The Best Part of Seattle? The Food.

The interior of The Walrus & The Carpenter in Seattle.

Crab and shrimp sandwich at Lowell's in Seattle.

Click images to enlarge

As you will (probably) tell from the content this week on The Fox Is Black, Bobby and I are soaking in the afterbirth of all things Seattle. The trip was a blast and we had a hoot at many different places. We both loved Ballard and the Gas Works, two very interesting points in town that made zero sense but made 100% sense. I–surprisingly–hated the Space Needle, which reminded me more of the Tower of Terror and its rickety elevator instead of a World’s Fair attraction. We were also surprised by the amount of counter cultural people–some would call these people “hippies.” But, one thing stood out to us most, even more than any neighborhood, the Space Needle, the people, or the cold and rain: the food.

This, my friends, was something we were not expecting and it was a chorus to the vacation song we were singing: good food overshadowed everything. Now, let me preface this by saying that were not actively seeking out “fresh” or “extraordinary” places to eat. Instead, we were simply looking for convenient, cost effective places to settle our mouths down for a bite. Some were planned while others were off the cuff. Nevertheless, we did not go to the city to consume the food. It was a very happy accident. It was an accident so effecting that Bobby and I demanded we post about it.

In order to ease writing this, let me break these places down from the most remarkable to the most extremely, ridiculously, run-don’t-walk remarkable. We hope it helps you decide where to swing by when in Seattle!

Seattle’s food scene is marked by its literally home grown take on food. This proliferated the waters from the most commercial of places to the most exclusive of places. For example, in one day, we had lunch at Pike’s Place, dropping by Lowell’s and Daily Dozen Donut Company. That evening, we had dinner at Black Bottle. The two places couldn’t be more different in scale and audience, but both wowed us: their food was fresh, literally caught out back, preparing things in new ways–but with old materials. The food literally spoke to us, perhaps because they were so simple, so American.

Baked eggs with country ham at Oddfellows Cafe in Seattle.

Very similarly done, Oddfellows and Quinn’s shared a neighborly love for crafting good, homemade food and drinks. For Oddfellows, their foods came straight from someone’s hands, which in turn came directly from a gardner’s basket (so it seemed). The baked eggs with country ham seen above were something a mother would make for seven starving children as her husband is out exploring in the mid nineteenth century. Similarly, the chicken salad sandwich and salad I had seemed like the perfect treat from my 1960s mother who is trying to make ends meet with her husband out at war. Although she was heavy on the bread, it was a fantastic homemade meal wrapped in a hipster facade.

Quinn’s took their homemade in a different, manly, almost British direction. This was helped by the fact that we ate there within hours of the Royal Wedding. That is neither here nor there: they turned out a burger and fish and chips from common bar food into uncommon food delicacies. They were hearty but light, they were a lot of food but not a lot of food, and they were over done while being completely new. I loved every minute of their food–especially the petite coin like pig face aperitif.

The sausage and egg sandwich at Local 360.

The sausage and egg sandwich at Local 360.

One place that scored very high marks for me, definitely taking the cake in freshness, was Local 360. This place absolutely killed me. For one, their mantra is freshness. You would assume that with a name like “Local 360,” but it didn’t click for me until I put a biscuit in my mouth and simultaneously read on the board where the bread came from (which was just miles away). It was a Willy Wonka moment, where–like the lickable wallpaper–everything tasted like the taste they were supposed to have: the eggs tasted like eggs, the potatoes tasted like potatoes, the chives tasted like chives. Both the sausage and egg sandwich and the biscuits and gravy we had were out of control. They defied a breakfast experience. They killed us.

My only concern? Both entrees were incredibly rich and their teapots are stress inducing (because the handles are so flimsy). Just and FYI.

Unsliced bacon at Rain Shadow Meats in Seattle.

Taking freshness to an even further level was the mega homegrown market that is Melrose Market. Picked for this month’s travel issue of Food & Wine, you can tell why this place is so noteworthy: it’s about the people and it’s about the food–and it’s about the point where they mix. It’s also about creating food that has a purpose, that is without any bells and whistles (best exemplified the bacon in the above photo). It also engages you, making you want to peruse other shops: the entire place is a complete thought of a meal. For example, the meat at Rain Shadow Meats goes perfectly with cheese from Calf and Kid, which insists you buy a bottle of wine from Bar Ferd’Nand and flowers and produce from Marigold and Mint to complete the culinary idea you didn’t know you were having. Moreover, all of these come together in this repurposed auto garage, where restaurant Sitka & Spruce rests in the back like a casual exclamation point. (Where we sadly did not eat at, but did walk by and slobber at.)

Yes, all of the aforementioned places are all well and good and fantastic and fresh, but one place was unrivaled. It’s food was in another world, it’s ambiance was unprecedented, and it’s drinks could kill you with delight. To many’s surprise and to many’s not surprise, I am talking about Ballard’s own The Walrus and The Carpenter. I can’t even begin to praise this restaurant. It was so delightful and fun and good that it does not even merit any words. They have seafood that would make your head spin, turning the word freshness around and around and around and around until it comes out as “ssenhserf.” The various other meats, cheeses, and baked goods follow suit very closely. But, remember, the seafood (ahem, *oysters*) is the place’s bread and butter. Remember the subject of the title, folks.

But, unlike any of the other fabulous eateries, Walrus and Carpenter did two things the other places failed to do: excelled at atmosphere and excelled at drinks. Ambiance is easy to come by. Throw some old photos up and a moose head, splash with some porcelain tiling and–VoilĂ !–a masterpiece is born. But, throwing in that item–in conjunction with fantastic service and general spirit (not decor!) of the place–creates a winner. All of the other places looked nice and had nice enough service, but Walrus and Carpenter took the cake. See the first photo in this post, if you disagree. We were only there for a quick hour and a half, after having waited thirty minutes for a table, but not once felt rushed or annoyed. Every minute was a part of the experience, given the complex the restaurant resides in is a former turbine factory. The atmosphere is riddled with ghosts that are all good. I can say that it was a one of those dining experiences where the food, service, environment, and company made it historical to me.

Oh: that and the drinks.

One thing Seattle has on top of any other city I have EVER been to is its superior take on affordable cocktails. Now, I know food is great and freshness is a rarity, but I have indeed had that in other cities. Seattle was more concentrated and surprising, yes. But, drinks? Who knew they could be as handcrafted, fresh, and unique?? I had no idea! From the hole-in-the-wall delight Bathtub Gin & Co. to kitsch gay club Seven Grand blush. Bearded Ladies and Corpse Revivers and Blood and Sands and Perroquets: all a part of the fine symphony that is the Walrus and Carpenter drink menu. These drinks are strong, good, and unforgettable. If you can’t get a table, please do yourself a favor and snag a drink. You–literally–have no reason not to.

We learned a lot about Seattle in our trip up to the Northwest. But, one thing we were completely blind sided by was the food. We may have thought the city was very OK (simply because we are such babies for Los Angeles and its accompanying heat), but Bobby and I can both say that we were pleasantly astonished and bewildered by how much good food there is in Seattle.

Seattleites: consider yourselves lucky…then again, you guys are usually freezing your asses off. Good job making the rest of the world think you *only* warm yourselves up with coffee–not the food.


May 3, 2011