Just in time for the I'm-bored days of August, two new kid-friendly spots in North Seattle have opened up to help out.
Lego-tastic play space: Wunderkind Seattle
Just north of Seattle's University Village on N.E. 55th St., a two-story cafe and place space named Wunderkind Seattle quietly opened its doors several weeks ago.
The backstory: Longtime neighborhood residents Nick and Shannon Barrett had been noticing a number of commercial properties for sale around 55th. As parents of two young boys, ages 4 and 6, they also saw a clear need for a cafe with a robust enough play area — something beyond a train table — where kids could entertain themelves for an hour or more, while parents relaxed or even got something done.
"We needed something like that for our kids," says Nick. "Our support network is out of state and sometimes we need a break. Other families probably need it, too."
Months of renovation and permitting headaches ensued, but the Barretts finally opened Wunderkind several weeks ago — a soft launch, they say, while they work out kinks.
To the first-time visitor, though, the cafe is immediately welcoming. Two separate Lego-themed play areas take up about one third of Wunderkind's square footage. Downstairs is a large Duplo table with several train tracks and roads and seven or eight bins of Legos. Walk upstairs and you'll find even more spacious room with large windows, bar tables and chairs, and three large tables packed with what my son calls "normal Legos," including more train tracks and roads. (There are also two large flat-screen televisions, should you wish to watch a game while the kids play.)
Wunderkind is airy, with well-workng A.C., a boon on a steamy day. The wifi was a little spotty on the day we visited, but Nick notes they've upgraded it since my visit. While a little sparse on decor ("we will get art on the walls," he promises), I can tell you that my almost 6-year-old son was having too much of a blast exploring the variety of Legos to notice.
As for snacks and drinks, you'll find a solid mix of packaged, healthy snacks (apple slices, veggies, Honest Tea juices) as well as Cafe Victrola coffee and espresso, sandwiches from Molly's, several beers on tap and wine by the glass. Stop by for drink specials from 4–6 p.m.
A fun perk: On Tuesday mornings, starting at 6 a.m., you can pull into the parking lot by the cafe and order a Victrola coffee or espresso drink at the drive-up window, and also order pastries.
Classes and birthdays: Wunderkind is offering Lego and Minecraft classes that are operated by Fun with Legos. Check the Facebook page for upcoming classes. Talk to Nick about birthday parties.
Find it: Wunderkind, 3318 NE 55th St, Seattle. 206-522-5326. Open daily 9 a.m.–9 p.m., with the drive-up window open on Tuesdays starting at 6 a.m. There is no fee for the play areas, but Wunderkind may charge a nominal fee in the future, or even offer monthly memberships. There is a small parking area right at the cafe.
Nutty Squirrel Gelato in Phinneywood
Can the Phinney/Fremont/Ballard/Wallingford area of North Seattle — home to Full Tilt, Molly Moon's, Bluebird, Cupcake Royale and Fainting Goat Gelato — support yet another artisan ice creamery?
Time will tell, of course, but Nutty Squirrel Gelato — which opens a Phinneywood shop on 7212 Greenwood Ave. this week (opening slated for Aug. 8) — has a track record of success. The business is owned by Alev and Tolga Seymen, who opened their first Nutty Squirrel in Maple Valley. Alev, an architect, is the daughter of the couple who owns Fainting Goat Gelato, of Wallingford fame.
"It's kind of a family business for us," she notes.
The Seymens make the gelato at their Maple Valley store from their own base, which is made of milk from Smith Bros. farm. Flavors change daily and use fresh local ingredients. Check the Facebook page for current flavors, but August flavors may include sorbetto with local peach, raspberry and forest berries and a chocolate fondente gelato with a rich Belgian chocolate.
A quick gelato primer: Gelato is made of more milk than cream and is slow-churned to reduce the amount of air. The result, say aficionados, is a richer, denser, and lower-fat product than ice cream. "Because it’s [made of] milk you can serve it as a warmer temperature, and your palate is able to really appreciate the flavor," says Alev.
The Phinney Ridge shop, Seymen says, will have a play area with a felt activity wall, and eventually a train table. Gelato will continue to be made at the Maple Valley store.
Tolga runs the day-to-day operations of the business; while Alev still works as an architect. "Hopefully, people like the design of the shop because it’s mine," she says.
Their 5-year-old son also serves a role: He is self-appointed chief taster. "He is the gourmet," says Alev.
Find it: Nutty Squirrel is located at 7212 Greenwood Ave. N. in Seattle and at 26636 Maple Valley-Black Diamond Road S.E. Suite H-100, Maple Valley. Both stores are open from noon–9 p.m. daily. Also, find their ice cream bike cart at the Maple Valley farmers market on Saturdays.