IT IS A MEASURE OF how freakin' rich Seattle has become that certain friends of mine get takeout from places like Nishino and Wild Ginger several times a week. Perhaps this is also an indication of something else: how very much people are wanting to eat their good food at home. Honey, I'm Home
5402 20th Ave NW, 782-4905
MC, V; no alcohol I, who eat out professionally nigh on three times a week, can understand this. How lovely it is to dine in your own comfy chair, enjoying your own CDs, ordering around your children instead of the waiter, uncorking your own favorite vintage sans the astronomical restaurant markup—all without the nuisance of actually entering your kitchen. In that spirit, say hello to Honey, I'm Home, a takeout stop in downtown Ballard with more room for food than people. Well, that's not entirely true; at any given time, three or possibly four folks could sidle up to the skinny counter between the kitchen and the fresh case, but it would be snug. I'm told it's gotten that way on occasion in Honey's three-year-plus history, with diners lined up cheeks-to-cheeks at the counter and at tables dotting the sidewalk out front. But the vast majority of folks use Honey as a pickup joint. Me included, now. And the good news is, I've never eaten so sumptuously in my own dining room. The bad news is, that's not saying much. Lest this suggest that Honey, I'm Home is less than terrific, however, let me hasten to clarify: Honey, I'm Home is absolutely, utterly terrific. It's just some of its dishes that aren't. Like a pair of rice cakes fashioned from spinach, cheese, and rice both wild and tame, served with a mellow roasted red pepper sauce ($4.95). Though the texture of this dish was inspired—there in the middle of one(!) of the cakes was a creamy little buried treasure of goat cheese contrasting nicely with the crunchy rice—the substance of it was lifeless. Thereless, as Gertrude Stein might say. Oddly flavor-free. Hmmm. A slice of Italian sausage lasagna ($4.95), though perfectly inoffensive, was similarly lackluster. A little mushy, a little bland, entirely saved by the throaty sausage—nothing to write home about. Hmmm. Candidly, both these dishes surprised me. I had heard raves about Honey, I'm Home from devotees. I had myself been blown away by a sampling of its desserts: a sinkingly rich brownie ($1.50) that didn't suffer from oversweetness; a chocolate-chocolate-chip-oatmeal cookie ($0.60) that looked like a cow patty but most assuredly didn't taste like one; a moist, almond-rich raspberry bar ($1.50) built on something very like shortbread and smothered in crunchy streusel. What I would learn in a week's worth of visits is that Honey, I'm Home has more in common with home cooking than just your dining-room table. Owners Beth Young and Karelle Anthony started Honey as the take-out adjunct of their catering business, which soon grew so large they had to move the catering operation to its own quarters. Because of the catering dovetail, diners get the advantage of Young and Anthony's extensive repertoire of dishes. The disadvantage of such a wide range—inconsistency—gets thrown in for free. This is all simply to say that perhaps the next night's daily lasagna, roasted veggie with caramelized onions, would have been sublime. Or the next night's: chicken sausage. Or the next: Brie and asparagus. A number of dishes rotate this way at Honey, I'm Home; every day there'll be one of several lasagnas, focaccia sandwiches, meatloaves, and chicken entrees to choose from, as well as an array of other entrees and hearty salads. Every morning brings at least one of the kitchen's array of scones or other breakfast pastries. Gamely, I tried it all. ONE DAY I SAMPLED the meatloaf, which was good old straightforward beef ($2 by the slice), and it was moist and delicious and studded with onions. A serving of black bean salad ($2.50, $3) made a pretty accompaniment, with its bright tomatoes and peppers and corn and red onions, and plenty of cilantro. I mean plenty of cilantro. Another side of Oriental noodles ($2.25, $2.75) was nicely accented with green onions, toasted sesame seeds, and a dollop of spicy peanut sauce. The marinade on the noodles was considerably sweeter than the norm, but not disastrously so. Interestingly so, in fact. Think of a sloppy joe, only with shredded pork and a slightly feistier barbecue sauce on a slightly-too-hard focaccia roll, and that's the aptly named Big Sloppy ($5.25). Don't even think about eating it in the car. A stuffed chicken breast ($5.95) was perfectly cooked, moist and fork tender, and stuffed with a perky spinach-cheese mix. It was served over a fine Caesar (which was included, but by itself would have cost $2.75 or $3 depending on the size), which made a nice little flavor fest. Along with a creamy-dreamy stuffed baked potato ($3), all peppery and gilded with cheese, this was a dandy ensemble. Vegetable torta ($4), a kind of top- and bottom-crusted veg pie stuffed with broccoli, artichoke hearts, eggplant, and cheeses, featured nicely musky flavors inside a flaky crust. The day's pasta salad ($2.50, $3)—rotini with petite bay shrimp, red and yellow peppers, green onion, pesto, and Parmesan—was mild and pleasant. A slice of lemony Bundt cake with a filling of bright lemon curd and coconut frosting ($2.25) was indistinctly flavored and much too sweet. On one visit, the focaccia of the day was a sunny combo of tomatoes, pesto, mozzarella, leafy greens, and heavenly La Panzanella focaccia bread, brightened with plenty of basil ($5.50 whole, $3.25 half). Alas, that day's meatloaf varietal, turkey, was aptly named—but was sufficiently camouflaged in sandwich form ($5.25 whole, $3 half). A molasses cookie ($0.60) for dessert left me baffled: it looked like a molasses cookie, but tasted sweet and fruity, like a Fig Newton. It's a mystery I cannot explain. I waddled back for a to-go breakfast and ordered the apple-cheese Danish with brioche dough ($2.25). Warm from the oven, its buttery brioche pastry folded lushly over slices of golden apple, bits of tart cranberry, and oozing cream cheese, this Danish was surpassing wondrous. Best of the entrees was a ruddy Spanish chicken-chorizo stew over basmati rice ($5.95). This mellowly spicy concoction was plentifully decked with peppers, onions, tomatoes, kalamata olives, moist hunks of chicken, and that distinctive signature sausage, whose deep piquancy suffused the whole right down to the fragrant rice. Absolutely, utterly terrific. Which is, you'll remember, my overall estimation of the place—considerable flaws notwithstanding. Why? For one, there are the teensy pricetags. The entire tab for everything you've read described in this review—enough to feed a small army, for days—was roughly $85. More important, the place exudes great 'tude. Funky, happy music burbles out of the sound system, punctuated by the cheerful banter of the folks behind the counter. These folks are also careful, checking and double-checking orders, packaging responsibly, and remaining unruffled in the face of the hungry masses. Such virtues are worth a good deal in these troubling times. So is eating dinner in your bunny slippers.