by Michael Sarko
- The Capitol Hill Times -
There’s new and then there’s new. The bar and bites joint on 19th Avenue East, Tallulah’s, is literally new. It had a soft opening earlier in December and started seating the general public two days after Christmas. On the other hand, it’s also the latest addition to the portfolio of Linda Derschang, a Capitol Hill fixture who has five other places around the neighborhood, so Tallulah’s isn’t coming from a first-time owner like so many other spots in our rapidly expanding urban village.
Tallulah’s is also new in the sense of the “new versus old” concept of Capitol Hill. It isn’t grungy or crafted to be democratic like… well, Derschang’s eponymous first restaurant in the neighborhood, Linda’s Tavern. Tallulah’s is just posh enough to demand the use of indoor voices, and homey enough to feel welcoming to a larger cross-section than, say, the upscale wine bars and steak houses of downtown. It’s of a piece with elegant, inviting spaces like Poco Wine Room, getting plenty of mileage out of knowing what locals love and are willing to pay a little extra to enjoy.
It’s all perfectly appointed: Familiar but respected brands command the drink menu, from Stumptown coffee, complete with little bottles of cold brew, Rachel’s Ginger Beer, the CommuniTea Kombucha (on tap, no less), and beers predominantly from Washington and Oregon. Half-healthy indulgences featuring goat cheese, fennel and sweet potato make the short-but-not-too-short food card into a decidedly Northwestern read. There is a glass jar of raw sugar cubes on the bar, cat-centric décor on the walls, and laid-back indie music in the sound system. In short, Tallulah’s is tailor-made for certified grown-ups in Capitol Hill.
Not one element of the restaurant feels like an oversight. Somebody (Linda Derschang, her design consultants, Executive Chef Walter Edward, Bar Director Adam Fream) carefully crafted the experience at Tallulah’s. Somebody had a “eureka!” moment with the leather cradle barstools and wooden globe candleholders. Fream put together a bottle list cultivated from a clear knowledge of how discerning but unpretentious tipplers prefer to drink (Bulleit Bourbon, hyper-local vodka, etc.). Even the front windows and wrap-around patio evoke the street-facing aesthetic of Pike Street and much of Broadway.
All of this exacting style and careful execution isn’t a put-on, though. Were Tallulah’s a cynical fake of style over substance, it would be painfully apparent in the food and service; those elements shine at this new spot. Small plates like the caramelized cauliflower with pine nuts and golden raisins knock it out of the park. It’s all fancy but not fussy, especially with comfort foods like lentils on offer. The staff are friendly and on-point, not pushy but happy to make suggestions.
One of the biggest draws of Talluah’s, though, which isn’t front-and-center in the advertizing, is its array of vegan and gluten-free items. They’re not relegated to a special part of the menu, nor are they gimmicky. Meat-eaters and those who abstain will find plenty to enjoy, with the V and GF plates standing on their own merits instead of trying to compete with the bacon-and-beef hegemony of haute cuisine. As the menu playfully inserts next to the mandated warning about raw or undercooked food, “We would like to advise you to EAT YOUR VEGETABLES.”
“We wanted to have something for the people who do have those needs, but not be ‘just’ that,” one of the wait staff said.
Fitting into the modern conception of Capitol Hill, Tallulah’s is a place equally for Hill residents and visitors. It focuses its appeal on the local-brand-conscious mindset that supports small family businesses over national chains, while still offering something unique to people who don’t wear Capitol Hill hometown pride on their sleeves. Tallulah’s is away from the main drag such that it can’t rely on foot traffic, so it will live and die by its reputation. With such a strong opening, nary a hiccup in earshot, that reputation is fast on its way to being etched in sterling silver.
Tallulah’s is at 550 19th Avenue East, neighboring the central offices of the Country Doctor Clinic, as well as other new businesses like the Hello Robin sweets shop, and the Cone and Steiner General Store.