by Kirby Lindsay
Brad Inserra and his restaurant, Brad’s Swingside Café, have been a part of Fremont, and the character and culture of this community, for two decades. As happens with fixtures like these, some of us (including me) are prone to take them for granted.
Calling All Neighbors
Last fall, during a random encounter, I discovered my oversight and asked for an interview. Inserra agreed once his cold got better. Before it did, it turned dangerously worse and sent him to the hospital with quadruple pneumonia. When friends, and neighbors, asked what we could do to help the answer came - eat at Swingside!
Months later, and fully recovered, Inserra took a few minutes for a chat – before he goes back to the hospital. Apparently, the pneumonia aggravated a life-long but minor heart condition and left him with a leaky heart valve. He hopes to have mitral valve replacement surgery performed soon. Meanwhile, the restaurant remains open, and Inserra hopes people will once again show it their support while he recovers.
First generation Italian-American – half Sicilian, half Northern Italy – Inserra came originally from Monongahela, Pennsylvania. He arrived in Seattle about 30 years ago, and spent the last 20 years exhaustively building up Swingside, and it’s stellar reputation for dining excellence.
“Fine dining for a reasonable price,” he described it. In the snug, and, admittedly, small, dining room, “the food is authentically Italian,” Inserra explained, “using local, organic ingredients, when available.” He continually seeks out the best ingredients he can find to create a menu full of interesting combinations, plus an impressive wine list, both of which he changes seasonally, and daily, based on availability.
Located in the grey area near Upper Fremont – at 42nd & Fremont Avenue – and Inserra directs customers to the Swingside, “between the hamlet and the Zoo.” Customers come from the Eastside to dine there, and he has octogenarian customers with fierce loyalty to his food.
He’s also eagerly dismissed fears about getting a table on a busy night. “Look, if you have to wait 10 minutes, have a glass of wine,” he suggested, “or get a beer at The Buck.” Another Fremont institution, The Buckaroo Tavern, squats across the street from the Swingside and offers a completely different ambience – but just as much heart.
Surviving the Worst
With support shown by friends and neighbors, the restaurant may survive the economy, and Inserra’s health problems. Certainly, he has great enthusiasm for his future plans. He promises he’ll be back in the kitchen in mid-May, to prepare for his 20th Anniversary at Swingside. “We’re going to start celebrating when I get better,” he explained. He originally opened the restaurant on the Feast of the Archangels - September 29, 1990 – and he believes it has helped, “this place is protected, I know it is.”
The restaurant does actually pre-date Brad. By the time he bought it, the Swingside had gone through three different owners – and incarnations – over seven years. He did consider changing the name – Guardians or Archangelos – but he simply slid his name in to let folks know the management had changed.
When a sign went up in the last few months, declaring the restaurant as ‘Inserra’s Swingside Café,’ it may looked like another change. It isn’t. That sign was made years ago when a cousin came on to help out – but didn’t stay. The previous sign finally got too worn and peeling, so Inserra replaced with one he had that looked fresher. Neighbors can continue, as always, to simply call it ‘Swingside’, he agreed, “that’s good enough for me.”
“I really appreciate the 20 years of support,” he said finally. No need to worry either. “They told me at the hospital, all my other organs are those of a 30-year-old,” he reassured, “I plan to be around here for a good long time.”
This summer, “if you want a piece of Brad, come in for lunch,” he promoted. Until then, stop in for dinner, or rent the back room, which seats up to 25 people, for a special dinner or gathering. Over April 18 – 25, Brad’s Swingside Café will be one of the participating restaurants for Seattle Restaurant Week. This allows visitors a 3 course Swingside meal for $25. Another great way to show our support for a local business, for Swingside and for Inserra, again.
©2010 Kirby Lindsay. This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.