An Austin Food Lover in Seattle: Foodie Finds, 1st Edition

Pike Place Neon Sign at Night

There’s no disputing that Seattle has an amazing restaurant scene, but what might not be as immediately apparent is how many fantastic food purveyors the city boasts. From the acclaimed Pike Place Market to bakeries, specialty food shops, and of course the ubiquitous coffee houses, there are many and varied foodie treats to be found about town. On this most recent trip I found about a dozen true foodie gems that I would recommend to any food lover as worth a planned visit while in Seattle.

Pike Place Market

Collage of the foods found at the Pike Place MarketIt’s hard to imagine anyone visiting Seattle without visiting the Pike Place Market. The city and the market seem to be so tightly intertwined that you’d simply not get a proper view of Seattle without experiencing the market. We went to the market every day to browse the wares and simply experience the thriving ecosystem that is the market, its vendors, and its customers. While many associated the market with fish (and flying ones at that), it’s so much more than that. Fresh flower vendors abound, as do meat markets, produce stands, cheese shops, and even condiment shops. Artisans and crafts people showcase their wares as well. In reality, there’s not much in the way of food you can’t buy at the market. Having spent quite a bit of time at the market during my visits, I can suggest a few strategies for shopping it as a visitor:

  • Unless you’re only in town for a day or two, plan to visit the market more than once. It’s a rabbit warren of a place with vendors hidden in nooks and crannies on multiple floors. If you try to rush your visit, you’ll certainly miss interesting spots. For example, I was complete unaware of the Market Spice Tea Shop on every visit I’d made to the market until I saw it listed as a place when I was checking in on Gowalla. Having now visited it, it would have been such a shame to not experience it. Also, you can taste and eat your way through the market, but at some point you’ll get full. Spending two half days there gives you more opportunity to fill your belly with more market goodness.
  • On your first visit, allow yourself to wander freely so you can get a sense for what’s available. If you’re like me, you’ll want one of everything, but a bit of browsing before buying will help you not only maximize your budget but also give you time to think about how you’ll get your purchases home. If you’re planning to eat a meal (or two or three) at the market, go before you get too hungry so you can do a full loop of the market, the shops across the street from the market, and Post Alley. You’ll not only get a nice walk in, you’ll have a good idea of what dining options you have before you commit to one.
  • When you are ready to buy, be sure to bring a handled shopping bag with you. Most vendors have small bags for their wares, but they will pile up quickly. I try to remember to carry a reusable grocery bag with me when I travel for just this reason, but on this trip I forgot mine. I bought a lovely red Pike Place market bag for $10 that I know I’ll enjoy taking to the farmer’s market on the weekends back home in Austin.
  • Don’t forget to consider how you’ll get your purchases home. Many vendors of liquids such as honey or jam offer small carry-on sizes of their wares if you don’t want to pack larger sizes in your suitcase. I’ve found that I like to take these smaller sizes home, experiment with them in the kitchen, and then buy more of any items I really love via mail order. This approach also helps me stretch my shopping budget a bit more.
  • Shipping is an option, but not necessarily an inexpensive one. Almost every vendor in the market is prepared to help travelers get their goods home in some way or another. For example, all of the fish folks will package your fish in with a 24 or 48 hour cold pack and either ship it to you or pack it in a box you can check at the airport. Given the fees to check bags these days, it may actually be less expensive to have your goods shipped home instead of paying to check them as luggage, so go the market armed with information on checked baggage fees for your airline so you can find the approach that’s the best value.
  • The market isn’t particularly stroller friendly, especially when it’s very busy. While the market does meet all accessibility guidelines, there’s a difference between accessible and navigable. As the market gets fuller, it’s harder to move a stroller around, and if you want to move from floor to floor you’ll have to utilize the smallish elevators. The sidewalks outside of the market are somewhat narrow and can fill with people quickly. If you’re planning on spending time with little ones in tow, I’d suggest going early in the morning, preferably on a week day, before the market gets busy and everyone starts to get cranky.

Specialty Food Purveyors

Seattle is full of specialty food shops that sell everything from honey and jam to olive oils and chocolates. While I tried to at least wander into every specialty shop I came across, these are the ones that are my favorites. Happily, all are located at the market so you can hit them all in relatively short order. How much time you spend in each one is of course a different story.

