by Michael Sarko
- The Capitol Hill Times -
If Andy Warhol were alive and in Seattle today, he would say that every baked good and confection will eventually have its 15 minutes of fame. We’ve got our special, local cupcakes, our special, local doughnuts, our special, local ice cream, mac-and-cheese, soda pop, and chocolate bar. This isn’t a bad thing, given that the alternative is to rely on a mass market addicted to preservatives and insane sweeteners. It’s in this atmosphere of a niche for every treat that we have Queen Bee, Capitol Hill’s own crumpet shop.
“You can get a sandwich on any corner. That’s what spawned the crumpet idea. Let’s do something special, let’s do something different.” That’s Executive Chef Justin Sledge who splits his time between Queen Bee and owner Dwayne Clark’s other business, the Aegis assisted living community. Chef Sledge has been back and forth between California and Seattle to take part in the regional food cultures of both.
The crumpet is one of those foods that’s old enough to have no definite origin, just a vague geographic designation from ages past. Nutritional anthropologists like Ann Hagan, author of deep cut volumes like “A Handbook of Anglo-Saxon Food Processing and Consumption,” pinpoint the land one day to be called England as the genesis of the crumpet. Like a stunning array of foods, crumpets are just another kind of bread, the original recipe being little more than water, flour and yeast. The Victorian Brits, lovers of all things fluffy, added baking soda to the mix to give crumpets the pillowy consistency of modern teatime.
Of course, the above description is deceptive in its simplicity. As anyone with even passing experience applying batter to a hot griddle knows, it’s nothing short of an art to get a soft, cooked-through, stable but not tough final product out of anything under such circumstances. Chef Sledge claims to have gone through as many as 20 different recipes to land on Queen Bee’s crumpet. It had to be tasty enough to stand on its own, strong enough to work as sandwich bread and happy to play well with flavors both sweet and savory.
“They’ve gotta be fresh. That’s the number one challenge. We’ve got a baker coming in at 3 o’clock every morning, which was me for the first week or so, then we went through all the trials before the opening.”
The traditional crumpet, a good intro for the uninitiated, comes with a pad of English-style double-cream whipped butter, some powdered sugar and either honey or jam. That jam, as it happens, is a powerfully sunshine-y wild strawberry freezer jam that’s out of this world, especially when we’re months away from prime Northwest berry season. Half of the other variations are sweet, like a Marscapone and candied pecans crumpet, and half are savory. We’re in Seattle, so smoked salmon is de rigueur. Queen Bee pairs their lox with pesto cream cheese, capers, arugula and lemon, because spring can’t come soon enough.
The lower half of the menu goes to Queen Bee’s “crumpwiches,” essentially luxury deli sandwiches using crumpets in place of baked bread. They’re breakfast (ham, egg, and cheese) and lunch (curry chicken salad) affairs. All are under $10 with soup, salad or chips, which meets or beats a lot of comparable lunch deals around the Hill.
Chef Sledge is eager to expand and experiment with the surprisingly accommodating canvas of crumpets.
“One day you might come in here and we’ll be doing a duck confit with whole grain mustard and rosemary on a crumpet. The options are endless.”
Behind the novelty and indulgence of Queen Bee is a core of charity. The cafe partners with one charity every quarter, donating all proceeds to a partner displayed at the front counter, though in this opening period they will be donating 15 percent of every sale, as it’s rare for a new restaurant to profit in its first quarter. Currently, Queen Bee is donating to the YMCA. Next quarter, proceeds will go to the Hearing, Speech and Deafness Center just three blocks away. The charity push comes from Clark’s mom, Colleen, a single mother who worked as a line cook raising Dwayne and his siblings. For the Clark family, crumpets weren’t a treat, they were an affordable, filling staple.
“It was crumpets and potato soup a lot of days,” says Chef Sledge. Now the Queen Bee herself is watching over operations from her picture just inside the front door.