Some restaurateurs choose a restaurant’s location after months of poring over foot-traffic and visibility statistics or in partnership with shiny new development, but the owners of The Guest House, Kevin and Amanda Kearney, wanted to open a neighborhood restaurant that was “right around the corner” from where they live. Last January, the many residents of Finn Hill — part Kenmore, part Kirkland — began benefitting from the Kearneys’ vision. The Guest House is a comfortable family-friendly light-bright space reflecting Amanda’s recollections of her childhood guest home in Maryland, where she collected many happy memories.
Amanda and Kevin met over a chef’s counter on the East Coast with Kevin working dinner shift while Amanda returned night after night as a customer. Because of that, an open kitchen design was a must for the couple’s joint venture in the restaurant world. The Guest House also houses a wood-fired pizza oven, espresso counter, and full bar. Miriam Larson of Story Architects and Cary Westerback of Cary Westerbeck Architecture were instrumental in the design choices — from the general layout, to choosing light fixtures, Larson said.
Chef as well as owner, Kevin created a menu focusing on local, seasonal ingredients whenever possible, while making a concerted effort to give customers what they are looking for, be it a weeknight when they are just too busy to cook or a date night at the bar.
“When we first opened, I had the preconceived notion that 80 percent of our business would be cheeseburgers and cheese pizzas, but so far, our best-sellers have been the braised short ribs, chicken liver mousse toasts, and the Penn Cove mussels,” said Kevin, joking that he has sold so many mussels, he can’t believe there are any left in Penn Cove.
The contemporary American, farm-to-table menu has a few Italian-influenced twists-like leek gnocchi with shaved almonds, Parmigiano, and fennel-mint pesto; housemade ricotta served on toast with pears, pink peppercorns, thyme, and rosemary; and orecchiette pasta tossed with pork sugo (tomato sauce) and hazelnut gremolata. But when Kevin goes out, he almost always gets a cheeseburger (what he considers a restaurant’s baseline item, reasoning that if you can’t make a good burger, the rest of the menu isn’t worth trying) and a beer, so his menu includes both. There also is a house-made veggie burger option and even a roasted cauliflower steak for vegetarian customers — the latter is served with red lentils, pine nuts, golden raisins, and a caper vinaigrette.
Nearly everything is made in-house, including the bread. Kevin met his pastry chef, Samantha Senson, while they both worked for Lisa Dupar Catering (Kevin oversaw the weekend brunch service for three years). Senson developed a dough starter, and her bread has quickly risen in popularity with customers begging the restaurant to sell it by the loaf to take home.
“Right now, we are just trying to make enough to keep up with restaurant demands,” said Kevin. The bread is used for toast appetizers on the dinner menu and for breakfast sandwiches. It really is something special — soft and chewy on the inside with a crispy crust that’s not impossible to chew.
In the mornings, they offer a full range of espresso beverages and freshly baked pastries available to-go or to be enjoyed in-house on a leisurely morning. For bigger morning appetites, a full menu gives diners several breakfast sandwich options featuring, soft scrambled eggs on fresh, toasted bread with a choice of bacon, sausage, or vegetables tucked in. If a restaurant offers house-made granola, I almost always try it, hoping it will be crunchy and full of goodies like dried fruits and nuts. Kevin’s granola delivers, served over thick yogurt and packed with chewy dried cranberries, strips of crystallized ginger, coconut flakes, and nutty pepitas. They’re rolled in sugar with a crisp exterior; steam escapes from the soft cakey interior of the donuts as I tear into them, alternately dipping bits of the fritters into raspberry jam and spiced apple butter.
The Kearneys say the community’s reception has been overwhelmingly positive. Many customers felt like they gave up the opportunity to walk to dinner when they moved out of Seattle to the suburbs. The Guest House meets that criteria for many of Finn Hill’s numerous residents, who range from families to retirees to college students at Bastyr University just up the street.
“They [the community] have been more enthusiastic than we could have imagined. They love that it’s a local business,” said Amanda. And they love that it is this business — the building has been around for about 40 years, housing everything from its original incarnation as a Hoagie’s Corner in the 1980s to a martial arts studio most recently. The building sat unoccupied for four years before Amanda finally asked herself, “Why aren’t we looking at this space?” while driving by it for the thousandth time.
With the help of a talented retired general contractor, local artisans, and Amanda’s decorative vision, they managed to bring oodles of charm to a derelict old building that was sorely lacking in it, according to Kevin. New wood beams grace the façade, sliding doors hint at summer patio potential, an army of textured light fixtures parades around the ceiling, and everywhere looks warm and inviting.
“We want families to feel welcome…to give parents a place to enjoy a really nice glass of wine and a great dinner where the kids are happy, too,” said Amanda who keeps a basket of drawing paper, coloring books, and reading material handy for children. “We are our own demographic, and we’ve always wondered how great it would be if there was a really good restaurant where we could take our daughter and grab a great burger or Caesar salad and glass of wine.”
So, they made their own place, right around the corner, and are eager to invite the community to their version of The Guest House.
6810 NE 153rd Place, Kenmore, Washington