Casey Kelbaugh
Before you eat at the latest Julia's, take a good look around at the high ceilings and clean exposed brick, fresh paint, huge windows, chandeliers and beaded lamps, handsome dark wood... astonishing, isn't it? Hard to believe that Julia currently occupies the spot where Ileen once stood--you couldn't find two ladies more different from one another.

Julia's, with successful longtime outposts in Wallingford and Issaquah, is known for wholesome vegetarian/vegan-friendly choices and a nonsmoking dining room; Ileen's Sports Bar was a grizzled, ill-lit institution where folks could hunker down at sticky tables to chain-smoke and knock back Rolling Rocks and shoot the shit. I miss the place dearly.

Still, I was excited for Julia's, which prides itself on being an affordable neighborhood restaurant, and I was hopeful for the crowds it might bring to Broadway, which has felt sluggish lately.

I showed up one chilly morning, eager for poached eggs and hot coffee. My Eggs St. Benedict ($8.95) were mostly good--tasty, competent, with rightfully fragile and runny poached eggs, which rested on thick mattresses of ham and English muffins. But the hollandaise, one of my bellwethers, was disappointingly bland and thin, with way too much clarified butter and not enough lemon zest. (Hollandaise is so distinctive, so specific--it needs to taste like hollandaise.) But I was satiated, thanks to the delicious slabs of ham and side of nicely roasted red potatoes.

My companions' breakfasts were similarly benign. A burrito ($7.95) packed with scrambled eggs, cheese, salsa, and plain-Jane guacamole was "fine, but not great"; and the reaction to a simple omelet (starting at $6.95) of feta, mushrooms, and spinach was an honest "eh." We quickly moved on from "eh" once we partook in a deliciously sticky cinnamon roll and crumbly, buttery coffee cake (both $2.50), happy with the pastries' overlapping flavors. Besides, the wait staff was sweet and doting--our coffee mugs and water glasses never less than half full--and mediocrity is easy to forgive when it comes with kindness.

And yet, I wanted to like Julia's more. This location was brand new, after all, and maybe hadn't ironed out its kinks yet (though it's not like owners Karsten Betd and Eladio Preciado are industry rookies who need hand-holding and relaxed standards--I mean, when you open your doors for commerce, folks assume you're ready to do it for real). I returned, full of goodwill, for dinner, but wound up feeling let down once more. Chilean crab cakes ($6.95) were woefully uninspired, tasting not very much like crabmeat at all and studded with limp almond slivers (?). I liked the "crimson spinach" salad ($3.95) much better, with its impeccably fresh spinach leaves tossed in subtle raspberry vinaigrette, with a pleasing blend of mandarin slices, candied walnuts, and gorgonzola.

Solstice Chicken ($14.95) was just plain weird: a curiously thin, tasteless slice of chicken breast dredged in coconut, then smothered with cranberry relish--an adventurous attempt-turned-oversweetened oddity. Blackened tuna ($14.95) was moist and peppery, but spent too much time on the grill after my waiter assured me it would be seared and "pink." (Now I know this state's had some drama with Jack in the Box, so I'm fine with not getting a rare burger. But well-done tuna makes me grumpy.) The side of brown rice, however, was lovely--soft, fluffy, and flawlessly seasoned, next to a tender heap of roasted squash, zucchini, and peppers.

As I mollified myself with a fabulous cocktail for dessert (the "Pacifier," Maker's Mark with Cointreau and OJ in a sugar-rimmed glass; also try the "Foursome," with fresh fruit juices that are, I swear to God, "penetrated" with Skyy vodka and Cointreau, both $7), I decided that Julia's on Broadway is serving a higher purpose along with pasta and pancakes.

No, the food isn't awesome, but it really doesn't need to be: With its gorgeous décor and excellent wait staff, the place is bringing something vibrant and new and independently owned to Broadway--a clean, well-lighted place, comfortable and unpretentious, where you can meet friends or linger alone. And I'm all for that.

Julia's

300 Broadway E (Capitol Hill), 860-1818. Sun-Wed 7 am-11 pm; Thurs-Sat 7-2 am.