Tacoma Restaurant Reviews

Katie Downs celebrates 15 years of success
by Peg Doman

Katie Downs is celebrating its 15th Anniversary on October 14. Itís not the real date of the anniversary, thatís October 17, but thatís the celebration day. Katie Downs has consistently been the Weeklyís readersí favorite deck and pizza place since Ď88 and Ď89 when the Weekly was still the Monthly.

For the upscale tavern that "started out with the best location on the Ruston Way waterfront", according to owner/manager Dan Hilger, this will be an evening of fun and games. This is a time to welcome "old" staff members and customers back, offering a time to catch up with favorite servers from several years ago.

When plastic surgeon Dr. John Hilger and restauranteur Mike Ebert opened the pizza- and burger-dispensing tavern, the only other eateries along the waterfront were Harbor Lights and the former Clinkerdaggers, Bickerstaff and Pett (now Lucianoís).

The waterfront has continued to be developed with new amenities: walkways, flower beds, trees, restaurants and parking places. Itís been a nice development by the city of Tacoma, the Park District and private enterprise.

Over the years, Katie Downs has changed, too. After about five years, Mike Ebert bowed out of the enterprise and subsequently, Dr. John took on his son Dan as owner/manager. As manager, Don has focused on the strengths that Katie Downs offers and made changes to support that focus. "People come here wanting good service, good value and a good time," Dan states. "Itís durable; people like it (Katie Downs); and they keep coming back. The secret is to stay focused on what this place is, to have a clean idea of what our business is."

The tavern was doing so well with pizza sales, Dan decided to add two vans to deliver locally. After four months, that was so successful, pizza orders were tying up the kitchen and food for sit-down customers was lagging. Dan bought the pizza delivery kitchen at Westgate and three more vans to handle the take-out and delivery business. Ever since, business has been booming like pepperoni breath.

The menu has changed some since Dan took over. He added three new pizzas, the Great White, Wild Wild West and Chinook, and named the ones that were known only as one through five. He initiated the MyPie personal-size pizza for lunchersí convenience; extended the snacks and salads for more variety; and added chicken and garden burgers choices to the traditional beef burgers. He decided that they needed to add sandwiches and offer extra pieces of fish for the very popular fish and chips. He added the Northwest favorite, charbroiled salmon, to the menu, too. Each change was initiated after paying attention to what customers wanted.

In addition to the food changes, Dan expanded the taps for draft beer to the 21 kinds currently available. Heís proud of this change. It doesnít seem so revolutionary now in the face of burgeoning microbrews with up to 2,500 brews available; but at the time, it was very unusual. His pride is the variety of tap beers, offering fresher and more full-bodied tastes than bottle beer.

Customers wanted fries with their burgers but got potato chips - Timís Cascade chips for sure, but chips nonetheless, because there wasnít room for enough fryers. Before all these changes could be made, the kitchen had to be extended to deal with the increased demand. The kitchen took over the former office space and thatís when the second tower went on the building, to house the offices and staff break areas.

Aside from doubling the outside deck area and replacing the rope railings with view-friendly glass, the other physical changes have been subtle. The window moldings are painted cream and green now to frame the wide harbor and mountain views. The kitchen facade was resurfaced with ceramic tile. The floors were resanded. The bathrooms were expanded. "All they (the customers) notice is clean, an attention to detail," Dan states proudly.

His dad, Dr. John Hilger recounts that it took about two years to go from buying the 400-foot strip of land to opening the doors of Katie Downs. "It was a lengthy process. We bought the land together, found financing together and there were perhaps 20 entities that had to be happy with the permit process," he notes.

The architect was Dusty Rhodes who wanted to make the structure look as if it had been in place in Old Tacoma a long time. The tower was a feature to remind you of Stadium High School.

Initially, Hilger and Ebert toyed with the idea of a Mexican restaurant, perhaps calling it the La Idolita, but that only existed for a few moments. The restaurant was finally named after Ebertís grandmother, Katie Downs.

Dr. Hilger is really proud of his son Danís accomplishments. "Dan is really the guy that made that place hum. I give him a lot of credit. He honed it to a very smooth operation. You can see his dedication to doing things right, not cutting corners. Weíve delayed profits for up to six months to make the changes he envisioned. Iím not a restauranteur. Itís an investment for me but Dan makes it work. Itís a good investment; itís a lot more personal than most investments. Itís fun to go down and see the thing operating. Itís a fun place."


Pomodoro welcome in Proctor
by Peg Doman

The quintessential Friday evening in the Proctor District has to be, after leaving work, to zip to the library to drop off old and get new reading material (it closes at six so you have to hurry), walk over to Bulldog to get the latest magazine, stroll over to Pomodoro to meet your sweetie and have a glass of wine and dinner, and then amble to the Blue Mouse for a movie.

