Tim Baker and his son, Sam West, have been scheming about opening an Italian restaurant for years. In late November, they will. It's called San Fermo, and you've walked by the building a zillion times. It's the green Ballard Avenue house that's always looked a bit out of place on a street of thick-walled multi-story, multi-use buildings.
The house is actually two houses, and they're a long way from home, since they were plopped down at 5341 Ballard Ave a while back after being saved from the International District in an auction. Historic Seattle Preservation and Development Authority identified the pair of now-connected houses as the "oldest intact residential properties remaining in Seattle." Soon, you'll be able to eat authentic Italian food while sitting in these houses and contemplating all the people who may have also sat in the houses, doing the same.
"It has a Macefield House aspect to it," Baker tells Eater. "But in reverse, sort of. A house that was plopped right in the middle of a neighborhood's architecture and then fiercely protected." Along with Baker, there are three other partners in the house: Wade Weigel, Jeff Ofelt (both behind Percy's), and Scott Shapiro (in real estate and investment, behind Melrose Market, among others). When Weigel and others purchased the house, they weren't sure what to do with it. A restaurant seemed the perfect call.
"It has a Macefield House aspect to it," Baker tells Eater. "But in reverse, sort of. A house that was plopped right in the middle of a neighborhood's architecture and then fiercely protected."
As for the restaurant-in-a-house thing, Baker is the first to lay out his wariness. Rather than leaving segmented rooms and creating a strange space full of isolated, converted dining rooms, though, the team is giving the whole thing a bit of a makeover, eventually making a 50-seat restaurant with a 4-barstool bar.
The patio is one part that is already pretty set and will be largely left alone. "It's a really great space with a garden and an ivy-covered brick wall. You can't create that out of nothing." It will have 46 seats.
A long-time Seattle restaurant industry vet, Baker started his career working in Italian restaurants, and didn't stop until he became Wild Ginger's Director of Operations years back. Son Sam West grew up with his father's love of Italian food, enjoying Sunday Italian suppers and the leftovers the next day. He has been cooking with fellow Italian food-lover Derek May at Percy's for the last year in preparation for this next venture. May will oversee both Percy's and San Fermo after it opens, moving into an Executive Chef role. West will be the chef at San Fermo and another chef will take over at Percy's for the day-to-day duties.
When it opens, San Fermo will serve a small menu, maybe four pastas a night including a stuffed pasta, a gnocchi, risotto, a standing vegetarian lasagna and regularly appearing house bolognese. Braised dishes like Osso Buco and braciole will make an appearance on occasion, the former likely just on the weekends. Also coming is a "really good chicken parmesan." That's at night, when dinner will be served from 5 p.m. to close daily.
As for day time, a lunch counter service is planned for 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on weekdays. "When you walk in, half of the front room is going to be this big, open kitchen. There will be a butcher block counter, where the chefs are making pasta, and you'll just order food and sit down, lunch counter style," Baker explains.
For lunch, expect a minestrone soup, and leftovers from the night before made into sandwiches like Baker and West grew up eating. "It was always the leftovers my family was excited about. There's something about putting last night's dinner between two slices of country bread." Other specials and previews of the night's dinner will appear on the menu, but if you've been craving a chicken parm sandwich, they promise you that, too.
On Sundays, the restaurant will open at noon to take advantage of the abundant Ballard Sunday Market crowds. Rather than brunch, they'll serve a family meal all day, working with market vendors to highlight the best of the season. The 6 to 7 item menu will be available a la carte or in courses.
The wine list will be kept trim, with 25 bottles plus "kegged Washington juice" in blends made just for them. They'll offer two wines on tap, in a pichet, half liter, and liter.
The restaurant's name, San Fermo, has plenty of history, too. Chef West has taken several trips to Italy, for months at a time, and at the beginning of each trip, he always goes to a monastery called San Fermo. Located outside of Venice, the monastery is surrounded by olive trees and a small estate winery. "Sam loves it. The monks don't talk, and it's very restorative. He just gets to go into the kitchen and cook alongside them," Baker says. "We played with a lot of names, but San Fermo references a strong memory of a perfect place."
Yesterday, a liquor permit appeared on the door. Today, Baker is heading down to write a check for the pasta extruder. "This is the moment where it's like ‘Okay, now it's really happening.'"