A blue door and simple sign point the way to the business, tucked into the alley behind the original Rocket Bakery on North Argonne Road in Millwood. The space was once home to the commercial bakery for all of the Rocket Bakery goodies, but now longtime friends Julia and Jeff Postlewait and Karen and Wayne Johnson have created a new dining experience there.
To dine at the Blue Table Kitchen, guests look at the menu online and make advance reservations. The night of their dinner, guests just step through that blue door and the spell begins.
“It is really bringing together people in our community who might not have had a reason to sit down at one table,” Karen Johnson said. “People might come in with a little trepidation, but they leave with a new friend.”
Julia and Jeff Postlewait are the owners of six Rocket Bakery locations, Rocket Market and the Millwood wine shop Bottles. When they opened the first coffee shop and bakery in Millwood 20 years ago, Karen and Wayne Johnson were among their first customers and fans.
“We just formed a friendship beyond belief. They are our family,” Johnson said. They’re close enough that the Postlewaits’ daughters consider them to be their Auntie Karen and Uncle Wayne.
Over the years, the two families bonded over long meals, sharing recipes and cooking for each other. About two and a half years ago, they started dreaming of ways to bring the pleasure of those gatherings to others. The idea was to draw people together around a big table for all kinds of meals, from comforting one-pot favorites to lingering five-course dining with wines to match.
“We want people to linger. It’s just one seating. People come in and they get to know each other,” Julia Postlewait said. “I think it pushes some people a little bit out of their comfort zone … but we don’t split a party up if they come together.
“That sense of community that develops is what is so lovely. I think people are missing that at times. That’s what is great about the bakery and the coffeehouse – you have to come in and get your coffee. At Blue Table, you come in, sit down and eat with someone you don’t know and have a lingering dinner,” she said.
Karen Johnson and Julia Postlewait emerge from the kitchen to greet everyone as they arrive. Then, people begin to find their name cards and places around two long tables as the cooks disappear.
Making meals for Blue Table guests is an effort of combined kitchen talents. Karen Johnson worked for many years as a cook in the Alaskan bush and her Japanese ancestry also influences her cooking. Her husband, Wayne Johnson, still works in Alaska as a geological engineer, but comes home every three weeks and helps at Blue Table Kitchen, too. Julia and Jeff Postlewait bring their years of experience baking for Rocket and filling the cases with hearty salads, sandwiches and more. Everything is made from scratch. They describe their collective style as influenced by “American regional, Mediterranean and Pacific” foods.
They take turns serving guests during the meals and when it is over, they all scrub pots and sweep floors after the guests are gone.
Karen Johnson and Julia Postlewait said they hope to draw guests of all ages and palates to Blue Table by offering an array of menus and cooking classes, too. The space is also available for business gatherings, rehearsal dinners and informal dinner parties for groups of 10 to 30 people.
They’ve hosted five-courses of Spanish tapas paired with the wines of Argentina, Spain, Chile and New Zealand. The menu that evening featured deviled eggs with a Spanish twist, roasted beets with walnuts and blue cheese, red and gold roasted peppers stuffed with tuna caper filling, beef empanadas with smoked paprika sauce, sherry-braised short ribs with roasted root vegetables and finished with French press coffee and dark chocolate mousse with caramelized bananas and toasted hazelnuts.
Karen Johnson and the Postlewaits delivered the first course while guests introduced themselves and began talking. The seamless service was interrupted only by the announcements of the courses and the wines. As the meal continued, conversations became more animated until a warm buzz of contentment filled the room. Guests compared notes on the food, wines and mutual acquaintances, finding common topics of conversation.
The surprising spice of the smoked paprika sauce with the beef empanadas was a delicious match with the malbec served that evening. It was followed closely by the short ribs matched with a merlot-malbec blend as my favorite course. However, other diners that night was decidedly more excited with the deviled eggs and roasted beets with walnuts. The meal was $50 per person.
Blue Table also has less expensive evenings that are built around homey, one-pot fare such as meatloaf, chicken pot pie and gumbo. Those dinners start with a salad and end with a dessert and the price is $26 to $30 per person. They’ve held beer dinners with Hale’s Ales and a homecoming meal to help West Valley High School students, parents and staff celebrate.
There’s more in the works. They also hope to draw high school students on their prom nights and wine lovers with tastings from the region and beyond.
On Wednesday evenings, Blue Table Kitchen has cooking classes from 6 to 8 p.m. “It’s more of a demonstration where you get to eat all of the food at the end,” Julia Postlewait said. The classes are about $25 per person.
So far, classes have covered breakfast goodies and holiday hors d’oeuvres, among other things. They’re planning more of the “holiday nibbles” classes before the holiday season and have been brainstorming with the Postlewait daughters for ideas on classes to help students get ready to go off to college with the skills to make a few different dishes.
Karen Johnson and Julia Postlewait said the early response has been heartwarming since opening this summer. Some repeat guests are already asking about getting a permanent name card for Blue Table Kitchen.
“I hope people will look forward to it like an adventure each time,” Postlewait said. “That they’ll think, “OK. Who am I going to meet tonight?’ ”