I’ve had a mild obsession with Seattle since high school, when “grunge” exploded and music once again meant something. It was such a short-lived period; it burned bright, but burnt out quickly. Many times I’ve daydreamed about packing up my car, getting on I-90 West, and driving until I hit Puget Sound. I finally visited Seattle this summer. I wasn’t sure if it could live up to all my expectations, but it did! In fact, it was better than I had imagined.
Of course, it didn’t hurt that the weather was beautiful, but it was more about the vibe of the whole city. In Seattle, “grunge” wasn’t a fad; it’s still alive and well. The beer and food are also amazing! No trip to Seattle would be complete without eating your way through Pike Place Market; I’ve never felt so ashamed and so satisfied at the same time!
- We started at 3 Girls Bakery for breakfast. The cheddar and bacon croissant was flaky and delicious. My girlfriend had an apricot and cheese danish, which must have been very good because I didn’t even get a bite.
- From there, we had a couple of iced coffees from Seattle’s Best in Post Alley. If you’re one of the many people who want coffee from the first Starbucks (also located in Pike’s Market), be prepared to wait on the ridiculously long line for coffee that’s no different from what you can get at any other Starbucks.
- On the lower levels of the market are junk and collectible shops that are great for browsing and treasure hunting. We checked out a place that had old concert posters from the heyday of the grunge era, though I’m sad to report I couldn’t find any for Alice in Chains; they never got the respect they deserved!
- We also sought out the “gum wall”— a truly unique and disgusting sight laden with thousands of pieces of chewed gum. We decided not to “contribute” to the wall because we didn’t want to touch someone else’s nasty, saliva and germ-infested gum.
- I was looking forward to Pike Brewery, but just wanted to wait until a respectable hour to have a beer. Who am I kidding? I was waiting for them to open! I started out with a saison, which was a little hoppier version than most, but still finished with traditional saison flavors. Their stout is really good with subtle hints of chocolate and coffee. The “Double Trouble” double IPA was good, but only slightly hoppier than their regular IPA. We ended up sitting for quite a while and talking with a family from North Dakota and another family from Akron— the thing I love about both beer and travel is meeting people.
- We needed a little food to soak up the beer, so we headed over to Pike Place Chowder. Their New England clam chowder was voted “Nation’s Best,” so we had to try it. We also tried the market chowder with chorizo and “today’s catch” crab and oysters. Both were excellent, as I imagine everything else on the menu is too.
- As we passed by La Buona Tavola, we decided it was a good idea to do some wine tasting. They offer three, 2 ounce glasses for $5 and we ended up with a couple of extra tastings too; mostly west coast wines. Cameron, our tasting guide, was really nice and quite knowledgeable.
- Emma Watson’s was next on our “where to eat” list. A dozen oysters cost $20.50 and beers were $4.50 each. It’s a good, super-casual spot with really fresh and tasty oysters.
- Piroshky, Piroshky, a famous Pike Market establishment, was nearby and smelled so good we had to try some. Piroshkys are meat filled baked pastries— the beef and cheese version is their best seller. While that was good, the salmon was way better, and I’m not even a big fan of fish.
- I broke a cardinal rule of mine: I went into a Hard Rock Café. Before you label me a hypocrite, let me explain: I went in to check out their memorabilia from Alice in Chains, Nirvana, Pearl Jam and the like— I did not eat or drink anything, nor was there any fiduciary exchange of any kind. It was really cool to see vestiges of some of my favorite bands, and if you choose to visit the Hard Rock Café Seattle, I would not begrudge you even staying for a drink— after all, they’re preserving relics of grunge and it’s pretty cool they will let anyone check out their collection (not just patrons).
That was one day in Pike Market, but we weren’t even done eating for the day! After watching a street artist finish up a large, beautiful, sidewalk portrait, we decided pizza was the best option for our drunkenness. Serious Pie is the only good pizza I’ve had outside of New York or Italy, but it wasn’t just good, it was excellent! There was a line of people waiting every time we passed by— always a good sign. We ordered two pizzas— clam, pancetta, chilies and lemon thyme; and sweet fennel sausage, peppers and provolone. We met a local couple and chatted with them during the entire meal. Everyone, both locals and visitors, were so nice everywhere we went in Seattle— we talked to way more people than we ever do in New York.
The next day was spent walking off the calories from the previous day. We started at an outdoor sculpture park in the Belltown section and then followed a pedestrian path along the waterfront. After a few hours, we were hungry again and near the market, so we checked out Uli’s for traditional European-style sausages. I had kielbasa with stone-ground mustard and potato salad, while my girlfriend had Moroccan lamb sausage with garlic aioli and cole slaw— both were good, hers was better. While sitting at Uli’s, we heard on the radio that Anthony Bourdain was in town filming The Layover, and I spent the rest of my time in Seattle on the lookout for him.
