Happy bistro to you

There’s a little craftsman house on 42nd Avenue in the Madison Park nieghborhood that looks like many of the other craftsman bungalows on the street except that there is a wooden sign out in front of it that says Madison Park Cafe. Nestled among its quiet residential neighbors just around the corner from the chic Madison Street business district, the Madison Park Cafe is a French-style bistro that serves simple, tasty, legendary cuisine. It has been in business for 29 years. Angela and I went there once or twice before Mara was born but there is always a longish wait for the few tables crammed into the two rooms that used to be the front rooms of the house, and ever since we became parents we become hungry precipitously, without warning, so putting our name on a list isn’t usually an option. We suddenly look at each other and say “I’m starving, what’s the quickest way to get food in front of ourselves?”

Worth the wait.

For quick brunch (we’re serious brunchdogs — we live for eggs and French toast at noon), we eat at home or speed up the freeway to Leena’s in Shoreline, a Greek family diner where they know us and seat us quickly and the food is always delicious, arrives quickly, and is fairly priced. But a few days ago we did things a little differently. It was Angela’s birthday.  

Those whose birthday follows directly behind that of the Lamb of God, even the Ancient of Days, get a raw deal. Everybody’s all about celebrating the virgin birth, that lowly but blessed event of yore, and a birthday coming just days later inevitably becomes something of a postlude. At worst, a footnote. You can’t compete with the Baby Jesus, so you’ll never be the main event. It’s a life of getting one present that’s supposed to go for both Christmas and your birthday. For a child it’s the worst possible fate. For a grownup, it’s still a bummer. Birthdays are supposed to be a time when it’s all about you, when you’re IT.

So making a birthday in the lee of Christmas seem special requires a little extra energy. Mara and I were up to the task. We got up before Angela and prepared tea for her and made a birthday card with crayons and pony stickers. Mara wrote the letters of TO MOMMY, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, LOVE MARA by herself, though I had to write several of the letters first so she could copy them into the card. We brought up the helium balloon we had hidden downstairs the day before, and cued up John McCutcheon’s birthday song “Cut the Cake” — track 13 from his Water from Another Time album. After morning festivities and presenting of her gifts (a craft project from Mara and tickets to a production of Meet Me in St. Louis at Issaquah’s Village Theatre) we headed over to Madison Park and treated her to a brunch at the cafe.

Birthday brunch bliss.

Angela and I both ordered the spinach baked eggs (set before us in geothermally hot individual casserole dishes) and Mara had a pancake and eggs over medium, what she calls “yolky eggs”. The coffee was tasty and strong. The ambience is wonderful even on an icky day, but on this day of bright blue sky and low winter sun it was bright and festive. The wait was about a half hour, during which we stood just inside the door and glared at the people dining a few feet away. There were only two waiters — ours was the perfect balance of friendly and efficient. She did forget to bring the raspberry scone to start us out but the food came pretty quickly and so it worked out fine. We had coffee cake with our meals anyway. By the by, we recommend the coffeecake, and all the rest of it, too.

After breakfast we wandered into a few of the retail shops along Madison, then spent some time in the new playground at the center of the community. It had been quite a while since Mara had gotten to exhaust herself running and climbing outside. Then we came home and Mara and I made Angela a cake. Angela told us she felt sufficiently fêted, and it was great to see such a big smile on her face all during her special day.

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11 Responses to “Happy bistro to you”


  1. 1 Kip January 1, 2010 at 10:35

    Happy belated Birthday, Angela! In all my years of frequenting Madison Park (my brother lives on 41st, my parents used to live in the area, and heck, I spent the first 12 years of my life living there!) I have never eaten there. That MUST change! When next you are in Madison Park, stop at the hardware store. It is a wonderful store, even for browsing, and the owner, Lola, is a dear soul. Also, Bings, the restaurant across from the hardware store, has some good food, and used to be the Ken Lindley’s Pharmacy. My mom met John Wayne there…yes,THAT John Wayne. I had picked that particular day NOT to go to Ken Lindley’s, and have been forever regretful.

    Happy New Year to you all!

