thinks she'll be lucky to be open again before the holidays. That would be cause for Thanksgiving indeed.

 
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