Renee Erickson is tired, but happy. It’s the Wednesday before Mother’s Day, a heat wave is coming into town, and the superstar Seattle chef and restaurateur just got back from a long business trip to France. She’s got a lot on her mind, keeping tabs on the 21 establishments throughout the city owned and managed by her restaurant group Sea Creatures. But here, at the bright and inviting Bistro Shirlee in Laurelhurst, Erickson is thinking about family. After all, this revamp of the former Saint Helens Cafe — which she opened just a few weeks ago — is a tribute to her mom Shirlee Erickson, from the restaurant’s name right down to the coasters with squirrels on them, which are a nod to one of Shirlee’s old nicknames. Not only that, but Erickson is putting Shirlee to work on launching a pop-up at the bistro.
Likely starting next month, Shirlee — a self-taught baker whose desserts have appeared on menus at Erickson’s restaurants before — will make pies for customers on site. “She’s good and she loves doing it,” says Erickson, who adds that, though the pop-up will be mostly pie-focused, her mom’s chocolate brownie (which was a fan favorite at the Boat Street Cafe and The Whale Wins) could make an appearance as well. At this time, there will be no set schedule or take-home retail planned, but customers can keep an eye on the restaurant’s Instagram account for new announcements. Erickson expects the first type of pie offered will be strawberry with soft whipped cream, whenever the fruit is at its best locally. “So that could be the third or fourth week in June, if this sun keeps shining,” she says.
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Shirlee (@chefreneeerickson’s ma & our inspiration for this project) is ready for wine and to announce that @bistroshirlee is now officially open! A big congrats to the opening team Visit us: 3600 NE 45th Street in the Bryant neighborhood. Serving dinner every day starting at 4pm 〰️ lunch on Fridays 11am-3pm 〰️ brunch on Saturday and Sundays 10am-3pm. Walk-ins always welcome, reservations coming soon through bistroshirlee.com. For larger parties please email email@example.com #bistroshirlee #neighborhoodbar #localspot #eatseacreatures #cheeseandwine #coffeeandbeer
It’s not unusual for Shirlee to be involved in her daughter’s ventures. When Erickson bought her first restaurant, Boat Street Cafe, at age 24, her mom was a huge part of getting things up and running, handling the bookkeeping early on (Shirlee worked in accounting before retiring) and, yes, even baking when needed. In fact, Erickson says “you can draw a line from Boat Street to Bistro Shirlee,” not just because her mom will be there, but also in the simple-but-artistic plating style and dedication to Pacific Northwest flavors.
Erickson learned a lot from her parents about the importance of sourcing local ingredients. When she was a child, Erickson picked strawberries in the garden at her family’s Woodinville, WA home for use in her mom’s baked goods, and Shirlee would store jars of homemade jam under the stairs. She also went crabbing and fishing with her dad often, enjoying each catch of the day. All those experiences are reflected in the menu at Bistro Shirlee, from the citrusy Salish Sea halibut tartare with cucumber and pickled rhubarb to the manila clams from Hood Canal in the Olympic Peninsula to the vegetables from a farm in Duvall, WA.
Aside from hosting a mom-centered pie pop up, Bistro Shirlee’s general atmosphere aims for a laid-back, family-friendly feel. The remodel opened up a little more space, including an extended bar, and the back patio is primed for summer. But it’s really the food that’s the most welcoming, whether it’s the asparagus with tarragon sauce mousseline and mint, or the Shirlee burger made with dry aged beef from Erickson’s critically-acclaimed French steakhouse Bateau, served on a house-made brioche bun. The wine list is extensive, and the bar serves up refreshing French-influenced cocktails, such as the Soixante-Quinze (sage-infused cognac with sparkling wine). Should pair nicely with those pies when they arrive.