At the intersection of 85th and Greenwood the sounds of traffic, the beeping of buses, plays like a soundtrack. This is the beating heart of Seattle's Greenwood neighborhood. This is where you'll find chef Eric Donnelly and his acclaimed restaurant Flintcreek Cattle Co.
"The thought process was to do a...more meat-focused restaurant. We're doing nice composed dishes. Three ingredients done well on the plate. And the focus is on other meats. The bison...rabbit, squab, other meats besides just steak and potatoes," said Donnelly.
It's late afternoon, just minutes after opening, and the bar is already packed. The diners here know time is of the essence.
"We take our hanger steak, our ribeye and our filet mignon, all the trim from that we turn into a house ground butcher burger. We typically have 12 (burgers a night), but sometimes 16. If you happen to get one, get one. You've just got to come in for happy hour," explained Donnelly.
A James Beard Awards semi-finalist, Eric, and his wife Christy first burst onto the Seattle dining scene with their debut restaurant, Rockcreek in Fremont. When they announced plans for Flintcreek it quickly became one of 2016's most anticipated openings. But the fact the restaurant is still standing, let alone open, well, that's something of a miracle.
"We were really close. The equipment was in. We were probably six weeks from [opening]."
March 9th, 2016. A massive natural gas explosion shatters the calm of the early morning.
"I was living in Ballard at the time and we could hear it. People in Shoreline could hear it. You guys wouldn't believe what this stretch of Greenwood looked like. I mean to come in at 3 in the morning after it happened and see basically a block leveled. You're just like 'how is this possible?'," said Donnelly. "This whole neighborhood was roped off. And I just said 'hey just let me see the building. I just need to know where we're at' because I'm thinking...I'm thinking it's not here."
Eric and Christy were among the fortunate ones. Flintcreek survived, save by recently-installed seismic bracing. But the damage was significant.
"We just started rebuilding. Cleaning up and rebuilding. But, it was a really trying time in our lives."
The rebuild took more than half a year, but it was made easier by the support they received from the community.
"We became friends with so many people that became instant, instant customers. And they were so excited that we were able to get done, get open, make them drinks, and that people could enjoy the space. It was really cool," Donnelly told me.
Now, Flintcreek is a dining destination, while still remaining a uniquely neighborhood spot. That's due, in large part, to the food, like their grilled acorn squash with burrata.
"Some nights I feel like there's one of these on every table in the restaurant, which is cool."
The vegetable dishes are surprising standouts, but Flintcreek specializes in responsibly raised, premium meats, and those meat-focused mains are simply stunning. One favorite, the brined bone-in Moses Lake pork chop. The pork gets brined overnight in cider vinegar, mustard and bay leaf, then caramelizes on the grill. It's plated over a pool of cheesy heirloom grits, caramelized cabbage and finished with New Orleans-style red-eye gravy. Eric calls it one of his favorite dishes ever.
The perfectly cooked food is part of Flintcreek's appeal, but on this bustling intersection where even now the rebuild continues, this restaurant provides an escape from the frantic pace of city life.
"Once you hit the door that beeping bus and all that stuff, it just disappears. This is just like a world of it's own. When you come in you're kind of engulfed in this environment, and then when you leave you're like 'wow I want to go back in there'."