Eating at the dining counter at Art House Cafe is like watching a live cooking show, only better because Neapolitan-style pizza and freshly baked English muffins go straight from the oven to your belly.
A nine-seat perch yields an unfettered view of chef Dustin Joseph sautéing, frying, slicing and dicing alongside his culinary team. Virtually every kitchen staffer is part of Art House’s kitchen theater, including the dishwasher.
While the back of the restaurant where the kitchen is sandwiched is a flurry of action, the front of the restaurant is tranquil and enticing. A wash of natural light from expansive windows spills across dark wooden tables and blond floors. The decor skews midcentury with a shimmering seafoam tufted banquette that lines a wall framed by shiny clusters of metallic-dipped light bulbs.
If there was any evidence needed that Stadium was ripe for more restaurants, then let the line that’s snaked out the three-week-old cafe and bakery be proof. Besides Enoteca – the excellent sandwich cafe that operates inside nearby Tacoma Wine Merchants – dining in Stadium was limited. But between the newly opened Shake Shake Shake retro burger restaurant and Art House Cafe, that stretch of Tacoma Avenue might become downright destination-worthy for lunchtime diners. (Hello, State Farm employees! Welcome to Tacoma.)
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Art House is a collaboration between Joseph and John and Lucy Armstrong, artists who founded the adjacent Open Arts Studio in 1996. That neighborhood arts school covers broad territory – from performing to visual arts, with classes for children, teens and adults. Like its attached school, Art House will instruct, too; expect cooking classes from Joseph, who is comfortable in that role. During his previous gig as executive chef of Chambers Bay Grill from 2009 until February, he taught cooking classes through the county parks department.
This is a first restaurant for the Armstrongs. Joseph has a long resume as an executive chef. A 2002 Johnson & Wales University graduate, he worked in kitchens from New York to his native Bay Area. Before relocating to the Northwest and taking the position at Chambers Bay Grill, he served as an executive chef at a restaurant group in New Mexico.The concept at Art House is a style of dining worth embracing: The restaurant is a bakery cafe, which means muffins, rolls, bread and pizza are all scratch-baked on site. It’s child- and ladies-who-lunch-friendly by day, date-worthy by night.
A first bite at lunch showed real promise, and I will return for a breakfast menu that lists eggs Benedict with housemade English muffins and citrus hollandaise ($10), brioche French toast ($9), and pumpkin pancakes with vanilla bean butter ($9).
The lunch menu showcased pizza made from thin crusts stretched into rustic forms with toppings that lean heavily on flavor. We bit into butternut squash paired with sage, blue cheese and chicken ($10) and lightly smoked mushrooms with goat cheese, capers and basil ($13). Although the toppings made it seem as if they’d provide plenty of flavor, sparse toppings translated into restrained pies. The pizza came with almost a crackery crust that was Neapolitan in spirit and sturdy enough that it didn’t suffer pizza flop.
The sandwich menu featured house-baked breads. Don’t miss the outstanding tri-tip panini ($12), a grilled sandwich with arugula and assertive blue cheese tamed with a tease of port between focaccia. The brioche used in the croque madame ($13) looked way too bready on first glance, but the pillowy bread compressed to a delicious grilled ham and cheese sandwich. Topped with a fried egg, the sandwich is meant to be eaten with fork and knife. An upcharge of $2 can add a sizeable salad (get the roasted beet and Gorgonzola) to the sandwiches, which come standard with house-fried potato chips. Those were thin and crispy, but unpleasantly overcooked on my visit.
The coffee comes from Stumptown. There’s a full cocktail menu, too.
At dinner, a broader menu offers an array of small plates. I’ll be back to try those along with breakfast. Keep an eye on Art House, too, for cooking classes and special dining events in the near future.
Art House CafeWhere: 111 N. Tacoma Ave., Tacoma; 253-212-2011, arthousecafe.comServing: Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily
FIRST BITE: Netshed No. 9
If you’re unfamiliar with the space that houses the newly opened Netshed No. 9, you might have to circle the block, consult a sorcerer or ask a passer-by for directions to Gig Harbor’s newest waterfront breakfast destination. There aren’t signs directing you, so here’s a tip: Turn into the parking lot adjacent to the Harbor Peddler. The restaurant is in the two-story wooden building down the stairs.
The newest restaurant from Gig Harbor super duo Thad Lyman and Katie Doherty – owners of Brix 25 since 2009 – opened March 21. The restaurant’s name and maritime decor is a nod to Gig Harbor’s waterfront history. It is inside one of the city’s historical netsheds, the ninth shed visible from shore.
A recent first-bite visit found the restaurant serving unusual new American fare with an admirable sense of whimsy. Further appeal: Netshed No. 9 serves all-day breakfast Thursdays-Mondays. The menu lists unexpected items such as chilaquiles, chicken and waffles, fetching biscuit and gravy combinations, skillet cinnamon rolls, and house-made hot chocolate (sublime).
But while the food shows imagination, the execution suffered during my visit. To be fair, a single visit doesn’t give an accurate overview of a restaurant, which is why I’ll return next month and give a second-bite report. But when I was there, the kitchen had trouble with overcooking. Stuffed biscuits ($12.75), chilaquiles ($9.75) and skillet cinnamon rolls ($7.50) were overcooked to an unpleasant degree.
Bright notes surfaced to keep the restaurant on your radar, though, so don’t give up hope. A sourdough ricotta pancake ($9.75) was pillowy perfect, the vanilla-bourbon syrup a sweet treat that was more vanilla than bourbon. Accompanying thick-cut bacon and a side of potatoes laced with onions won over the table. Chicken and waffles ($13) won us over, too. The waffles were crisp, the accompanying boneless chicken thighs were well-seasoned and light on grease. Ask for extra chimichurri slaw. It’s good stuff.
If the kitchen works out the kinks, I predict a winner. Check back in May for a second-bite report.
Netshed No. 9Where: 3313 Harborview Drive, Gig Harbor; 253-858-7175Serving: Breakfast and lunch Thursdays-Mondays
Sue Kidd dines anonymously and all meals are paid for by The News Tribune.