Beecher’s Handmade Cheese

A collage of scenes from Beecher's Handmade Cheese in SeattleWe visited Beecher’s Handmade Cheese on our first trip to Seattle and I made a beeline for it on this trip because I really like their cheese. Beecher’s is both a cheese maker, offering a small but interesting collection of cheeses. Our favorite is a jack-style cheese called Flagship that has depth of flavor but is still accessible to many different pallets. They also sell a Raw Milk Flagship for those who enjoy raw milk cheeses. Their Reserve Flagship is aged for a couple of years to give it a stronger, nuttier flavor. Their line also includes a selection of flavored cheese like No Woman which is inspired by the tastes of the Caribbean. Except for the Raw Milk Flagship we’re lucky enough to get most of Beecher’s cheeses at both Central Market and HEB in Austin, so I don’t have to have it shipped in.

Beyond selling their own cheese, Beecher’s is also a cheese shop, featuring interesting cheeses from around the country. When I first visited them I was excited to see that they carry cheese from the Mozzarella Company in Dallas, a regional favorite of mine. They are a great resource for interesting cheese from around the country and it’s worth the time to chat with their staff about the different cheese that they carry. Finally, you can watch the Beecher’s cheese being made right in their store while you enjoy a bowl of their amazing macaroni and cheese or a tasty Panini. While we were there the staff was packing cheese curds into boxes and prepping them for pressing.

Choice Produce & Pepper

Ristras hanging from the rafters at Choice Produce and Pepper in SeattleBelieve me when I say it’s odd to be writing about a pepper purveyor in Seattle when I live in Texas, but Choice Produce & Pepper’s strings of peppers and dried herbs where just too beautiful to pass up. As a native West Texan, I’ve had ristras – strings of fresh red chilies that you hang up to dry to use in cooking later – in my kitchen for almost my entire life. The traditional ristras are made simply of red peppers and nothing else. When I saw the ristras at the Pike Place Market, I was not only stunned to see them there, but also intrigued by the combination of different pepper types along with herbs and garlic. The staff at Choice Produce & Peppers makes the ristras by hand every day and they claim they can last up to two years in a kitchen, yielding dry chilies and herbs along the way. Because the ristras are very fragile, the price includes packing material and a box, but I wouldn’t check the box with an airline for fear it would be crushed amongst the luggage – it’s definitely a carry-on item. You can also opt to have your ristras shipped home. The shipping costs were $30 for two from Seattle to Texas.

Chukar Cherries

Robby loves chocolate covered cherries, but not the kind you buy at the drugstore at Christmas time with the boozy syrup and questionable chocolate. He likes good quality cherries and chocolate which can be hard to come by. Luckily, Chukar Cherries at the market has enough cherry options to please even his palette. They offer a variety of products that combine high-quality cherries with different chocolates and nuts, and while they aren’t inexpensive ($9 per small bag with $1 discount for buying two), they are well worth the cost. You’ll only need one or two as a sweet treat, and when you run out, Chukar is happy to ship more to you.

La Buona Tavola Truffle Cafe

My friend Keren from Frantic Foodie was wonderful enough to take us on a local foodie tour of the market during our trip, and she introduced us to the fantastic folks at La Buona Tavola, a shop dedicated to all things truffle. While they didn’t have any truffles to sell us (truffles aren’t in season in March), they had a variety of truffle-infused goods, from an amazing truffle cream to truffle salt, truffle oil, and truffle honey (which I bought). They also carry high-end pastas, boutique wines, and a variety of balsamic vinegars. The owner is so very passionate about truffles and her business, and she will let you try just about any item in her store before you buy it. If you enjoy luxury ingredients like truffles and aged balsamic vinegar, this shop is a much-visit.

Le Panier

Collage of pastries at Le Panier Bakery in SeattleAt almost every turn in Seattle we were offered some incredible bread, and when asked, each restaurant cited a different bakery as their source. I came to realize that bakeries are an important part of Seattle food culture, and Le Panier in the market represents the Seattle bakery scene very nicely. They are a traditional French bakery that features tarts, macaroons, éclairs, beautiful bread, and some of the best shortbread cookies I’ve had in a long time (and I’m a snob about my shortbread). Besides offering an array of lovely baked goods, Le Panier is a welcoming oasis from the hustle and bustle of the market, with several tables for weary shoppers to rest while they refuel on luscious baked goods. Try them when you’re looking for a light breakfast or a sweet bite after lunch.

Market Spice Tea Shop

We’re lucky in Austin to have access to a wide range of bulk spices at Central Market, so I’m hardly ever without a good collection of both common and exotic flavors in my spice box. Even so, I like to visit spice stores in different cities to see what specialty spices they carry that I can’t get at home. The Market Spice Tea Shop did not disappoint. They carry smoked salts, interesting spiced blends, Indonesian cinnamon, and, as their name implies, a variety of interesting teas. The staff behind the counter were very well educated about their spices, offering me new and interested things to try based on my descriptions of other spices that I enjoyed. The shop is set back just a ways, so you can walk right past it (I did on previous trips), but if you like to experiment with different spices and blends, it’s worth finding this shop.

