Eat & Drink

The evolving Ethan Stowell

The evolving Ethan Stowell
The burger and frites from Red Cow. (Image: Geoffrey Smith)
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Since Ethan Stowell opened Union on the corner of 1st & Union in 2003, his restaurant empire has grown. In the 11 years since, he’s opened up ten restaurants of various acclaim, style, and size. But he’s not just focused solely on restaurants. Of late, Ethan Stowell has diversified and spread his wings into what food and wine means to him and Seattle.

When Ethan Stowell and his business partner and wife, Angela Dunleavy Stowell, first started opening restaurants, they were neighborhood spots that looked through the lens of Italy. Ballard, Capitol Hill, Queen Anne, and Belltown could each claim their own Stowell joint. The Stowells learned that with this formula of neighborhood restaurants, they could continue to build their empire. They discovered that with opening new places they could support the careers of their staff and continue growing with a team that wants to grow along with it. Over the last few years, Stowell has evolved and the recently opened restaurants and ventures show their differences from the early template.

Recent Restaurants

The latest restaurants from the Ethan Stowell Restaurants group have tweaked the formula of their earlier brethren. Recently, three spaces opened that are different from the others in the family. Instead of the Italian slant that the earlier restaurants featured, the newer places were decidedly different. Take Red Cow, for instance. Located in Madrona, Red Cow’s theme is steak frites; a mostly French concept of steak and fries. There are burgers on the menu and a wine list befitting a neighborhood restaurant. The fries are delicious people.

Consider Mkt. in Tangletown. In what is probably the smallest of the Stowell lineup, Mkt. features seasonal produce done in a contemporary style. What does that mean? The techniques will be forward thinking, but ultimately the goal is to let the ingredients shine through. Take note of the smart and clever wine list, a staple of Stowell restaurants.

Then there is Chippy’s in Ballard. The newest in the Stowell armada, its focus is on fish and chips, salads, and cocktails. You’ll find huge pieces of cod, rockfish, or salmon fried to a golden brown delight. And don’t skip out on the salads; the Crab Louie was particularly tasty on a recent visit.

Safeco Field

We touched on the updates that Safeco Field’s food offerings went through for this season in the spring. But the involvement of Stowell with the notion of refined ballpark food started a few years back. When The Pen opened up in 2011, Stowell created a hamburger and crepe concept to compliment the beer that any stadium is known for. The crepe eatery has since evolved to a chicken wing spot and probably has the best food item in the ballpark; Dirty Tots (tater tots topped with the roasted pork belly, Beecher’s cheese, and pickled peppers.) The evolution of ballpark food started in Seattle and Stowell helped shepherd that transition.

ESR Cellar

Opening up a wine cellar storage facility isn’t as sexy as a new restaurant, but to wine nerds this was an exciting development. The ESR Cellar is housed in Ballard’s Kolstrand Building, the ESR Cellar lies underneath his Staple & Fancy and Chippy’s. What got wine people like me excited was 24-hour access to their lockers and the possibility of tasting parties.

Eat. Run. Hope.

The first Eat. Run. Hope. was in Seward Park with a fun run and a food party for post-race. Eat. Run. Hope. continues to be an annual event where running and food co-exist (real talk – plenty of food people only run to be able to eat whatever they want), and as a cause that is close to Ethan and Angela Stowell, this event, to support the Fetal Health Foundation, has been an event that food nerds continually look forward to. Because at the post-race bash, the food isn’t the bananas and bagels you get a typical road race. It’s restaurant quality from the likes of Jason Franey from Canlis, Maria Hines from Tilth, or Rachel Yang from Joule. And that is just a fraction of the chefs that have contributed to Eat. Run. Hope. while helping a fellow chef’s cause.

What’s next?

As for what else Ethan Stowell has up his sleeve, the project that had gotten eaters excited is Noyer. It was originally planned on the backside of the Red Cow space and it’d be a tiny spot that would be fine dining of the highest order. But Stowell has shelved that project saying that it wasn’t the right space. I was a guest at a dinner at Tavolata this week to celebrate Proscuitto di Parma; Stowell did the cooking for the event and we spoke about what’s next for him. While Noyer may not be necessarily it, but the spirit of it is. He does want to do fine dining again as so many of his places do the neighborhood restaurant vibe so well. In talking to him, their growth of the past two years is part of a longer-term plan for his restaurant group. That these new spots are different as they present unique challenges and opportunities that he wanted to tackle and measure himself against. When we spoke, he reinforced that with the growth of the team, they could foster talent and open places that were different. Eaters of Seattle are sure to reap the efforts that Stowell and his team have in store.

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