We got lost on my second trip to Hudson. If you're coming from downtown, it's a straight shot south—you get on 99 and turn left at Hudson Street. But the route from West Seattle, our departure point that night, isn't quite so direct. We misread Google Maps and ended up touring a part of Seattle I've never seen before, where warehouse roofs peek out from the trees and vine-covered fences ring mysterious patches of bare concrete. I looked up from my iPhone, where I was trying to help our driver triangulate our location, to note we were passing the skeleton of a beached yacht suspended 20 feet in the air. Finally the car crossed the finish line, marked by a smoke plume reeking of burned plastic spilling from a tall chimney over East Marginal Way, and parked on the dirt shoulder near a brick building. A restaurant in the middle of nowhere, it felt like, but of course Georgetown (the closest named neighborhood to this place) is only nowheresville to most of Seattle. When we walked in, half the seats were filled, and on a Monday night—I've seen three-star restaurants in this city with paltrier crowds. The average patron looked as if he or she could bench-press a good 100 pounds more than I, except for a party of Burning Man acolytes sitting in a booth in one corner, one man's hip-length dreadlocks poured over the back of his seat into the booth next to him. Neither Tom of Finland nor Charles Bukowski would have felt out of place here, though both would probably have found Hudson on the classy side. After all, the bar serves Speakeasy White Lightning wheat beer and Radeberger pilsner on draft. Between the tables formed from cross-sections of giant trees, the walls covered in a muted grey-brown damask, and the U-shaped bar that looks like it was molded out of a single bar of chocolate, Hudson could have been a side project for Vern Yip of Trading Spaces, the designer who always made every room look like the back seat of a Jaguar S-type. Hudson's owners, Tim Ptak and Michelle Braasch, are also the owners of Smarty Pants, which is more centrally located on the main Georgetown strip. Over the past six years the pair has played a role in recreating the burg as a somewheresville, even if residency requires you to own a welding torch and a Misfits T-shirt. Ptak says that he's had an "architectural crush" for years on Hudson's little brick building, which used to be Inger's Diner in the early 1930s. As soon as he found out that Totem Equipment was no longer using the space as its general offices, he leased it quickly and designed and rebuilt the place himself, turning it back into a restaurant. Well, not quite a restaurant—more of an all-day diner-cum-bar-cum-espresso stand. (Side note: The "Georgetown Morgue" next door is a front for the guys who produce the KUBE 93 haunted house. "They invited me to drop by for a tour," one server said, "but I'm still waiting for someone else to go with me before I do it.") Hudson appears to be just what the neighborhood needs. During the day, when the restaurant's moody sleekness receives a potent lashing of sun through three walls of paned windows, its success is easier to predict. You have to drive almost a mile to find the nearest non-chain restaurant, after all. More than a few of the customers—federal employees who've strolled across the street, tech-company employees, military recruiters in full dress—are having a pint with their burgers. In fact, you have to be 21 to eat at this "diner," even during brunch and lunch. The menus, designed by Ptak and kitchen manager Peter Graham, update the diner by upgrading ingredients, optionally subbing Field Roast for beef in a few dishes, and by giving much of the food a Southern cast, always an easy way to break out of standard diner-food blandness without appearing too aspirational. This is more easily accomplished with daytime food than dinner entrées. I had a great brunch one morning, reading a magazine with a rapidly refilled coffee mug and cheese-dosed, smoothly creamy grits smothered in a cheese sauce spiked with tomatoes, peppers, and shrimp. The dime-sized shrimp had been cooked to order, so they hadn't shriveled into mealy nuggets while languishing in a bain-marie near the stove. The grits came with whole-grain toast and eggs that had been scrambled into cascading folds, with a little yolk still pooling and firming in the nooks as the waitress set down the plate. A lunch trip brought a pulled-pork sandwich on a French roll; the pork was house-smoked just long enough to taste of campfire on the breeze, not as though we were stuck in the middle of the forest in fire season. A vinaigrette-dressed cabbage slaw cut through the sugar of the barbecue sauce. Hudson's hamburger came out brown to the core—we hadn't specified medium, so I think Washington legally requires the kitchen to overcook ground beef—but was served with a crisped bun, crisp lettuce and onions, and an X of even crisper bacon slices. The half-inch-square fries crunched despite their thickness. The only failed sandwich was a shrimp po' boy, a French roll filled with plump, sautéed shrimp that had been doused in so much remoulade that it poured out over the sides of the sandwich, melting the roll in its wake, and puddled on the plate. Four or five bites and we had to resort to a fork. The all-day-diner concept didn't quite survive the change of shifts between lunch and dinner. From an economic and a staffing standpoint, it makes sense to keep the three menus succinct and carry over a number of elements—the blackened catfish sandwich morphs into a catfish entrée at nightfall, while the morning's chicken-fried steak disappears during lunch and reappears at five. But if you start making grits at eight in the morning and are still spooning from the same batch at dinner, there are going to be problems. Lumpier grits, for one, served with the catfish entrée. Over the catfish was spooned a red oil studded with minced aromatics, which I only realized later was a mayonnaise-based remoulade sauce that had broken (meaning the creamy emulsion of eggs and oil had separated into its constituent fluids, a violation of Cooking 101 skills). Grits, sauce: good taste, bad texture. The chicken-fried steak, which any Texan would recognize needed a half-dozen more whacks with the tenderizer before being tossed into the flour, had a fantastic breading, a crisp, golden crust that looked like a shiver had been frozen all over its surface. The dull, gummy cream gravy on top, however, had clearly been made hours before. And the pan-roasted chicken dish that had looked good on paper was downright shitty on the plate. While the menu had promised the chicken would be an "airline breast" (with skin, chicken tender, and wing attached, keeping it plumper and more flavorful), the cooks had substituted two skinless, anemic chicken breasts that I'd wager were pulled from a Costco freezer, and the butter-herb sauce advertised on the menu proved to be no more than a squirt of lemon and a pat of butter melted together in the pan, with a couple of oily sautéed vegetables on the side. As we ate a flawed meal in a restaurant with a spot-on concept, I looked around the room. The bikers, factory workers, and steampunks around me had already learned the restaurant's strengths: Hudson's an all-purpose diner during the workday, but when Georgetown shuts down for the night, beers and burgers are best.Price Check
Hudson 5000 E. Marginal Way S., 767-4777, hudsonseattle.com. Open for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and drinks Mon.–Sat., brunch only Sun.
Shrimp & grits $9.75
Shrimp po' boy $10.25
Chicken-fried steak $12.75
Roasted chicken $14.75 firstname.lastname@example.org