Skelly and the Bean has so much heart, it almost hurts. The name itself has an adorable source: Skelly is a kid who provided an initial investment of $10 ($7 in coins) to open the place, and the Bean is his less-wealthy little sister. The space was put together on a shoestring, with many volunteer helping hands. The couple that runs Little Uncle painted and moved equipment; the editor of Edible Seattle de-spidered a bunch of the old barn wood that panels one wall. Their efforts, and those of dozens more, are recognized on the Wall of Love: a mural of swirling names in rainbow colors, with designations like "BUTCHER@LARGE," "Anonymous OCD Helper," "Tater-Tot Tester!"
The furniture was donated or scavenged: a Formica table just like the one in grandma's kitchen, a glass-topped patio set right out of The Brady Bunch, some equally non-au-courant wicker. The ceiling is painted sky blue, with an optimistically small number of clouds included. A couple old signs from local orchards are hung with pride. In a world of expensively achieved "reclaimed" decor, Skelly and the Bean is legitimately low budget, a labor of love.
The force of nature behind it all is Zephyr Paquette. She always wears a funny little cap, she has great glasses, and she's possessed of a boundless enthusiasm. To know Zephyr Paquette is to be willing to de-spider a bunch of old planks for her, if only because you know she'd do the same for you. And lots of people know her—she's cooked at Poco Wine Room, Elliott Bay Cafe, Cafe Flora, and Ballard's dear, departed Dandelion. (I interviewed her for Edible Seattle in 2010.)
Paquette's restaurant isn't just a DIY food-community effort; it's meant to give back to that community as well. The Skelly and the Bean Incubator Series, wherein other chefs use the space for their as-yet-unhoused projects (and keep the profits from food sales to fund them), is already under way—Bo Maisano (1200 Bistro, Madison Park Cafe, the Tin Table) tested his BoRamen on two nights recently, and Malaysian food stand Kedai Makan (from a La Bête sous chef) had a residency, too. The recent launch of the Washington Food Artisans cookbook was celebrated at Skelly with a dinner featuring ingredients from farms in the book. May 21 brings a fundraiser dinner for the (awesome) Quillisascut Farm culinary education program, of which Paquette is an alum.
Given all this bountiful goodness, there's no easy way to say that the food I've had so far at Skelly and the Bean has not been great. On one night, everything was so salty, it was difficult to conceive how it all was approved to depart from the kitchen. The beef in Maud's Burger ($15)—clearly very high quality, tender and rare enough to be like an excellent steak tartare on a bun—was so salinated as to taste brined. The dry, solid lattice of "bacon weave" and pickled onions on top added to the problem, and the accompanying mashed- potato-type tater tots were salty, too. The "Half (secret—shh.) Chicken," for $24, had the smoothest, saltiest mashed potatoes ever—they were inedible—while the secret of the chicken was that it was stuffed with juniper sausage (it also lacked crackling skin and was notably salty). The accompanying broccoli rabe was mercifully neutral on the saline scale and had nicely crispy-singed leaves, but each stem had an unchewably tough end.
We also had ham-wrapped soft-boiled deviled eggs ($8), which were maybe only as salty as you'd expect such a thing would be, but had an unsettlingly uniform squishy texture. And Paquette sent out some off-menu "hush bunnies" on the house—panko-fried rounds of house-made rabbit rillettes. She'd served them, she said, on Easter, "for irony," which is funny, but: They were really, really salty.
On a second visit, a house salad ($9) had salty vinaigrette and a great deal of (salty) goat cheese. A dish of peel-and-eat prawns with pork cheeks ($24), while not oversalted, was messily oily, with the meat sliced thin and cooked too quickly, leaving it both fatty and tough. A lone bright spot: a crepe ($11) that, while it actually appeared to be an omelet, was lacy-browned and fluffy, filled with a row of still-bright-green-and-gorgeous asparagus.
Skelly and the Bean uses lovely local ingredients. The waitstaff are cheerful and will tell you how happy they are to be there. Zephyr Paquette's heart is absolutely in the right place. Maybe the stars in the painted ceiling's sky will align soon, and all the love will prevail.