Food Matters: Michael McGloin of Judkins Street Cafe takes over St. Clouds

Food Matters: Michael McGloin of Judkins Street Cafe takes over St. Clouds

Food Matters: Michael McGloin of Judkins Street Cafe takes over St. Clouds

John Irving's novel “The Cider House Rules” was set in an orphanage called St. Cloud’s, in rural Maine. At the orphanage, Dr. Wilbur Larch served as both obstetrician and abortionist. An orphan, Homer Wells, was trained as his successor.

In the movie version, Michael Caine played the doctor, Tobey Maguire the youngster. But long before the movie came out, the book was adapted for the stage and produced at the Seattle Repertory Theatre. An English teacher from the Charles Wright Academy in Tacoma, John Platt, ended up cooking for the Rep’s cast and crew as they workshopped the production. Platt was no kitchen amateur; he had trained at Coastal Kitchen and 5-Spot and had been a general manager.

When the production moved on to Los Angeles and then Broadway, Platt teamed up with a colleague, Paul “Pablo” Butler, the Spanish teacher at Charles Wright, and plunged into the restaurant business.

Both were social activists and wanted to incorporate a spirit of community in their project, which took over the Madrona space vacated by Cool Hand Luke’s at 1131 34th Ave. They decided to emulate Dr. Larch’s sense of duty and generosity, so they named the restaurant St. Clouds, and they made a commitment to monthly “homeless cooking” events. That was 17 years ago.

Into this mix comes now Michael McGloin, originally from Middlebury, Vermont. By training, McGloin is a Russian historian and former international journalist for Turner Broadcasting who first visited Seattle to cover the International Goodwill Games. He ended up working for Microsoft in program management and business development, then (like so many) he jumped off the corporate ship headfirst and into frontline community relations. He took over the Judkins Street Cafe in the heart of Seattle's Central District. 

“Judkins is a wonderful community,” McGloin said. He said he would have happily stayed. But the landlord kicked out all tenants to redevelop the property. 

Fortunately, McGloin had been working part-time with Platt to help him develop the St. Clouds catering business. One day, Platt announced he was selling the restaurant to move to the mountains of Utah. 

“I think you should buy it,” Platt said to McGloin. So he did. McGloin repainted, put down new carpet, and built a back patio over the course of four days before reopening in early June.

The menu hasn’t changed much, but Devin Lowden (who took over from St. Clouds' longtime chef Mike King) has taken steps to make the menu “more accessible.” 

“The original St. Clouds was an orphanage,” McGloin said. “Orphans don't eat $35 steaks.” 

They do eat meatloaf, though, so there's a new meat loaf (priced at $19), a delicious, dense and flavorful staple of family dinners everywhere, and all-too-rare on local restaurant menus. 

Lowden, originally from Colorado with a professional stint in Hawaii, has a fondness for charcuterie, and will smoke his own bacon and hams. More healthy choices are on the way, including monthly vegetarian specials. 

There are several things that will not change in the transition of ownership. Monday music nights will still belong to the Rolling Blackouts, who have performed weekly without interruption for 17 years. Community volunteers will continue to cook for the homeless on the third Wednesday of every month. 

Some things will be noticeably different under the new management. Gage Tschyekovsky is taking his leave as the restaurant’s bar manager; he will be missed. 

As I've pointed out in the past, the food is homey, unfussy and comforting. To start, you can order a colorful watermelon and cucumber salad ($11) with organic greens and cumin seeds, enhanced by a honey-citrus vinaigrette, or a salad of red and yellow beets ($12) paired with goat cheese, pickled onions and oranges. The parmigiano pork tenderloin ($23) remains on the menu, as does the fried catfish ($19) but the most popular item remains baby back ribs ($16 for a half rack), served with slow-cooked collard greens and guava-sweetened barbecue sauce. 

If you're fortunate enough to live in Madrona and visit regularly, you may notice the subtle changes. Otherwise, nothing will jar you. The transition has been smooth and seamless. 

Ronald Holden, a restaurant writer for Pacific Publishing, lived in Madrona for 25 years. His latest book, Forking Seattle,”is available on