There's a bus stop on Grub's corner of upper Queen Anne, so Route 4 drivers occasionally have a chance to idle in front of the charmingly homespun restaurant and peer inside its framed glass windows. Grub must cut a handsome figure from a distance: With its yellowish lighting, gilt-framed mirrors, and multigenerational crowd, the brick-faced restaurant molts warmth and contentment. When I was last seated nearest the street, a bus driver who'd paused for a pickup scanned the scene and waved.
GRUB 7 Boston St., 216-3628, letsgogrub.com. 11 a.m.-3 p.m. & 5-9 p.m. Tues.-Thurs.; 11 a.m.-3 p.m. & 5-10 p.m. Fri.; 8 a.m.-3 p.m. & 5-10 p.m. Sat.; 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Sun.
I'll confess: I didn't wave back. I was at the moment totally absorbed by the slab of coconut cake before me. Sharon Fillingim, the industry lifer (Jimmy's Table, Cool Hand Luke) behind the 2-month-old restaurant, is an astoundingly talented baker who last stamped the neighborhood with Le Rêve, source of Queen Anne's best kouign-amman. At Grub, Fillingim prepares cakes and pies without French pretensions. But sophistication is the only thing used restrainedly in her rollicking butter concertos.
The coconut cake is served sliced-side-up and lashed with a dollop of snow-white fresh whipped cream so substantial it's not clear whether the cake or the cream is the supporting actor. The first forkful settles it: The phenomenally moist two-layer cake has a faint citric brightness, as though it had been blotted with lemonade. Atop and between the loose-crumbed layers is a thick frosting of shredded coconut that impressively sidesteps the too-sweet zone. It's a great cake.
Coconut cake has special significance in the South, where women's-club hierarchies and supper invitations have been known to ride on its execution. In an era when restaurants across the country are making room on their menus for fried green tomatoes and country ham, Grub is remarkably reticent about its Dixie leanings. Fillingim describes her cuisine as reflecting "a strong influence of different cultures and a variety of blended flavors," which explains all the feta. But Grub feels Southern in a way that eludes the Johnny Rebs-come-lately. While you can assemble a classically Southern meal here with very little effort—it was only between courses of mac and cheese and fried chicken that I realized what I'd done—the South is deeper in the restaurant's bones. Although Fillingim is a Seattle native whose father ran a restaurant at the World's Fair, she has an intuitive grasp of greens, fresh ingredients, NuGrape (the Atlanta soda pop immortalized in the NuGrape Twins' 1926 recording of "I Got Your Ice Cold NuGrape"), and the art of making people feel at ease around a table. Grub's the kind of neighborhood restaurant where diners show up in yoga clothes and share a carafe of red wine. It's no wonder the bus driver wanted in.
Both times I dined at Grub, most of its 38 seats—a tasteful mix of metal draftsman's chairs and lime-green molded plastic ones—were taken, adding noisy hilltop spirit to a space that's sparsely decorated. The bare-floored room is furnished with wooden tables, a specials chalkboard, and small lettered wall tiles spelling the restaurant's name. There's not much action at the wood-planked bar, although a server predicted that might change when Grub gets the go-ahead to pour hard liquor.
Grub is open for dinner on Fridays and Saturdays, but the restaurant's wheelhouse is weeknights. There's a full-fledged children's menu, with cheesed-up noodles, hot dogs, and grilled chicken instead of nuggets, and orders are filled so quickly that I'm still baffled by how the kitchen found time to overcook a pork chop. Prices are also extraordinarily reasonable: Half a chicken costs $16, and all but five of the 17 bottles of wine listed are priced under $30.
Patrons grateful to be relieved of cooking chores are unlikely to find fault with anything Grub serves, but the restaurant has a few entrée issues. The pork chop's glistening sear looked gorgeous, and an accompanying red-pepper romesco was appropriately feisty. But the flavorful meat was disappointingly dry. A grilled rib-eye, drippy with beefy juices, had a tougher chew than the cow's raising could explain away, and a fried chicken which might have had its crunchy, teak-colored coat applied with a spray gun was so overcooked that only the dark meat was worth broaching.
I had better luck with a pan-seared salmon, its shiny, salted skin partially obscured by an oily salsa verde of fresh herbs. If a version of the dish appeared on the children's menu, it could probably be used to teach colors: The stunning plate was completed by bright-red grape tomatoes, pink-rimmed radish discs, and eye-poppingly orange carrot slices. Vegetables are treated well at Grub, where even the tragic chicken's joined by a clump of terrific braised greens soaked with vinegar. Buttery mashed potatoes flecked with red skins and a tumble of sautéed squash disappeared long before their plate's anchoring steak.
Fortunately, it's easy to stay the herbivore course here, especially if you're not wedded to the notion of supper as one big plate. Consider instead a grilled feta cake appetizer, which isn't remotely cakey in the traditional sense. The plug of cheese is neither breaded nor rounded, but sits, tangy and melty, in the center of a plateful of roasted vegetables. The dish is served with two griddled slices of bread, which are necessary, and doodled with sweet balsamic sauce, which isn't. The onions, tomatoes, and zucchini, which could have come straight from a farmers-market tote, are plenty flavorful without the retrograde garnish.
The mac and cheese is a fine follow-up for the vegetable starter. Although the standard version is topped with tiny crisped bits of bacon, what makes the dish—built on a humble base of elbow noodles—is the sharp cheddar sauce, which lightly cloaks the pasta rather than inundating it, in the manner of so many macs which are supposed to comfort.
There are four salads on Grub's menu, all excellent. A simple green salad is elevated by the addition of sliced fennel and wispy fennel fronds, while toasted hazelnuts and farro lend a Pacific Northwest earthiness to a tropical-leaning collage of spinach, avocados, grapefruit segments, and a sunny citrus vinaigrette. But the best is the brawny kale salad, with leaves just tender enough to contrast with the clout of roasted cauliflower florets and firm chickpeas. Bathed in a lemon-tahini vinaigrette, the salad's so good that when our otherwise flawless server brought it instead of the salad we'd ordered, I very nearly kept it.
After vegetables, there's fruit, including apple pie, blueberry pie, and—on lucky nights—peach pie, yet another unheralded regionalism that at Grub becomes a universal symbol of genuine neighborly hospitality. Y'all come in and have a slice.
Kale salad $8
Feta cake $10
Pork chop $14
Mac and cheese $10