From the market, we walked up Pike Street to the Capitol Hill section off the city and had a few beers at Elysian Brewery. I had a saison with elderflowers and my girlfriend had an IPA with jasmine— both were very good with nice, subtle flavors. The Elysian porter is excellent: roasty, chocolatey goodness! My girlfriend also had the ”Loser” pale ale, named in recognition of Sub-Pop Records’ 20th anniversary.
As I mentioned previously, we were on a trip down grunge memory lane, so while we were in Capitol Hill, we sought out the apartment building where the movie Singles was filmed— cheesy, I know. But, we were both pretty excited when we found the building!
After our hokey adolescent hijinks, we had sushi at Momiji, which was recommended by a friend of a friend who lives in Seattle. We ordered the sweet and coconutty “thunderball roll,” the spicy “2012 roll,” and the illustrious “rainbow tower”— all very fresh and tasty! Momiji had nice ambiance and was filled with mostly local people since it’s in a more residential area away from downtown.
We debated whether we should go to the top of the Space Needle, or if it was just touristy nonsense. I’ve lived in and around New York City my whole life I haven’t even been to the top of the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty. We decided that we should check it out, especially since sunset was approaching. Despite the $19 fee, it was absolutely worth it! In the distance, Mt. Rainier looked ethereal; it seemed to be floating above the Earth, detached and otherworldly. It was an extraordinary and somewhat eerie sight.
The next day we decided to rent a car and drive out to Mt. Rainier. Despite our doubt, the drive took every bit of the two and a half hours the GPS predicted— it looks so close from the city, and it’s actually only 80 miles away, but those windy, precarious roads take time to travel. Along the way, there are lush evergreen forests and beautiful waterfalls that give the Cascade Mountains their name. The roads become steeper towards the top, with huge drop-offs and no guardrails— drivers can easily sail right off the edge. We made it to the Paradise scenic area and walked around a bit; there was still a lot of snow on the ground, even in July. The National Park Service website states:
Ascending to 14,410 feet above sea level, Mount Rainier stands as an icon in the Washington landscape. An active volcano, Mount Rainier is the most glaciated peak in the contiguous U.S.A., spawning six major rivers. Subalpine wildflower meadows ring the icy volcano while ancient forest cloaks Mount Rainier’s lower slopes. Wildlife abounds in the park’s ecosystems.
After a long day of driving, we decided to just have a low-key dinner near the hotel. Five Points Café & Lounge is a dive-bar serving great burgers and beers. When I read, “alcoholics serving alcoholics since 1929” on the menu, I knew I’d like this place! Our waiter was a hipster, which meant that in NYC he’d be a pretentious douchbag, but here in Seattle, he’s just a really nice, friendly guy. The cheddar burger with avocado and jalapeños was great, and the St. Florian IPA was very good too— I loved this place!
Our last day was for tying up loose ends, which meant more eating! We had the pleasure of eating breakfast at Biscuit Bitch, where they put southern biscuits to shame! Just an egg, sausage, and cheese biscuit with a dollop of butter on top, but so well done— the simplicity was the beauty of it.
We walked downtown to check out the architecture in and around Pioneer Square and have lunch at Salumi, where they cure their own Italian-style meats. Armandino Batali (father of Mario Batali) began the business after he retired from Boeing, but now his daughter runs Salumi. It’s a well-know stop on the Seattle food scene, and I thought I might have finally tracked down Anthony Bourdain when I spotted one of his producers outside. Once inside though, a couple of cameramen were all we saw. The food, which was what we really came for, completely satisfied! There’s always the chance that a place like this is over-hyped, but Salumi lives up to the hype with incredible quality and taste. We had finocchiona (salami with fennel) and provolone on cibatta bread with onions and peppers— worth the wait in line!
One last sight to see was the beautiful Seattle skyline from the deck of the Bainbridge Ferry. The ferry costs $7.50 each round-trip, and there’s not much to do on Bainbridge Island, but it’s worth the trip for the view— you can always do a little wine tasting at one of several wine shops while you wait for the return ferry.
How do I sum up Seattle without making it sound like every other city I’ve enjoyed? It’s unlike any city I’ve been to— it’s SO much better in so many ways— from the food, drinks, and architecture to the intangible feel of the city and its people. It’s more than comfortable, it’s familiar and reassuring. One of these days— maybe, just maybe— I’ll finally pack up the car and move to Seattle.