Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Away Game: Seattle's Pike Place Market

It's a tourist trap, but a functioning market.  It's vendors and hawkers of all sorts, but it isn't over commercialized.  It's a place I visit every time I'm in Seattle, but I feel a bit shameful every time I do it.  It's Pike Place Market, perhaps the second most famous tourist destination in Seattle behind the space needle.  I love a good market, and even if it's for tourists I gotta believe it's also for restaurants in Seattle as well which is why I make a point to come down to the market for lunch every trip, and this is the culinary chronicle of my most recent visit.  Now one thing to know about the market.  It's a maze of levels, shops, food stalls, flower stands, and curios packed to the rafters with gawking tourists who seem to be setting new lowest walking speed records.  Don't fight against it.  Let yourself get lost.  You'll find something interesting, I assure you.

Oddly enough my first stop is not to a seafood vendor, but rather to a stall that, when I first visited several years ago, made me remember a lost loved childhood dish.  Just about 100 feet from the famous fish throwers is this unassuming stand selling something that was wholly familiar to me as a kid.
Chicken (Death) Valley
I was here that I rediscovered the beauty of fired chicken gizzards and offal meat in general.  Since that chance culinary encounter I've had grilled chicken hearts, head cheese, livers,  made a pate and it all started with this little stall that took me back to Decatur, IL when growing up we used to get Brown's Chicken and I'd devour some delicious fried gizzards.  And so every Seattle trip, I return to this stand.  Yesterday it was a combination of fried chicken gizzards and hearts.
Fried Chicken Gizzards & Hearts
If you like this then you already know how awesome it is.  If you don't, I encourage you to give it a shot.  You might just surprise yourself by how much you end up enjoying it.  Everything was fried to perfection and the breading was a flour based that added just a little texture to the parts, though obviously these are two things that have their own distinct texture anyway.  I sat at the viewing point with a bottle of water and my chicken parts taking in the sound.

From there it was on to Jack's, which is across the way from the main market.  They are a wholesaler and retailer selling a great selection of seafood cocktails, oysters, and always clam chowder and cioppino.  I decided to go with a bowl of the clam chowder and a half dozen of the raw oysters.
Oysters and Clam Chowder
As you can see, this is no frills dining.  They've got a very small counter for those "dining in" and the bare bones set up suits the food.  The chowder has clams, potatoes, carrots, celery, and seasoning in it.  It was a bit peppery for my taste, but given a crisp fall day it really hit the spot.  The oysters were small bodied, slightly briny oysters.  To be honest, I could have used them cleaned just a bit more but they were very tasty.

After scarfing down some solid appetizers, I decided to wander around the market and the surrounding streets a bit.  One thing about it, whatever kind of food you're looking for you can probably find it at the market.  There were bavarian sausages, greek delis, numerous vegetable stands, a fresh made pasta stand, and of course seafood stands with scallops that made we want to break into someone's house just to use their kitchen they looked so delicious.  There are also a variety of shops, especially down under.  I found a used book store, a great distraction and a bonus destination.  Before leaving on this trip I'd been trying to download something, anything by Graham Greene to my Kindle, but I'd found no ebooks are released to U.S. markets by Greene so I wanted to see if I could find the old fashioned book version and what better place to look for the old fashioned then a used book store.  And there it was, a copy of Journey without Maps, paperback, printed in 1986 for less then 10 bucks and with the slight yellowing of the paper that demonstrates it's worn in.  But this isn't a blog about books, it's about food and the coup de gras is yet to come.

Even after chicken parts, oysters, and chowder I thought why not have a proper lunch.  As I'd been walking the market I'd been looking at the menus and settled on Lowell's for lunch, in no small part because they had a crab cocktail on the menu.  I have a compulsion about Dungeness crab and so I ordered both a crab cocktail and a crab roll.
So much crab.
Did I need all this?  No.  Were the fries a wasted starch filler?  Yes.  But a compulsion is a compulsion for a reason.  The crab roll had greens, tomatoes, and avocado mixed with the crab.  The bread was very good and the crab and avocado were fantastic together.  The crab cocktail was a 10oz glass full of crab, cocktail sauce, and just a little bit of lettuce.  I could do without the lettuce, and I wasn't a big fan of the cocktail sauce, but the crab itself was delicious.  I devoured the two dishes and meandered, far slower then when I went to the market, away from the market fully satiated for having tasted some old favorites and new delights.

If you're ever in Seattle, stop by Pike Place Market, but don't linger over the fish tossers, avoid the bus loads of retired meanders, find the food, sample a little bit of everything.  And if you have access to a kitchen, buy a bunch of seafood and make yourself the best damn meal of seafood imaginable.  For my part, I let others cook for me and I wasn't disappointed.

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