5517 Seaview Ave. N.W. in BALLARD,
Lunch 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m., dinner 6 p.m.-midnight Tues.-Sat.
AUTUMN IS AN undervalued season. Transplanted Californians, disgruntled schoolchildren, and the chronically ignorant think everything good already happened while the sun was straight above us in the summer sky. Fall is perceived as a drizzly bummer. To those heathen we say: Hasten a trip to the Baithouse Cafe.
It's really nothing fancy, you understand. And it's a bit out of the way (unless you're headed for Shilshole or the Ballard Locks). The menu borders on microscopic, and the prices aren't low. But it's nonetheless near-perfect in an unassuming way. Particularly on warm autumn afternoons when the trees in Magnolia (straight across the canal from your seat on the adjacent dock) look like a red-and-orange patchwork quilt; and particularly if you like Dungeness crab. As peaceful, lovely, and low-key as the setting is, fresh crab is actually what it's all about. There aforementioned short menu could be even shorter: the crab Caesar ($15.99, loaded with crab legs, croutons, and parmesan) and the open-face crab melt ($15.99) are the two absolute essentials. The latter's not huge but it's warm and cheesey, and comes with a choice of a cup of soup—sometimes the very good clam chowder—or a side Caesar. The full Caesar is also served plain or with fresh shrimp, the shrimp and/or crab cocktails are both very nice, and several kinds of deli sandwiches are available for about seven or eight bucks each. Two to three nights per week, the Baithouse also hosts live music (usually jazz, $5 cover) inside the humble galley-like kitchen/dining area.
Taking into account the market price of good seafood as well as the private, tucked-away location and its simple but gorgeous setting, the Baithouse is a perfect place to enjoy the prolonged sunshine that we've lately been party to. But so long as you've got a sweater and a pair of sunglasses, the Baithouse is a solid pick, regardless of the season.