A Greasy Spoon's a Greasy Spoon, Till You Add Booze

Chelan Cafe is a full-service entertainment mecca, a hangdog’s salt-rimmed dream.

There are no real surprises on the plate at the Chelan Café, an all-American, family-owned diner just off the West Seattle Bridge's Delridge exit, where Harbor Island's heavy industry begins to contemplate morphing into the sands of Alki. Pouring country gravy on every imaginable dish seems to be the Chelan's overarching game plan, and that seems to be fine with the totality of the establishment's robust clientele of blue-collar regulars and beach-bound interlopers. If writing about the Chelan Café were simply about the food, we'd end this column right here and now. A greasy spoon's a greasy spoon, right? There are two reasons why this theory doesn't hold true at the mouth of the Duwamish. For starters, the Chelan's crew, uniformly dressed in blue logo T-shirts, is a skilled, vocal, dexterous, and politically incorrect assemblage of self-deprecating veterans and youngsters alike whose collective floor show tops that of most theater troupes. Furthermore, the Chelan's layout includes a connected bar, the Ebb Tide Room, which is open for every hour of the day when it's permissible to serve liquor (put another way, it's only closed 28 hours per week). In short, the Chelan Café is a full-service entertainment mecca, a hangdog's salt-rimmed dream. While the Ebb Tide serves the same chow as the two rooms that occupy the restaurant area, it is as a bar should be: dark and utilitarian, with vinyl booths and red-tinted lights. But don't expect it to be quaint: Before noon on a recent Saturday, the lounge was packed with folks who were well-enough acquainted with one another to wander from table to table and chat, mixed drinks in hand (bonus: a friend's wake-up vodka tonic was about a 90-10 split, in favor of the vodka). Normally, this sort of late-morning gathering might signal the presence of some major sporting event on TV. But unless you consider Wimbledon's third round to be a sort of sleeper Super Bowl, that simply wasn't the case. In both the bar and the main rooms, there are some classic framed photos of Seattle sports luminaries of yore like Jack Sikma and Dave Henderson (some are signed). While the main dining room features somewhat muted tones, the middle room—the one with the counter—is fluorescent, due both to the lighting and to the presence of a twenty-something waiter named Luis. Bug-eyed and manic in a manner that suggests the constant, native presence of guarana in his bloodstream, Luis ends the taking of each order with the term "sweet" and has been known to do cartwheels in the lounge. Remember Gary Payton in his prime, a wiry ball of energy who never seemed to tire or stop talking trash? That's Luis. Luis is the Gary Payton of the Chelan Café. mseely@seattleweekly.com

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