This neighborhood has it all: a selection of tasty restaurants, interesting shops to browse in, multiple sources for reading material, great grocery stores, movie theater and coffee shops; great places to sit, inside or out, and read or just watch your neighbors while enjoying a beverage or snack; schools; dry cleaners; and parks within walking or biking distance.

Contemplating this sweetness of proximity last Friday night, I sat by the window in Pomodoroís, sipping my glass of wine and waiting for my husband to arrive, thinking, "Life is sweet." I studied the people on the street and the setting inside, appreciating the burnt sienna walls with olive trim, graced with arabesques of acanthus leaves swirling around.

When he arrived we had a glass of wine each (any more and I take an instant nap), appetizer, dinner and dessert and we enjoyed it. Part of the pleasure is coming to a place in your own neighborhood, just down from the library (I love the library) and Queen Anne Thriftway (I love the sushi and deli roast pork).

I asked Shannon, our wait person, for suggestion for the appetizer. She suggested the Grilled Quesadilla. We liked it. It was two large flour tortillas stuffed with smoked salmon, capers, cream cheese and cilantro. It was hot, just enough to melt the cream cheese to a slightly gushy texture without being drippy. The capers added a nice touch of tartness. One pie-shaped wedge was left so I took it home for breakfast. Part of my theory of dinner is that if itís really good, I like to remember it again at breakfast.

When Shannon came to take our dinner orders, I had almost decided on the Pork Coronare but realized I really wanted something lighter like chicken and asked again for a suggestion. And again, she was right. I had the Chicken Piccata, tasty morsels of chicken breast sautťed with mushrooms, lemon capers and white wine, served with the house pasta on a plate dusted with cilantro. I like cilantro, too. Every time I taste cilantro I am reminded of the first time I tasted it, in California in the first bowl of gazpacho I ever had. (I remember the food on that trip by the wonderful soups I had.) Along the side of the plate were whole green and yellow wax beans. They were so pretty it seemed a shame to eat them, but I did - they were crisp, just the way I like them.

Iíve always judged a restaurant based on the quality of its vegetables. Every restaurant tries on the entree but Iíve eaten at several so called "upper scale" places and Iíve been served the equivalent of canned vegies and I didnít go back.

The Tuscan Minestrone soup that came before my dinner was good. I thought, "I could eat this for lunch any day." I may just do that, especially because since we ate there, itís started to rain real rain, not the modest drizzle. Real rain makes me hunger for soup. The minestrone recipe is owner Joe Quiliciís formula. Itís his heritage, from many generations of Italian cooks.

I see a theme developing in what I want to cook. I need to make soups again. (I make good ones.) I need to try cooking with capers, I enjoy the salty tartness so much. I already enjoy cooking with wine. Now, what about a chicken soup with a dash of wine and scattering of capers, steamed green beans and mushrooms? That sounds like a good fall dinner with crusty bread.

Don ordered Sausage Fettuccini, a substantial bowl of noodles with medallions of Veroneís Italian sausage, peppers, onions, roasted garlic and marinara sauce, topped with melted mozzarella. We enjoyed that, too. Unfortunately, none of that made it home for breakfast.

After dinner we shared a Tiramisu - a sweet worth remembering. None of that made it home for later, either.

Pomodoro means golden apple, tomato in Italian. In the 15th century, the tomato was feared to be poisonous because itís a member of the bella donna family. Adventurous cooks (Joe says they were Italian) tried them and didnít die so they became a staple for Mediterranean cooking.

Joe says his place is a restaurant with an Italian flair. He hesitates to claim total Italian authenticity because he offers American staples, too: hamburgers, nachos, and fries. Besides chicken, Pomodoro also has salads, a full line of pastas (Joe is especially proud of his Lasagna Fondina), entrees including Eggplant Al Forno (I had that the first time I ate here and I liked it.), pork and beef, and then, desserts (see Tiramisu above). They also serve microbrews, wines and spirits.

Chef Craig OíHanlon trained in the South Seattle Community College Culinary Arts program which specializes in French cuisine and restaurant management, all this after graduating from University of Washington. Continuing the Proctor influence, he worked at the Old House Cafe during its opening days. He works with Joe to refine and change the menu to suit the customersí tastes.

Besides, the customary tables, Pomodoro also has a copper-topped bar where you can sit and watch the chef cook. I think next time, Iíll do that. I like to see what goes into good food.

Visit our dining guide for other wonderful places to dine in Tacoma and the South Sound region.




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