Like a Boss / Maize + Barley Soft Opening
It’s funny how, when you’re in alignment with your path, you keep finding yourself in orbit with people vibrating those same frequencies. Maybe they’re a few steps further down the same road you’re on, showing you what success awaits. Maybe they went down a path you abandoned, reinforcing that it was not meant for you. Maybe they’re just people who love and lift up the thoughts and ideals you hold dear, so that together, you all sing louder; in more perfect harmony.
I experienced this recently when attending the soft opening for Maize & Barley: a Caribbean-fusion restaurant and alehouse in Edmonds, Washington. It is the passion project of homebrewer Venus Forteza and her partner Anthony Kjeldsen, who is also the restaurant’s chef. I knew the event would be a great time — but it ended up an even more poetically perfect assortment of energies and people than I anticipated. It was a celebration of shared ideals; a manifestation of community; and, for me, a welcoming into this village where new visions are continually being brought to life.
Maize & Barley espouses a philosophy I reverberate with entirely. In their own words, they offer “13 rotating beer taps, wine and house-made sodas,” and their “food concept reflects the diverse spice and culinary influences of French, Spanish and West African cuisine found in the Caribbean. With the same spirit of culinary creativity ... Maize & Barley will focus on seasonality and locally sourced ingredients to ensure the freshest and best quality.”
This concept of combining diverse elements in perfect harmony is reflected across both the day’s event and the space itself. It offers open, communal seating at large wooden tables — handmade, along with everything else in the place, by Chef Anthony himself. Everyone is gathered around talking, drinking, eating and laughing. The food and drinks are a major point of discussion, but are secondary to the experience of sharing them together.
Stepping into the restaurant, you immediately feel a lightening. Outside, it is intermittently sunny and gray and blustery; a typical Northwest April day. But the atmosphere inside is soothing, with its bright, clean white walls; jade foliage; beech-colored wood; and soft, gray 1950s-era salvage schoolhouse chairs. It is reminiscent of a beachfront restaurant in a tropical town where the locals are bronzed, the pace is lazy and time is meaningless.
Venus’ background in brewing is alluded to all around: Beautiful photos of artistically abstracted Seattle-area breweries adorn the walls, taken by local artist Amanda Thornton-Dewitt. The handwritten tap list hung for today’s festivities is a veritable who’s-who of insider favorites. And many of these beers are the outcomes of the area’s Pink Boots Society Collaboration Brew Day events — including the one I participated in at Stoup with several of my newfound friends.
Both the artwork and the beer selection at Maize & Barley will rotate regularly, honoring all in the collective: The walls will yield to a different local artist’s work bi-monthly, kicked off by an appearance from the creators themselves. There will also be a monthly brewer’s night, where a rotating cast of local breweries will come to share about their craft, connect with beer lovers and take over a few of the taps. Finally, local farmers and food producers will host events intended to educate and inspire diners, celebrating the Northwest-sourced items used in the restaurant’s fare.
Today, there are a few select menu items being offered, pouring out of the peekaboo window to the kitchen along with a tantalizing gust of aromas — and this food is incredible. If you dine out with any regularity, I feel it is rare to experience something truly unique, but Maize & Barley accomplishes this with gusto. We all ate ravenously, then stood around eyeballing the plates, wondering what the polite amount of time was to wait before grabbing a second or third.
All of the recipes were developed by Venus and Anthony themselves: often over an after-work beer, cobbling dinner together with whatever they could find in the fridge. Anthony, being avidly anti-waste, enjoys creating meals out of the unconventional items other chefs might overlook, but “he’s a master at sauces and spice blends, and that can go a long way into transforming a meal,” Venus says.
I had the jerk tofu Arepa sandwich (I can’t speak for the meat-infused items on the list, but everyone said they were fantastic). The flavor and textures were perfectly balanced and complementary. The crispy exterior enrobed the soft middle of the tofu (which I can tell you firsthand is quite a feat to accomplish). The just-enough heat and moisture of the habanero-aioli danced with the complex spice mixture, cumin-accented, savory with just a touch of sweetness. All this heat was cooled and aerated by the crunchy slaw and the Arepa, which was a product I had never experienced before this night, yet already declare an addiction to.
Made of corn masa, Arepa has the added benefit of being both vegan and gluten-free, and the texture experience is a delightful one — especially for those of us who fight a daily battle to resist excessive consumption of wheat- and flour-filled foodstuffs. The Arepa is somehow both dense and light. The inside takes on a spongy softness where it contacts the filling, while the outer crust remains chewy. And I can’t wait to go back and try the seafood (and I did eventually submit to eating an oyster fished out of the chicken- and sausage-filled gumbo broth, which was worth any future gastrointestinal distress that may await me).
However, the most powerful part of the evening went beyond what we put in our faces. It was the gathering itself: the band of food- and beer-loving misfits assembled to celebrate the culmination of so many days and nights of Venus’ blood, sweat, tears, labor and love pouring into this place. It was a circle of friends, and I felt so honored to not only have been invited to join, but to truly feel at home amongst them. It was a special moment with those who may have started as colleagues, but are now also companions.
While I have only known Venus a short time, I am truly inspired by her and all she has achieved. You can see both the tenacity and the heartfelt caring in her gaze. Her passion is palpable for bringing people together over the art that uplifts and inspires us, whether it be a painstakingly selected piece of glassware; a photo; a vintage chair; a sandwich; or a pint, and the vigor with which she imparts it is infectious.
It raises the collective higher when any one of us independent women, small-business owners or local craftspeople makes her dreams come true. Indeed, almost everyone in attendance at the opening had started their own food- or beverage-related endeavor. We all knew of the risk, the fear, the suffering, the strains to relationships and sanity and savings that such a venture brings — and also the elation and the ecstatic experience of seeing your dreams realized, animated and embodied by the community that comes to celebrate them and breathe life into the thing you made.
Those of us who wander down this road don’t do it because we want to, or because we think it will make us rich and famous; surely there are easier ways. We do it for the reason all artists embark on such endeavors: because we have to. Because there is no other choice. Because these are the things our souls demand. These are the babies that are coming into the world, one way or another, whether kicking and screaming or cooing tenderly. This rings especially true for me right now, as I prepare for the next chapter in my own story: one that is co-authored, and all about connections. But that’s a story for another day.
The road through Venus’ story has been long, and punctuated with ups and downs — but every one has been worth it, she says, and she knew her path would lead to where we stand today. Maize & Barley is a living embodiment of her personal philosophy: that food is the great equalizer between people and cultures, bringing us closer and bridging divides with each dish served and pint poured. Observing Venus on this day, glowing, full-hearted and free, I could tell she was overflowing with love: her slightly misty smile belying clear joy and gratitude at seeing this vision come to life.
It was truly inspiring to see how one person’s vision can become something even bigger than they ever imagined. That day, I caught a glimpse of what it looks like when it all comes together; when there is one shining moment where you look around, and everyone is celebrating you and what you’ve made. And celebrating you is celebrating every one of us in this motley collective.
Like the bosses we all are.
I wish Venus luck, but she doesn’t need it. She is an artisan of the hop and hearth, and will undoubtedly draw all with a passion for high-quality, locally sourced and unique concoctions. At Maize & Barley, I felt the love. And where there is love, there is celebration, and a community is built.
And now I feel that I, too, am truly a member.
Visit Maize & Barley for their grand opening celebration the evening of Wednesday, April 10, 2019, at 525 Main Street in Edmonds (and, of course, on other days, too).