Local Cafe
1514 E Olive Way, 328-2282
11 am-3 pm, 5-10 pm Tues-Fri; 9 am-3 pm Sat-Sun; coffee only from 7 am Tues-Fri; from 9 am Sat-Sun.

Red Line Cafe
1525 E Olive Way, 328-9559
Mon-Fri 6 am-10 pm; Sat-Sun 7 am-10 pm.

Some businesses seem to exist in a glacial timeframe as the world around them zips and buzzes by. So it was with the Green Cat Cafe on Olive Way. The hippy hangout was dishing out granola and soy milk when I first moved to Seattle in 1993, and there still when I moved back four years ago. So I was a little shocked a month or two ago when the Green Cat ceased to be the Green Cat and reemerged as Local Cafe. Across the street, I was less surprised to see a new incarnation of a restaurant space that has so far only distinguished itself for its constant state of flux. I like to call it the Flaming Hamburger Mary Bar, after all of its known identities. Now it's the Red Line, and it's trying to beat the curse by not trying to be too much--an approach I always appreciate. I don't know what's happening on Olive Way, but the change is contagious. Even the bar that was Jack's Roadhouse for a second after being the Detour has now switched over to an Irish format. (Andrew and I tried, but failed, to get food there.)

Olive Way's sharp diagonal and steep pitch makes for funny-shaped spaces, and Red Line's multitiered wedge is no exception. Inside there's lots of butternut Formica, a coffee bar, and a pizza-style oven. If you order a hot sandwich, it will go through a frivolous and exciting trip to the oven, where it is placed in a brightly enameled pan and pressed with a mini anvil-like weight. Could this all be done with a panini press? Yes. Would it be nearly as fun? I doubt it. Thus pressed, my proscuitto and fig sandwich ($6.75) was good in conceit, with its thinly sliced ham and fontina cheese offset by sweet fig spread, but in truth I think I'd like this sandwich better cold, and with more fig goo. There was also a hot chicken sandwich ($6.50)--with cheese and onions and peppers--that was agreeable in a mild way, just like the herby potato salad and the multicolored coleslaw offered as sides. Despite the appeal of the sandwich oven, the cold sandwiches like house roasted beef ($6.50) on dark bread with arugula and horseradish cream (next time more, please!) or the herby tuna-salad sandwich with optional potato chips inside ($5.95) somehow worked better. And then there was a basket of potato chips matched with a cold, gooey sour-cream dip with real caramelized onions, not dehydrated Lipton's imposters. It was a lay-up of a dish, but made me think this funny little cafeteria is up to something good ($2.25).

I don't know how long it took to scrub the grime from 10,000 tofu scrambles off the wall, but Local's Cafe's aesthetic is now smartly whitewashed, with bare wood floors, bulky proletarian chairs, and big bowls of fruit instead of flowers. The onion dip might have gotten me at Red Line, but Local tapped into my id with their meatloaf. Sure, their onion- and herb-rich loaf is available hot at dinner (alongside other appealing staples like steamed mussels and roast chicken), but we all know that meatloaf is at its best cold in a sandwich ($ 7.95). Throwing on some homemade Dijon mayonnaise doesn't hurt either. Sure, I'd rather see the meatloaf between two squishy pieces of white bread rather than an ambitious baguette that kept squeezing the meat out, but I'll keep quiet if the meatloaf stays good. Though it was embellished with a good crust and fresh corn and carrots, another lunch option, chicken pot pie ($7.95), somehow lacked the creamy indulgence that a pot pie needs in this world. Fortunately, dessert brought some real indulgence when an upside-down plum cake arrived still warm and coated in brown sugar caramel, next to a cold, vulnerable dollop of créme fra--che whipped cream ($6.50). Just to crank up the charm, Local offers up free homebaked goodies almost as cute as the mismatched flea-market plates they're served on--a biscuit arrived beside a bowl of tomato chanterelle soup ($5.50) and a couple of lemon sugar cookies with the check.

So should any more Olive Way restaurants be opening soon (watch out Sturteville Antiques!), you have uncovered the keys to my heart, at least while I'm still pregnant: onion dip, meatloaf, and unexpected pastries.

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