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New take on comfort food: Adam Hegsted opens Mediterranean restaurant Baba in former Wandering Table in Kendall Yards

UPDATED: Thu., Feb. 25, 2021

By Kris Kilduff For The Spokesman-Review

Author and self-professed foodie Chuck Palahniuk wrote, “Cooking isn’t hard. Being a cook is hard.” When I was 17 and identifying way too heavily with “Fight Club’s” Tyler Durden (I am Jack’s complete lack of surprise), the context of this quote completely missed me.

After moving out, watching way too many hours of Anthony Bourdain and becoming obsessed with all things culinary and eventually starting to cook for friends and family, I came to fully understand it.

Food is love, an art dedicated to fulfilling the needs of others. And with any form of art comes vulnerability. With James Beard Award-nominated chef and restaurateur Adam Hegsted, it’s easy to disassociate his passion from his empire.

With more than 10 restaurants spanning Washington and North Idaho, a food truck, a catering company, a standalone bakery, event spaces, an annual food and wine show, a TV show on KAYU Fox 28 and his share of restaurant consulting gigs, one wonders how much time he can possibly afford to give a new restaurant the love and attention it needs to succeed.

The answer is a lot.

Baba, Hegsted’s newest restaurant, opened Tuesday in Kendall Yards in the same space where he opened his flagship restaurant Wandering Table, the eatery that led to his James Beard accolade.

The concept is Mediterranean-inspired comfort food, which Hegsted, during a preview Saturday morning, said he likes to make at home often.

“Northern Africa, Greece, Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, Turkey … we are taking familiar foods we all grew up with and combining that with flavors, ingredients and techniques from the Mediterranean to create something totally unique,” Hegsted said with a half-cocked smile.

I’ve seen that smile before, and “totally unique” usually is chef code for “hold onto your hat.” My inclination was immediately proven prodigal the second I received a sneak peek of the menu, then after dining at Baba on Saturday evening.

There are Hegsted’s takes on comfort food classics like feta garlic bread; Turkish mac and cheese in a labneh cheese sauce served with fermented chiles; and kafta meatballs made from a grind of beef and lamb, baked in a hearth oven and served with tzatziki, pomegranate molasses and feta.

For more out-there fare, there are deep fried olives; shakshuka, a red pepper stew with baked eggs; and a burnt eggplant spread, which is pureed and topped with labneh, preserved lemon, honey and chiles.

You don’t have to be Nostradamus to see that Baba will add to the culinary diversity of offerings here in the Inland Northwest.

Hegsted said he also wanted another restaurant in which he can offer brunch (his popular brunch spot the Yards Bruncheon is across the corridor in Kendall Yards).

Whereas Wandering Table mostly consisted of dinner service, Baba will be rewarding rise and shiners with braised lamb hash, a garlic-rich baba poutine and a fun take on deviled eggs consisting of tahini egg yolk with pomegranate molasses, Dukkah seeds and a pita chile-crunch.

Of course, any civil brunch-goer knows that weekend breakfast is just an excuse to day drink. Hegsted and his Baba team, who include sous chef Isaac Provo and chef de cuisine Trevor Stratton, have you covered.

Sip on spinoffs of classics like a Za’atar Old Fashioned or Turmeric-Ginger Mule. I fell in love with the Blackberry Parfait with blanco tequila, blackberry liqueur, lemon juice and yogurt. If you’re in a group, grab a table sangria that can serve up to four. There is also rotating draft beer, local cider and true Turkish coffee for anyone who might still be half asleep.

Baba’s name alone conveys how much opening a new restaurant means to Hegsted.

“I have been to the Mediterranean, and the food is probably the thing I eat at home the most,” he said. “Baba is a term of endearment in many different cultures and languages. From father to brother to grandmother, we want our space to feel like a luxurious home, and we would like to be able to continue to be a part of people’s lives and celebrations.”

Hegsted hinted that Wandering Table might not be done. He said once things return to normal, Wandering Table will return as a pop-up series and might even once again be brick and mortar in a new location.

Either way, its concept – bringing together people as a community through food – lives on in all of Hegsted’s restaurants. And although being a chef like Hegsted, who wears his heart – and a little bit of hummus now – on his sleeve, is hard work, the cooking part remains the passion and celebration.

Kris Kilduff can be reached at kris.kilduff56@gmail.com.

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