Quinns on Capitol Hill, around 8pm on the Saturday night, is when we hit the wall. Halfway though a wild boar sloppy joe, which oozed out of its brioche confines like meaty magma, spilling fried onion and Fresno pepper across the plate in an explosion of gluttonous joy, we were done. Finished. Finito. Couldn’t have a morsel more. Except perhaps a bite of that Brussels sprout and mustard cream-stuffed Scotch egg. Thanks for being our server tonight, but please stop bringing food.
The restaurant, in the heart of Seattle’s lively, gay-friendly, still somewhat countercultural part of town, is not a place for calorie counting. A touch of pretentiousness aside (I’m not sure how much the chips, or French fries, or ‘frites’ as they’re known here, benefitted from Fontina fonduta and veal demi-glace), it’s a feeder’s paradise but far from unique in a city renowned for its food.
We’d started our Richman-esque tour with salmon. First we watched them swimming in the fish ladder at Ballard Locks, in the northwest of the city, navigating between the salty waters of Puget Sound and the fresh water of Lake Union, a great spot for walking, seal-spotting and exploring the nearby Scandinavian communities.
Then we ate them, at Pike Place Fish Market by the Elliott Bay waterfront in downtown Seattle, hacked into chunks by a man in knee-high wellies, smoked, infused with garlic and pepper, and turned to jerky. While we devoured them, and some sliced Nova Scotia salmon lox, other men in overalls threw fish at each other, bellowing banter to conjure a scene that drew in hordes of camera-toting shoppers.
Pike Place Fish sits in the centre of Pike Place Market, an obscenely touristy spot but an essential consideration for anyone that likes food. Their salmon, swordfish, trout, tuna, sturgeon, stockfish, crab, shrimp, and mussels (not to mention oysters so good they empty your wallet fast, lending a new meaning to Dickens’ immortal “poverty and oysters always seem to go together”) sit among an abundance of treats.
We joined one of Savor Seattle’s tours, which start somewhat inauspiciously in a comedy club whose walls are covered with second hand chewing gum. Once we’d pushed the masticated polymers out of our minds, and run through the guide’s opening gambit of jokes, we were quickly whisked round various shops and stalls to begin the feeding.
Daily Dozen’s doughnuts kicked things off, steaming dough bites doused in sugar and lasting all of ten seconds between us, before creamy, chunky seafood bisque at Pike Place Chowder, doughy pastries from Piroshky Piroshky that would melt Red from Orange Is The New Black’s heart, and more creamy, chunky joy from the mac cheese at Beecher’s Handmade Cheese. Come to think of it, there was a lot of dough and a lot of cream involved, a rapid gorge with a chocolate cherry or two (from Chukar Cherries) on top.
As one of the oldest continuous markets in the country, Pike Place has a chequered history. Growing out of an impromptu collection of farmers over a hundred years ago, it officially took shape in 1907 amid allegations of corruption and disagreements between city officials and producers. It’s since weathered scandals – inexcusable purging of Japanese-Americans in the early ’40s and plans for demolition in the ’60s – and thanks to an innovative scheme in the ’80s whereby locals could sponsor floor tiles to donate funds, its future looks secure.
After the morning tour, and a tasting flight of Washington State wines from Lost River Winery later (it was 5pm on the east coast at that point), we explored the area, including the Space Needle and Elliott Bay.
Before long we were hungry again, so headed to a few of Tom Douglas’ restaurants. The chef has built a small empire in Seattle, and managed to conquer numerous food types in the process; his outposts cover Italian, Greek, Asian and seafood. We ducked into Lola for some dolmades stuffed with herbs, pine nuts and currants, before waddling half a block to Serious Pie. Pie means pizza, and here it means paper-thin crusts cooked at 700°F and loaded with topping choices that trigger debilitating menu paralysis. Yukon Gold potato with rosemary and pecorino was an inspired mix, as was sweet fennel sausage with roasted peppers and provolone. Pale ales and apricot ciders did the honours in accompaniment.
These additional snacks gave us energy to see some more of Seattle, including Bruce and Brandon Lee’s graves at the top of a hill in Lake View Cemetery. The father-son spot is pretty poignant, although I felt for the other souls adjacent, whose memory was trampled unheeded by a cavalcade of comfy shoes.
Gas Works Park, meanwhile, was a picturesque place to perch across the lake, enabling food coma slumps on the ground under the faraway buzz of incessant seaplanes. The nearby Fremont Brewing Company, meanwhile, introduced me to the concept of growlers, big beer containers that allow you to take home your favourite brews.
The following morning we took a bus to Portland, but not before a manic dash to The Crumpet Shop at Pike Place. Specialising in proper English crumpets for nearly four decades, they give them an American spin (think walnuts, honey and ricotta), but indulged my lifelong penchant for Marmite, cheddar and cucumber. We also managed to follow in Obama’s footsteps briefly, and grabbed a bag of doughnuts from Top Pot on the way to the station, because you just never know when hunger will strike.
We stayed at Hotel Andra in the downtown district, which is nestled among shops, bars, and near Pike Place Market. And yes, we did get room service.
Featured image of Seattle Skyline by howardignatius on Flickr (Creative Commons).