Four New Sweet Spots on Capitol Hill

A tour of the neighborhood’s many, new, and varied confectioneries.

Seattle native Jesse Lee was looking for a good idea when he met the love of his life. He had spent much of his adulthood working as a concierge in high-end hotels, but was in the mood for an adventure when he met a woman named Sheena in the bus tunnel. Sheena intended to visit Seattle for a week, but after meeting Jesse, she never left and became his wife.

Sheena originally told Jesse she wanted to start a pancake-delivery service, but Jesse says he didn’t take it seriously; “It almost went in one ear and out the other.”  The two happened to eat at Capitol Hill’s Globe, famous for its pancakes, on its last day in business.

“Then it struck me—the Hill doesn’t have any good pancakes,” Jesse recalls. “So based on that, it got my wheels turning.” Pancakes on a stick seemed like a good way to make the treat mobile. The couple scraped together some money for a tiny trailer, found a custom waffle-maker online, and started developing recipes. This past Valentine’s Day, two years after they met, they opened My Sweet Little Cakes.

Opening on Capitol Hill made sense to Jesse, who has lived in the neighborhood for 18 years. But he also says it’s good for business. “People on the hill know good stuff,” Jesse says. “I knew that if we created a brand, a model, and if it would fly on Capitol Hill, it would be good anywhere.”

The neighborhood’s density means lots of foot traffic, which translates into a casual customer base open to new ideas and, it seems, craving confections. My Sweet Little Cakes is part of a mini-explosion of new places to satisfy your sweet tooth—also including two bakeries and a Spanish-style cafe—each with a unique approach to sweets and a commitment to proving that they’re worthy of Capitol Hill’s attention.

Chico Madrid, the Spanish-style cafe, is not primarily a sweets spot. The combination cafe, sandwich shop, and bar opened in March on the first floor of the BelRoy Apartments, a collaboration among Franz Gilbertson (Ballard’s Honoré Bakery), buddy Jacob Daley, and Fuel coffee owner Dani Cone. Their set-up—all-day offerings, sandwiches, the big, semicircular bar—was inspired by Daley and Gilbertson’s travels in Spain. “Neighborhood cafes and bocadillo [long Spanish-style sandwiches] were just ubiquitous,” Cone says. “What they loved about them is they’re open all times of day and night. They wanted to be open first thing in the morning for coffee and pastries too. That’s just as much a part of the culture and tradition.”

It was the pastries I was after when I visited one recent weekday morning. Chico Madrid has taken a page from Honoré’s book, offering a small selection of scones and cookies made from Gilbertson’s Honoré recipes. I ordered a pinwheel cookie, a brown-and-white swirl of shortbread, and a Magdalena, a traditional Spanish muffin made with lemon and olive oil. I washed them down with a macchiato made on the shop’s fancy Bosco espresso machine, an Italian creation whose levers are the origin of the term “pulling espresso.”

Cone says the shop may expand its pastry program, bringing Capitol Hill more than just a touch of Honoré. The main goal, though, is to be laid-back and welcoming at any time of day. “This isn’t high-brow pricey,” she says. “This is neighborhood-accessible, traditional.”

A few days later I sat down at Bakery Nouveau amid a field of pastry-flake debris, about to dive into an almost-too-beautiful double-baked chocolate croissant. The shop was busy; a crowd peered excitedly into the case of colorful macaroons and glistening pastries. Their selection is overwhelming: Danishes. Buns. Cakes. Tarts. How do you choose just one? Give me everything!

The acclaimed West Seattle patisserie opened this new spot on Capitol Hill’s 15th Avenue in April. Co-owner/chef William Leaman has won a long list of awards, so you really can’t go wrong.

The new bakery was six months in the making. Adding ventilation and installing a kitchen proved challenging, but Leaman made it work. The shop also sells sandwiches, quiches, and espresso made on a Slayer machine—one of the few operating in the state. On Capitol Hill you can expect more cakes than sandwiches, so the offerings aren’t identical to West Seattle’s. Still, that line will be out the door.

With a sugar-induced coma setting in, I headed next to Guilt Free Goodness, a tiny storefront selling gluten-free and vegan treats on the second floor of Broadway Alley.  Though the new bakery, which opened in April, doesn’t have a kitchen, goodies are delivered daily from the original location in Monroe.

Baker/owner Dawn Purbaugh says she’s not baking to run with fad diets or gluten-free trends; instead, she sympathizes with kids who have gluten allergies or sensitivities. Diagnosed with Celiac disease as a child, she honed her recipes every night after culinary school: poring through cookbooks, tweaking and fiddling until she had it right.

“I know how it feels when you go into a store and your mom is like, ‘No, you can’t have a sample; no, you can’t have a cookie,’ ” she says. “Going to school functions, I couldn’t have anything. People are eating ham sandwiches, and I’m eating ham sandwiches on rice cakes. I still can’t look at rice cakes the same. But I think that people out there don’t realize it’s not a trend for me.”

The space above her shop may soon become available, and Purbaugh plans to open a small gluten-free market with pastas, bread, flour, and baking supplies—items that gluten-free shoppers have trouble finding.

I walked away with a complimentary box of samples, including banana bread, muffins, cupcakes, and cookies. I’ve stayed away from gluten-free sweets, thinking of them as dense and off-putting. But Purbaugh’s creations are pretty darn tasty; I would bet that in a blind taste test, most people wouldn’t pick them out as gluten-free and vegan. The box is nearly empty two days later.

MY SWEET LITTLE CAKES 1208 Pine St., 265-3002, 11 a.m.–7 p.m. Thurs., 11 a.m.–3 p.m. Fri.–Sat.

CHICO MADRID 711 Bellevue Ave. E., 453-3234, 7 a.m.–10 p.m. Tues.–Thurs.; 7 a.m.– close Fri.; 8 a.m.–close Sat.; 8 a.m.–10 p.m. Sun.

BAKERY NOUVEAU 1435 E. John Court, Suite 137, 858–6957, 6 a.m.–7 p.m. Mon.–Thurs.; 6 a.m.–9 p.m. Fri.; 7 a.m.–9 p.m. Sat., 7 a.m.–7 p.m. Sun.

GUILT FREE GOODNESS 219 Broadway E., 360-794-5266, Noon–7 p.m. Wed.–Fri.; 10 a.m.–6 p.m. Sat.; 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Sun.

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