Savouring Seattle

Where to savour Seattle’s culinary verve is a conundrum. PHOTOS: MIKE YARDLEY
Where to savour Seattle’s culinary verve is a conundrum. PHOTOS: MIKE YARDLEY

Seattle constantly rates as one of the United States’ most captivating cities to visit, with a heady mix of boundary-pushing architecture and a bumper foodie scene. Mike Yardley finds out what all the fuss is about.

It is the one tour to rule them all: Savor Seattle's Pike Place Market Food Tour. Before joining this early morning group exploratory, I had popped into Pike Place the day before, awestruck by the head-swirl of sensory overload.

For a newcomer, this bountiful behemoth of fresh produce and artisanal endeavour struck me as a bewildering, overwhelming and unwieldly place. Where do you start? What should you see? What's not to be missed? With such a surfeit of choice in this multi-level and cavernous emporium, I felt like an unguided cork bobbing in a deep mercantile ocean.

Savor Seattle’s Pike Place Market Food Tour guide Justin Oba.
Savor Seattle’s Pike Place Market Food Tour guide Justin Oba.
That is where the Savor Seattle Food Tour beckons as a godsend. At 8.45am, I met my fellow guests and tour guide extraordinaire, the ebullient Justin Oba, at Indi Chocolate, the market's only chocolate maker. Not only does Justin bear an uncanny resemblance to Jack Black, but he's just as entertaining, maybe funnier.

He even has his own blog (Obalicious) - packed with the latest market insights. Over the course of two hours, Justin led our small group through the market, with seven tasting stops, as the infectious hum of the morning trade sparked into life.

Our first stop was at Honest Biscuits, ``homemade treats crafted with love'', established by a former judge who decided to follow his passion. They will knock your socks off.

Honest Biscuits created with love
Honest Biscuits created with love
We called into Franks' Quality Produce, a revered fruit and vegetable purveyor, where four generations of Franks have run the stall at Pike Place. After running our retinas over a rainbow of produce, we sampled a range of fresh and succulent fruit - the sumo oranges (suitably proportioned) were magnificent. The engaging vendors were like walking Wikipedias on fresh produce, eager to offer advice on the best and tastiest buys and their provenance.

For a spot of decadence, Daily Dozen Doughnut Company delivered in spades, with their delicious sugary morsels receiving a unanimous seal of group approval. This charming little enterprise churns out 30 doughnuts a minute, or 30dpm, as Justin puts it.

Our next stop was at Pike Place Fish, the legendary poster-boys of the market, where they have been throwing the fish since the 1960s, for fun and efficiency.

Pike Place Fish are poster-boys.
Pike Place Fish are poster-boys.
We ogled the glistening bounty of the ocean, impeccably laid out on vast banks of ice, and delighted in the fish-throwing antics, that fill thousands of Instagram feeds. As well as admiring their fresh and sustainable seafood (the size of the wild Alaskan salmon is breath-taking), it was such a thrill to meet and chat with the convivial mongers. A great revelation was our stop at Market Spice, a fabulously fragrant emporium of loose-leaf teas, spices, salts and all of the accoutrements. Operating since 1911, their flagship tea blend is Cinnamon-Orange, a rock-star seller, tasting absolutely sublime.

Justin also introduced us to Rub with Love Shack, where we sampled a plethora of rubs and spices, while savouring rotisserie meats and moreish sandwiches. The powerhouse behind this shop is the king of the Seattle kitchen, Tom Douglas, who has produced a dazzling range of spice rubs, mustards and teriyaki sauces, tailor-made to apply to virtually every meat, fish and vegetable imaginable.

Market Spice
Market Spice
For a complete palette change, we ventured to Piroshky, a gorgeous little Russian bakery opened by two Estonian migrants nearly 30 years ago.

Top taste? The smoked salmon pate piroshky. The cheddar cheese rolls are drippingly delicious, too. Alongside grazing from the market's parade of splendours, Justin unfurled a stimulating volley of vivid anecdotes, secrets and insights, central to Pike Place's abiding legacy. Over the decades, the market has proven to be a great incubator for small, fledgling businesses - many have morphed across the city and beyond, with a chain of outlets. Yes, the original Starbucks is here. You might have heard of them.

Pike Place Market is about family, farmers and community.
Pike Place Market is about family, farmers and community.
But what really stamps its mark, is the recurring theme that flows through the veins of Pike Place Market. It is fundamentally about family, farmers, friends and community. And it's always been like that, since the market's advent 110 years ago. As the oldest continuously running farmers market in the United States, the Savor Seattle Food Tour will endow you with a deep sense of its soul. Strike out with sure-footed confidence, post-tour. With over 500 stalls jostling for your attention, strung across 13 buildings and five floors, as you venture down the Main Arcade into this labyrinth of temptation and discovery, you'll feel suitably empowered to tackle Pike Place market like a pro.

In a city brimming with lip-smacking dining offerings, settling on where to savour Seattle's culinary verve is quite the conundrum. But Dahlia Lounge and Bakery should definitely be on your radar, garnering accolades aplenty for its perfectly executed Pacific Northwest cuisine. It was Tom Douglas' first restaurant, opened in 1989, taking pride of place in his 13-strong restaurant empire. The cocktail list alone is wondrously inventive.

Highway 99 goes under.
Highway 99 goes under.
Central Waterfront is enjoying a major renaissance with freshly face-lifted piers and new enticements triggering a new-found love affair with the precinct. If you've visited Seattle previously, you'll recall how Highway 99, the ugly roadway viaduct, not only undermines the aesthetic beauty of the waterfront, but brutally severs the city centre from the harbour.

That's all about to change, due to the imminent completion of a multibillion dollar cross-city double-decker tunnel and the demolition of the highway which will allow the Central Waterfront to seamlessly meld with the city centre.

Posing as if their lives depended on it, the selfie-brigade is swooning over Seattle's latest eye-grabber, the Amazon spheres. Opened in January, these four-storey faceted glass globes were made as a place for Amazon's 40,000-strong downtown

The Amazon Spheres are for staff to think outside the box.
The Amazon Spheres are for staff to think outside the box.
workforce to relax - and think outside the box. Open-plan meeting spaces are surrounded by secluded seating nooks, beverage counters and jungle-style catwalks. Reminiscent of Singapore's bio-domes, the Seattle Spheres have been dressed with walkways, bridges and hundreds of plant species, including a 40-year old fig tree transplanted from California.

I wandered down to Pioneer Square, the original heart of the city, where the atmospheric streetscape of faded glory buildings are inhabited with a hive of eclectic businesses, eateries and independent stores. The smaller scale of the terracotta and brick Romanesque revival buildings provide a stirring contrast to the soaring heights of the glassy skyscrapers. After the Great Fire of 1889, much of the original street network was filled in and built over, which has given rise to a host of underground tours, if you want to delve deep into the city's secrets and hidden surprises, along subterranean passageways.

 

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