  2. 2 Ami January 1, 2010 at 19:58

    I think we have a new place we need to try! I love those places that exude comfort and home, and hearing you talk about the Madison Park Cafe makes me miss Ruth’s Diner and the Blue Plate from the town I grew up in! I have high hopes that in 2010 we will be dining together at the cafe with our families!

    Madison Park is kind of our place, considered home. Chili Burgers and beer at the Attic, Crab Cake Eggs Benedict for brunch at Bings. I can tell you what aisle baby food is in at Berts, and Childrens Tynlenol at the Pharmaca. William knows how to get to the playground, the beach, the pool. I think at one point, I even bought a book from Marni!

    We are blessed that our kids have so many places they can call home!

  3. 3 Louis January 2, 2010 at 07:33

    Ah yes, the good ol’ 12/26 forget-me-not. My folks were married the day after Christmas and remembering their anniversary – if it wasn’t a landmark anniversary (25th, 50th..etc) has always been spotty at best for us kids. Often it would come to us around noon on the day after Christmas: “AHI! Mom and Dad’s anniversary!! Quick do something!” Ideas would start flying around about how to celebrate, but we usually just settled on wishing them a happy anniversary, which they greatly appreciated. Being the day after the 25th, they just wanted to relax.

    Happy belated birthday to Angela, and a Happy New Year to you and your family, Matt,and fellow Just Wonderites…

  4. 4 Kip January 2, 2010 at 16:25

    I like it! Just Wonerites! I see t-shirts…maybe hats!

  5. 5 jstwndrng January 2, 2010 at 21:39

    @Kip,
    You botched the John Wayne thing, eh? We still love you. I don’t know the hardware and restaurant that you mention; we’ll look for them next time. I do recall a serviceable burger that you and I had at the Onion bar and grill, which is still there.

    @Ami,
    Your Ruth’s Diner and Blue Plate restaurant sound fun. We love diners, in fact if we get together on this side in 2010 I suggest we clan up at Leena’s, which is a more kid-friendly environment with a shorter park-to-eat time, even though a bit out of the hood.

    @Louis,
    I wish your parents many more years of whatever has worked so well to keep them together this long…the morning walks, the conversations over the dinner dishes, the waltzes in the living room…

    Yes, Happy New Year to all of you…

  6. 6 Marni January 11, 2010 at 20:00

    Okay, yummy. I love MPC! Haven’t been there in a while, but this time of year they do one great cassoulet (dinner, not brunch). Have to second Kippy- Madison Park Hardware is one GREAT hardware store, because it has great stuff. My best childhood memories are of going to the hardware store with my dad (Ernst Malmo?) right off of Main on Sundays; he would browse for whatever the heck he was browsing for, and I would sift my hands through bins of whatchamacallits and whoseewhatsits- good stuff.

    • 7 jstwndrng January 11, 2010 at 21:41

      I told Angela about this c word you tell of, and she raised her eyebrows knowingly, like “Hmmm, that sounds good!” because of course she knows what a cassoulet is, whereas I did not. We’ll have to check that out.

      You just put me in mind of going to the hardward store with MY dad. This is a fundamental American experience, emphasis on fun. Home Depot and Lowes don’t have them, but in neighborhood hardware stores you can still find those rotating metal screw and nail bulk thingies with a scale and a scoop on a chain, where you shovel up however 16-penny galvanized nails you need and sklathe them into a bag and then weigh it. Man, when I see one of those I just start crying.

  7. 8 Louis January 12, 2010 at 02:40

    I’m with you guys on the hardware store experience with dad. Did either of your dads jingle the change in his pocket while whistling jauntily down one of the aisles?..

    • 9 Marni January 12, 2010 at 21:50

      Hmmm. My dad is not much of a pocket jingler, nor does he whistle much; he’s good with softly spoken sarcasm however. And he loves him the hardware store!

  8. 11 Louis January 13, 2010 at 02:31

    I had to ask. My father used to always walk through the hardware store – Ernst/Malmo sounds right – whistling a non-descript tune while jingling the change in his pocket. I had never thought much about it until I was older. I was in a hardware store with a friend of mine, and he started jingling the change in his pocket and whistling! Then he said to me with a smile, “This is what my dad always used to do in hardware stores.” Of course, I replied that my dad did the exact same thing, so we both started jingling change and whistling. We figured it was some kind of hardware store rite of passage.


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