Suddenly Josh Henderson’s name is everywhere. The Skillet founder’s stamp is on some of the season’s most anticipated restaurant openings.
Though he’s busy approving minor details like silverware and bathroom fixtures in addition to grand-scale decisions, he graciously made time to give Seattle Weekly a preview of each of his new, eagerly awaited eateries.
Bacon-jam lovers north of Capitol Hill will revel in the new Skillet Diner Ballard, just opened on the Greenfire Campus, a five-story eco-friendly apartment building. This bigger, brighter version of Henderson’s Capitol Hill Skillet might just be the start of a chain of Skillets all around Seattle, as he likes to hint. I was treated to a friends-and-family preview dinner, where plaid-clad servers dished out bite-sized samples of Skillet’s menu items. The space is decorated similarly to the Capitol Hill Skillet: lots of avocado green; those cute orange pendant lights over the bar; exposed duct work. You’ll notice the bigger space is anchored by a 40-foot counter (longer than that of the Capitol Hill location) running down the restaurant’s center, a larger patio in the front with 20 seats, and a larger bar area. For us [the counter] is the defining point of a diner,” he says.
Expect the front of your menu at Skillet Ballard to be very familiar. Breakfast is still served all day with reliable standards like the housemade biscuits with sage gravy, the pork belly-and-cornmeal waffle, and the deconstructed corned beef hash. You’ll see a nod to Ballard’s Scandinavian heritage with the addition of ebelskivers, Danish pancakes with lingonberry jam and house-made brown-sugar syrup (plus an option to add bacon jam). Under greenery, you’ll still find the kale Caesar, beet salad, and cobb salad, and you can bet the Skillet burger, slathered with bacon jam and creamy blue cheese complimented by peppery arugula, will be present.
Sandwiches like the brioche grilled cheese and fried-chicken Sammy are here, too, but the oyster po’boy with Taylor Shellfish oysters and the slow-roasted pork Sammy are new. Additions to the back of the menu include Swedish meatballs with lingonberry jam, pan-seared scallops with summer corn risotto, and boneless short rib pot roast with whipped potatoes.
Henderson wants you to recognize the Skillet brand by the restaurant’s design and general concept, but is giving Skillet Ballard chef de cuisine Jon Severson room to put his mark on the place, which is where those new menu additions come in. But, as at the Capitol Hill location, expect things to change up every few weeks. You’d be wise not to get too attached to this menu.
Westward and Little Gull Grocery
One of this summer’s most buzzed-about openings anywhere in the city is a two-fer. Westward and Little Gull Grocery will open in mid-August in side-by-side spots on the north end of Lake Union.
Henderson calls Westward “very space- and experience-oriented.” The restaurant will take a cue from its watery surroundings, with seafood and Mediterranean-influenced dishes courtesy of chef Zoi Antonitsas, formerly of Madison Park Conservatory. Part of the focus will also be on small plates, likely prepared on the kitchen’s centerpiece, a wood-burning oven. The water will be part of the experience beyond the plate, too: Outside there’ll be a 150-foot dock for boat parking, a patio with a fire pit and Adirondack chairs, a beach area, and great views of the lake.
“It’s really going to be an experience where you can take a stroll on the dock or sit on the patio and enjoy a meal. It’s going to be a place to linger over food. It will be very of-the-place in a sense,” with every seat in the house overlooking the lake and the skyline, Henderson says. “Hopefully we can add to the lineup of the different places that people go to show off Seattle.”
Little Gull will be a 22-seat oyster bar, grocery, and boat shop, more geared toward quick bites, an afternoon beer, or for getting gear or snacks for a boat ride.
“Boaters can come in and grab a blanket and an oyster knife and charcuterie and take it back on the boat,” Henderson says. Local oyster guru David Leck will captain the bar.
Branching out beyond Seattle, Henderson’s Hollywood Tavern is slated to open in Woodinville in September or October. The tavern’s menu will nod to the area’s agricultural roots with farm-focused cuisine, roasted meats, fresh pastas, whiskey, and—duh—burgers. They’ll also throw in housemade ice cream in seasonal flavors.
“Inside, one piece will be a tavern—and kind of a divey Woodinville farm/agricultural tavern—that serves great cheeseburgers and whiskey, and then adjacent to that, more of the restaurant area, Shaker in design, with clean lines, focusing on rustic farm and wine-country cuisine,” Henderson says. The nearly 100-year-old building, once home of Mabel’s Tavern, sits on Woodinville Redmond Road near Cheateau Ste. Michelle and Redhook Brewery. Outside will be a patio with a fireplace and a game space with horseshoes and cornhole.
While these projects mean Henderson is moving beyond the bacon jam he’s made so popular, he still hopes for a common thread to run through each of these restaurants: good eats.
“We’re very focused on the food and the ingredients and the technique. First and foremost I consider myself a cook, and I certainly want that thread to come through,” Henderson says. “If it’s a burger, it’s a fucking good burger. That’s really what I care about in the end.”