This blog is not known for heart-laid-bare displays of emotion, and I doubt this post will change that, despite the fact that I want to write about how sad I am that my friend Scott died last week.
I’ve known Scott Simpson since 2001 or so, but the last time I wrote about him was when he opened his restaurant Fork in 2006 and I was sort of still writing about Seattle restaurants professionally. What I said then, comparing him to Dumbledore:
Scott Simpson is equal parts serious chef and funny chef. He’s serious in the sense that he can really cook: every mouthful at Fork was delicious and well thought out. But he also has an irrepressible sense of humor: there are lobster corn dogs on the menu.
“Fork seems to be doing well so far,” I added.
Like many irrepressibly creative people, however, Scott was also equal parts jolly guy and sad guy: he was bipolar. Fork was open for a couple of months before he hit a depressive episode, abruptly shuttered the place, and disappeared. There were rumors of his death. It was pretty theatrical.
Then I was walking around Capitol Hill one day and there he was, 200 pounds lighter and talking about opening a new place. Several new places, I think. The guy got wild ideas more often than most people go to the bathroom. Ah, I just remembered: he said he was going to open a molecular gastronomy breakfast joint called Unflappable Jack’s.
He didn’t. Instead, he opened a little burger shack in Ballard called Lunchbox Laboratory. There is no dearth of burger places in Seattle, but this one was always jammed. He made the best milkshakes in town (especially the Boston Cream), and the burgers were like a web page from 1995: constantly under construction. You couldn’t fall in love with any particular burger at Lunchbox, because next time your burger would be 404 and Scott would be on to the next experiment.
Naturally, you could choose from approximately fifty kajillion homemade toppings. He invented the Dork burger, a mixture of duck and pork, and kept playing around with the beef mixture for the regular burger. It really was a laboratory. Tater tots were also served. I think my favorite burger creation of his was the Bobcat Baby, with green chiles, lots of onions, and BBQ sauce.
I just googled the Bobcat Baby, because I couldn’t remember what was on it, and found this photo of the Shroomville USA burger by loyal customer and Flickr guy suomynona. Sample comment: “Also, call me a bad parent… but… I’d trade my first born for one of Scott’s burgers…” Hear that, Iris?
Scott was not the kind of tortured artist who is hard to be around. He was warm, charismatic, and drew people to wherever he was cooking. If he had opened a diner where every dish was served in flames, or a milkshake speakeasy, or a lobster corn dog cart, people would have flocked to it.
Last week, after Scott’s death, the Amster-Burtons went to the new location of Lunchbox Laboratory, which opened a few months ago in South Lake Union (and is still open for business). I didn’t enjoy eating there, even though the milkshakes are still excellent. Seeing Scott in his element was a big part of going to Lunchbox Lab, and it’s hard to imagine looking forward to going back if he’s not going to be there. Maybe (and this, I assure you, is the kind of joke Scott would want people to tell) they should stuff him and use him as a Big Boy-style mascot.
Update 4/8/11: Just in case it wasn’t clear here, I think the new Lunchbox Lab is a great restaurant and everyone who has the means should eat there. I meant that it made me sad to eat there after Scott’s death, not that there was anything wrong with the restaurant, and I hope and expect it will thrive for a long time.
What else can I say? I hate lessons and morals even more now than when I was a kid. Scott Simpson was a great cook and a sweet guy, haunted by fucked-up brain chemistry.
Last night I was listening to Elliott Smith’s Figure 8. Whenever I listen to Elliott Smith, which is often, I sing along with gusto, and I think, “You know what? It’s bullshit that this guy is dead.” That’s the word that comes to mind, every time. Elliott Smith, no longer writing songs? That’s bullshit. Scott Simpson, no longer flipping burgers and coming up with lunatic restaurant concepts? That’s bullshit.