Every which way

A downtown commuter favorite returns as a neighborhood hangout.

AH, THE FUNKY, foolish, fickle world of Seattle restaurants. Not eight months ago, I reviewed two Lakewood neighborhood joints, Laughing Dog and the En Route Cafe. The former has since changed management (and improved its pastries, I'm happy to report); the latter—whose chef decamped a week after my review came out—has a new kitchen, a new owner, and a new name. Both Ways Catering Co.

4922 Genesee S, 722-5799 breakfast/brunch/lunch Tue-Sun 7am-2pm; dinner Wed-Sat 5-9pm AE, MC, V; beer and wine It's now called the Both Ways Cafe—a name you'll know if you've spent any time on the Columbia Street pedestrian overpass to the ferry downtown. Both Ways anchored that upstairs corner from 1989 to 1998, keeping commuters and downtown wage slaves in homemade soups and stews and baked pastas and flat-bread sandwiches and salads and assorted pastries. When owner/chef Richard Wall lost his lease, he scouted about for a new locale closer to his home. He found the old En Route space, industrialized up its kitchen, and honed his ambitions. The new place may be significantly smaller than the old Ways, but it aims higher, still serving breakfasts, lunches, and catered events but now, four nights a week, sit-down dinners, as well. How's it do? We popped in for a weekend breakfast and found the place briskly populated with runners and cyclists and families with strollers and other sundry folks from the 'hood, sharing pastries and chatting across the dining room. (Two oversized tables make fine communal spaces, ࠬa the old Surrogate Hostess.) We nibbled on a pecan sticky bun ($1.50) and an apple spice muffin ($1.45) and a fat wedge of cardamom coffee cake ($1.60), richly fragrant with that wonderful spice, and were favorably impressed with their freshness and flavor. The pastry case is loaded with like wonderments, all baked on premise: sour cream coffee cake, lemon bars, blueberry muffins, chocolate chip cookies, and more. Indeed, those breakfasts incorporating pastry impressed us most. French toast ($5.75), that day made of honey-wheat bread, was thick-cut and sweetly satisfying drenched in good maple syrup. An egg, cheese, and tomato sandwich tucked inside a buttermilk biscuit ($5.75) was tasty, but the sweet biscuit lent the lion's share of interest. A Spanish tortilla ($6.50) could have used a little more of that interest, with its admirable premise—an open-faced frittata made of eggs, potatoes, and cheddar, like the sort often found in tapas bars in Spain—not being quite flavorful enough, even with the accompanying salsa. This turns out to be a repeating refrain at the Both Ways. (Ditto the old Both Ways, if memory serves.) A meatless baked pasta putanesca ($6.50) at lunch featured olives, peppers, and onions yet still wanted interest—and salt. Salads, served gratis with dinners, are perfunctory tosses of greens with dressing. Sometimes, flavors are there, only in the wrong proportion. A golden wedge of baked spinach and sun-dried tomato polenta served in a pool of tomato sauce ($8.95) registered solely on the tart regions of the palate, leaving the dissatisfied diner picking idly through the bread basket. (Let it be restated that the pickings there are splendid.) ANOTHER CHALLENGE for this kitchen is keeping entr饳—many of which are stored for long periods in the refrigerator case—fresh. A slice of red pepper/chicken pizza ($6.50 with salad) was much too tough—a shame, since the flavors revealed it had once been perky. A poor boy sandwich ($8.50 with salad at dinner) with ham, lettuce, tomatoes, bacon, turkey, cheese, and Dijon was terrific, on nice caraway-crusted bread, but not warm, as billed. Neither was a scallop bisteeya ($8.95), a fascinating pastry-encased blend of scallops, spinach, pasta, lemons, and Middle Eastern spices. Plucked from the refrigerator case and warmed to order, it never got warm enough. It did feature wonderful flaky pastry however, with its exotic heritage revealing the reach of a clearly ambitious kitchen. Sometimes, the ambitions pay off. A dinner of cornmeal-breaded rockfish ($10) was mildly spiced and dandy, with fried potatoes. A dish of pesto garlic basil pasta ($8.95) was simple, fine, and garlicky. Split pea soup ($3.50 for a cup at dinner) was a savory, creamy triumph. (Ask what soups they have that day. Soups, Wall's proudest creations, aren't always posted.) A slice of quiche Lorraine ($8.95) was just fine, particularly—surprise, surprise—its ethereal crust. The moral? In this simple dining room, out of this hit-and-miss kitchen, you're safest with pastry. Don't expect servers to grant much guidance: On our visits, they've appeared mostly of the affable-with-the-customers-but-don't-know-much-about-food school of waiting. Lest this come across as a thumbs down, however, let me hasten to clarify that I'll be coming back to Both Ways without hesitation. It's one of those places that doesn't have perfect food because it's not about perfect food: It's about a pastry and a cup of coffee, a bowl of soup with a buttered roll and a glass of wine, enjoyed in a neighborhood that, so far anyway, truly enjoys it. Back to the food section.

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