There are two scents from my childhood that are forever etched into my mind. Walking into the Value Village on 11th will always confuse me, making me long for the woodsy smell of the original REI, as I walk down the ramp in the back. But I'm here to talk about the other one: somehow, no matter what was cooking at the time, the Surrogate Hostess on 19th Avenue East always managed to smell of warm autumnal baked goods. I was not even a teenager by the time it closed in the mid-nineties, and yet I can still close my eyes and seat myself at the long wooden tables and smell that lightly spiced aroma: fresh pastries exiting the oven, their aroma mingling with that of the morning coffee brewing.
After the owners went bankrupt, a Tully's replaced the Surrogate Hostess in the mid-90s
I have very few memories of my grandmother cooking for us. Instead I have a million of skipping the few short blocks between her house and the Surrogate Hostess (certainly her surrogate hostess), where my brothers and I would dive head-first into cinnamon rolls, fighting over who got that middle piece--the gooiest part. I don't remember her cooking for us, but certainly, she fed us. And it was just that kind of family place: on any given day you were just as likely to see a tiny baby taking in the world while mom and dad dined on croissants as you would be to watch a grandmother savor spoonfuls of salmon mousse. Either way, they were likely to finish up with the house special pots de crème.
At the wooden tables--I'm not sure if they were huge, or if I was just tiny at the time--the policy was community seating. Long before it became cool and restaurants like the Corson Building were building it into the business plan, neighbors broke bread together at the Surrogate Hostess, because it was simply the kind of place where you could ask a stranger to pass you the sports section. It was also ahead of its time in food philosophy. In my copy of the book "Dining in Seattle," a book I bought at a thrift store solely for the Surrogate Hostess section, the chef talks about the philosophy behind the Surrogate Hostess. The section sounds far more 2012 than 1977, or at least for 1977, sounds more Berkeley than Seattle, discussing fresh, seasonal foods and the daily menu changes that those require. It also touches on one of the possible reasons for the singular restaurant scent-memory I have: "The restaurant is run the way I believe is best, right down to our no-smoking policy."