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April 15, 2009 at 5:11 PM

Ballard’s Madame K gets Lazy in Carnation

At Kirsten Burt’s adults-only pizza bistro Madame K’s, girls will be girls and the madame insists you have a Chocolate Chip Orgasm after finishing off your Barbie’s Badass BBQ Chick Pie. That Orgasm is “the climax to a great night of food and passion,” according to Madame, and I’m not here to argue. But after word got out that Madame K’s was closing after a decade in business (bar the door, boys!), several Eaters wrote to ask if that was so. And if it’s true, why? Here’s your first clue:

photo by Stu Lisk

It’s been nearly a year since Kirsten Burt opened her second (and decidedly more family-friendly) pizza joint, Lazy K’s, in Carnation. There, in a honky-tonk setting more befitting the neighborhood, she’s serving pizza, pasta and her famous Orgasm — modestly renamed “Cow Pie.” Intent on finding a little more life balance, the city slicker who has a home in Ballard’s Sunset Hill neighborhood, now owns a 320-square-foot log cabin on the Tolt River, and today she plays city madame/country madame while maintaining two restaurants.

Describing how a girl with her reputation came to straddle two worlds, so to speak, Burt explains, “Madame K’s got so busy, I kind of lost touch.” Intent on getting back in touch by moving to a small town, she hit the road, looking at property in Oregon, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho with a glint in her entrepreneurial eye. And then, in 2007, she went to Carnation. Bingo!

She bought her teensy cabin when the river was “just a little trickle,” she recalls. “And then I found this magical little building”: the former Cedar Log Tavern. Now home to about a dozen tables and a 10-seat bar, it had no foundation — only dirt hidden under its wooden floors. “I thought, `What a perfect thing — thirty miles from Seattle!” And when folks in Carnation began talking about the weather, as country folks are wont to do, Burt brushed them off like so many flies on a horse’s back. “When everyone said `It floods’ I said, `Whaddaya mean it floods?’ I didn’t get the whole flooding thing.” Her learning curve was steep.

With a naivete that belies her adopted occupation, Burt recalls thinking running two restaurants with the help of her steadfast Seattle staff while living the bucolic life of a country madame would be a laid-back endeavor. She envisioned watching the Tolt trickle past her cabin while she sits quietly drinking coffee come morning; playing cribbage with her customers at Lazy K’s after the dinner rush was through and feedin’ the “Little Wranglers” who came in for a bite with ma and pa — the very kidlets she turns away at the door in Ballard.

With Ballard getting too big for its britches, well, Carnation would be just the salve for her soul. “I own Madame K’s, but my staff takes care of everything,” Burt says of her hands-off approach to her brothel-themed pizza parlor. “I do the `behind the scenes’, pay the bills, etc., and that gave me the opportunity to build up Lazy K’s.” But building a new business has taken far more time and energy than she bargained for.

Instead of playing madame, she’s back in the trenches: “I bartend. I work. Ironically, I love that part.” But running a family restaurant rather than an adult’s pizza playground was tough-going, especially at the start, Burt admits. “My food isn’t quick to prepare and there’s a timeline for families — about 45 minutes. It was a huge transition for me to learn how to do it, and it’s harder to make a buck.”

Unlike in Ballard, where Madame K’s is a money-maker, she “hasn’t taken a penny” out of her Carnation station. In Ballard, “you have a salad, a pizza, a bottle of wine, an Orgasm and you’re good to go,” she says. In Carnation, “It’s `We’re going to feed the kids and go home,’ and it was a challenge to figure out how to make that work.” This summer she’s hoping to make it work better by building a beer garden and opening for weekend lunches at Lazy K’s. That way, Seattle fans can hop in their cars and come out for a pizza, pasta, a sandwich and a beer — something they’ll have to do when she closes Madame K’s in 16 months. That, she said, is when her lease expires.

Burt says she tried — and failed — to sell Madame K’s, explaining that a “turbulent relationship” with her landlord caused a “golden deal” with buyers to fall through, hence the rumors that Madame K’s will soon be shuttered. With the potential sale said to be on again and off again and now “off” for good, Burt says she’s got a signed lease that keeps her in the Ballard for the next year-plus. And she’s proud to note that her stalwart Seattle staff — some of whom have been with her for the better part of a decade — “wanted to stay with me, no questions asked, till the end.”

Meanwhile, out in Carnation, come rain or come shine, she’s living la vida local: getting to know the farmers and families who come to Lazy K’s for pizza and pasta — as well as cocktails and Cow Pies. Living and working here, she says, “has opened me up” — to a lifestyle that’s a far cry from what she’s known. After surveying her friends’ farms in the aftermath of this winter’s flooding, Burt says, “It kind of brought me back down to earth, back to the basics.” Which, from the sound of things, was what she was seeking in the first place.

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