Rose’s Chocolate Treasures

A trio of chocolates from Roses Chocolate Treasures in SeattleTucked into a cozy space in Post Alley, just a few feet from the most excellent Pink Door restaurant, is Rose’s Chocolate Treasures, a veritable trove (ha!) of chocolate treats. Rose’s specializes in artisan chocolate in traditional flavors like mint and caramel, as well as in more modern offerings like white chocolate and chardonnay or chocolate and red chile. Because we were visiting on St. Patrick’s Day, I opted for a white chocolate with Irish Cream option that took the chocolate and mint combination to a whole new level. Each chocolate is $2, but they are worth every cent. Because the chocolates are so rich, you’ll only need one or two, and a small sampler box would make a great gift for that special someone.

Snoqualmie Valley Honey

Honey from the Snoqualmie Valley Honey Company in SeattleIn the last few years I’ve been fascinated by honey as a representative of a regions floral terroir. Wildflower honey from Central Texas has a completely different character than the clover honey from Fabens, Texas, a small town near where I grew up, and orange blossom honey from California carries lovely citrus notes that pair so well with costal cuisine. In the same vein, the honey from Snoqualmie Valley Honey tells the story of the diversity of the Pacific Northwest’s regional flowering plants, ranging from a mild clover honey to a wild blackberry honey with strong hints of the fruit to a deep and rich Mt. Rainer Fireweed wildflower honey. All told, this honey purveyor carries eleven different pure honeys from around the region. The majority of their honeys are available in 3 oz. plane-friendly sizes and at $2.25 each, it’s easy to buy two or three different flavors to try. They also sell packs of honey sticks for quick sweet snacks or a pick-me-up during the day.

Coffee Shops

In much the same way that you can’t talk about Seattle without talking about the market, any discussion of Seattle food that doesn’t include coffee isn’t complete. Of course there is the ubiquitous Starbucks, and you can in face visit the original Starbucks in the market if you’re so inclined. A guide on a ferry tour of the sound mentioned that there something like 100 Starbucks in a 5 mile radius around the ferry dock, and seriously, it feels like you can’t swing a cat without hitting a Starbucks. While the Starbucks corporate story might be interesting to some, I think it’s much more reflective of the Seattle culture to discuss the independent coffee shops that fight every day for their place in a Starbucks-green town.

Muse Coffee

I ventured out to the Queen Anne neighborhood to connect with other food bloggers in an event organized by Frantic Foodie. I had a lovely time discussing the ever-evolving world of food blogging with a dozen or so Seattle bloggers. I was also reminded that connecting with other bloggers is as much of why I love food blogging as the actual crafting of my blog. But I digress. We met at a lovely spot about 5 miles outside of downtown in a largely residential area called Muse Coffee. With a handful of tables and some eclectic chairs, the space is open and the absolute opposite of consistent and corporate. They offer the standard complement of warm beverages, and I particularly liked their chai latte for its’ nice peppery finish. If you’re in the Queen Anne area, it’s worth a stop in for a few minutes to relax and soak up the local ambiance.

Seattle Coffee Works

The independent Seattle Coffee Works is located just a block up from the market and is a welcoming space that is designed to support both those pecking away at their computer keyboards and those who want to gather and chat. What was most interesting to me about this coffee shop is that they roast their own beans in a big orange roaster in the back affectionately named Anna. The owner, Sebastian Simsch, was kind enough to walk me through the entire roasting process, explaining how coffee cherries yield coffee beans and the chemical reactions that happen during roasting that cause the small, slightly-shriveled green beans to become dark brown, plump beans that are ready for grinding. His passion for truly good coffee comes through in the shop’s environment and the employee’s good attitudes, and as I left his shop, I thought that his was the kind of business upon which our country was built and that we all ought to support more. So, wander by the flagship Starbucks so you can say you’ve been there, but when you’re ready for a warm drink, walk an extra block up the street to Seattle Coffee Works to enjoy the true flavor of Seattle.

3 Comments

  1. Great post. Reading it made we want to jump on the next flight to Seattle!

  2. Oh, MAN. I’ve been meaning to get up to Seattle, and this just racheted my urgency up about ten notches. Truffle HONEY? Whoaaaaa!

  3. This is so fantastic! I’m actually planning a trip to Seattle this May and don’t really know a whole lot about the city yet. I’m looking forward to picking your brain even more when you’re back in Austin and recovered from your trip :) Thanks for the awesome recap.