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Awake at the Whisk: Eating Seattle

Monday, November 24, 2008


Eating Seattle

I hate eating out. When I travel, dining out is always a gamble. Often, I end up settling for artery-clogging fare that I would never considering cooking for myself at home. Such indulgences are fine as a rare treat enjoyed sporadically throughout the year. But when I travel, and good food is hard to find, I end up feeling like I’ve gathered rocks in my gut by the end of the week.

Not so in Seattle! Good food is always easy to find here.

Portage Bay Café
“Grains”—there is an entire section of the menu dedicated to this king-of-the-food-pyramid. Even though the USDA recommends we consume tons of grains in our daily diets, they are often hard to find on breakfast menus, save for the bland, goopy oatmeal served at typical diners. (In fact, I have often had to settle for this. Once, I even paid a whopping $7 for a bowl of the cold, paper-machete-like stuff.)

You can imagine my delight upon discovering multiple varieties of porridge at the Portage Bay Café: chai spiced, fruit-studded, and nut-filled. My stomach growled with anticipation!

Other menu items included hearty grain flap jacks in every variety—including one for vegans. These all came with access to their topping bar, complete with fresh berries and fruits.

The first-rate menu also contained smoked salmon omelets, breakfast scrambles served up with veggies, and oodles of other enticing dishes. White bread was nowhere to be found—only wheat toast prevailed. And every table came adorned not with tiny packets of fruit and corn syrup wrapped in plastic. Instead, we enjoyed heaping containers of homemade preserves with chunks of fruit.

Our party of six waited over an hour to be seated, but some things are well worth the wait. Portage Bay Café is one of them.

Piroshky Piroshky
Speaking of waiting… don’t expect good food to come easy in Seattle. Piroshky Piroshky is no exception. You can smell the fresh flavors around the block as they lure you closer and closer to their source. There’s an air of sweet, spice, and haunting that plays tricks with your nose. But when you find the shop, there’s no denying you’ve come upon something special.

The street-side display case reveals dozens of pillowy pastries, each filled with a different treat. From potato to cardamom, you’ll have a hard time selecting just one. I’ve tried my share over a series of trips to Seattle, and I loved each one in its own special way.

The potato and onion warms the belly and satisfies all needs for pure comfort and savory bliss. The cinnamon, cardamom and raisin twist causes you to lick, lick, lick until every last bit of spice and sweet are removed from your fingers. The rhubarb surprises your mouth with its array of experiences—from the tart of the fruit, to the sweet of the custard-like filling, to the crunch of the sugar topping. And all are surrounded by a golden melting, wispy, buttery dough.

Hale’s Ales
Come hungry!—and thirsty. After an eight-hour hike, I was ready for some serious food. As I ordered a red ale, nachos popped off the menu. Minutes later, a plate of gooey, cheesy tortilla chips piled high with olives and jalapenos appeared along with our beers. The amber ale was smooth and rich with flavor while quenching my thirst. The nachos were pure salt, crunch, and chewy cheese—just like I like them. Slathered in hot sauce, chased by the freshest of ales, this was the perfect post-hike snack.

The most difficult part of the night was not my eight-hour hike. Indeed, it was selecting from the fulfilling menu. Eggplant lasagna, enchiladas, portabella mushroom burgers, classic three-cheese grilled cheese sandwiches, and pizzas studded the menu. This was bar food at its best, yet with the welcome twist of multiple options for vegetarians, including veggie chili.

Always in search of the best pie, I ordered their veggie pesto pizza. It arrived piled high with roasted bell peppers, olives, onion, and tomato atop a gooey cheese and salty, rich pesto sauce. The crust was cracker-crisp—my favorite! Every bite was the perfect combination of chewy cheese, crunchy crust, and tangy vegetables. We left, bellies full (but not sickeningly bursting), and taste buds deeply satisfied.

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