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October 5, 2012 at 5:00 AM

The Wandering Goose opens on Capitol Hill


I’d like to see more great-sounding restaurants open in neighborhoods besides Capitol Hill and Ballard, but it’s hard to begrudge Heather Earnhardt the fine Capitol Hill spot (403 15th Ave. E.) she found for her new solo restaurant, The Wandering Goose.

Earnhardt, the talented baker who co-founded Volunteer Park Cafe with Ericka Burke, landed the Goose spot (separated by a leaded glass window from Ethan Stowell’s Rione XIII) when she was talking with potential investors. Mike McConnell (of Caffe Vita, Via Tribunali, and other hot spots), asked her ‘Why don’t you just take my space on 15th?’ she said. He told her he didn’t even need to see a business plan.

“This is my neighborhood. It’s all the support of the people that I’ve known for five years at the cafe,” who also contributed generously to her partially crowd-funded venture.

“It’s exciting when people believe in you as much as you believe in an idea.”

Earnhardt was born in North Carolina, and tells that story pretty beautifully in her “Red Dirt Girl” story over here. She wanted her 30-seat Southern-influenced cafe “to be simple…just food that I grew up on,” she said.

For starters, the menu offers an entire section of biscuit sandwiches, from ham and eggs to fried oysters.

“In the South, you can go anywhere and get a biscuit. You can go in a convenience store. It’s just simple grab-and-go food that will fill you up.”

The rest of the opening menu includes bubble ‘n squeak (made with brisket), barley porridge, a hangtown fry with a side of pork belly, fried chicken with collards, pimento mac ‘n cheese, Crock Pot grits, and — yes, we are still on Cap Hill — a kale salad with shaved veggies and pickled red onions. Promised baked goods include cookies and layer cakes and brioche toast with jam.

Note that the restaurant is closed on Wednesdays, and that Friday nights will feature a $30 family-style dinner.

Exiting Volunteer Park Cafe last year was a tough decision that took her more than a year to make, she said. “I love (Burke) and I love her food, but we’re very different people, and they’re doing great over there…” she said.

“It took me a long time to realize you could create something and then leave it.”

She’ll be doing the baked goods at Wandering Goose, and the chef is Michael Law, who she’s known for some 20 years, since they were youngsters cooking in North Carolina. He’s worked since in San Francisco and New Orleans, and asked her “Do you want me to come out there?” when he heard she was going out on her own. “Are you kidding me? You were my first pick,” she replied. (Spencer Heller, who worked at VPC for years, is on the opening team too.)

“I think when things like that are supposed to happen, the kind of unfold. It’s all coming together,” she said, though figuring out a new restaurant “hasn’t been without headaches, for sure.”

Her plans also include teaching baking and cooking classes (watch this space), including kids classes — and it should be a community-friendly and kid-friendly place in general.

Her older children were in kindergarten and first grade when Volunteer Park Cafe opened. Earnhardt recalled putting them in their car seats at 4 a.m., driving to the cafe to bake, getting them ready for school and getting them there, then going back to the cafe to bake some more. Now, at 11 and 13, “they can cook and feed themselves,” but they’ll still be spending a lot of time at Wandering Goose, along with her 4-year-old daughter.

“We’ll all be hanging out here together,” she said.

Judging from the advance previews, I’m sure they’ll have company.

Photo courtesy of the Book Larder’s Facebook page, where the Goose was dubbed “absolutely charming and delicious.”



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