Nibble Your Way Through Pike Place Market with Eat Seattle Food Tours
By guest author, Linda Milks
What a sight shoppers witnessed on August 17, 1907, along the cobbled and planked streets of Seattle where eight horse drawn carts driven by local farmers and loaded with produce sold out before noon to nearly 10,000 shoppers. Those beginnings had people on horses and live chickens a few months later at this market site. Within 3 months, 120 farmers were selling from their wagons. And, by the end of the year there were 76 stalls for farmers and food vendors protected by a long narrow shed to ward off the rain.
The market has had its ups and downs, but community leader Victor Steinbrueck formed the Friends of the Market who put on the ballot a measure to make the Market an historical district where it was preserved.
On the day Debbra Dunning Brouillette and I visited as part of an International Food Wine Travel Writers Association trip, the 50th anniversary of the saving of the market was in full swing.
We were fortunate to have signed up with Eat Seattle Food Tours, a 2-hour chef guided food tour. This group is the 33rd largest tour group in the world. We were being guided around the crowds by a chef at the longest continuously running market in the United States. Owner and founder, Liz Philpot, is a Cordon Bleu trained chef and has created this chef-led tour to entertain, explore, and nibble your way through the market. Chef Sean was our guide for the day, taking us to places he loves. We were to experience nine stops during our walk.
One of the amazing pieces of information he shared is that each day these vendors set up their stalls first thing in the morning and repack and sweep their stalls in the evening. This happens day after day for these merchants.
If you love chocolate, you will love our first stop at Joe Chocolate Co., home to chocolates containing small batch naturally caffeinated coffee. A bag of Joe Chocolate is equivalent to two cups of Joe. We were offered a small cup of Mocha which jolted us on the route for the rest of our day.
Nothing makes me happier than creamy cheese so I was very elated to have our next stop be Beechers Handmade Cheese. Peeking through the window, we saw milk being churned into whey with no artificial ingredients and no preservatives, just fresh local milk. We sampled cheese curds, the cheese, and then some of their rich and creamy Mac & Cheese (which you can buy online.) In August 2012, Beecher’s Flagship cheese received the highest honor given to American artisan cheeses at the American Cheese Society annual competition – the coveted Best of Show, beating out over 1,700 cheeses from Canada, the United States, and Mexico.
As a child, we would travel from Nebraska to Copalis, Washington, to dig clams and visit my grandmother. My aunt made what I believed was the best clam chowder ever. Visiting Pike Place Chowder brought back fond memories of that chowder. This restaurant simmers a wide array of chowders, many of which have won national awards and is the most award winning chowder in the country. Connecticut is home to the biggest competition where New England Clam Chowder judging at the Chowdafest Hall of Fame takes place. Pike Place Chowder is the only West Coast chowder to ever be inducted into this Hall of Fame. The lines for blocks of those anticipating that delicious chowder is proof that this chowder is worth the wait.
Who doesn’t love good pizza, and that was our next treat. Pizza and Pasta Bar was founded by a family who moved to Seattle 25 years ago with the idea of working in architecture and finance. However, the bug of opening their own restaurant never went away. I can tell you that those family recipes certainly have created some delicious pizza. In addition, rumor has it that this is one of the best meatball subs in Seattle. That will be next on my list to try.
Truffles, not the chocolate kind, were to be our next tasting. Truffle Queen Gourmet Selections is where you can see those expensive whole truffles in a jar and breathe in the earthiness of them. We sampled Mushroom and Olive Sauce with Black Truffle and Olive Oil on a small crostini. In addition to seeing those black truffles, the Truffle Queen is where you can find a collection of all kinds of gourmet delights to take home to friends that are carefully handpicked by the mother/daughter owner team. Their Truffle Salt is 10% concentration. We were told you shouldn’t cook with truffle salt but rather use it as a finishing salt. If you visit, be sure to check for wine tasting of small local Washington wines where you can buy open bottles for $5 each during Happy Hour.
Ellenos, “the yogurt that makes ice cream jealous” had me hooked with the first bite of this decadently rich and creamy yogurt with its Marionberry (a Northwest berry) topping. Who would have thought this would be my favorite stop of the day. This Greek father/son team opened in 2013 and hold family competitions for who can create the best yogurt with the best blend of creamy, sweet, and tart flavors.
Seattle can get chilly which is when it is a good time to head to MarketSpice store to treat yourself to a body-warming tea of cinnamon and orange. We did, and it was so delicious that I had to bring some home for myself and for gifts.
Our last stop for food was Pike’s Pit Bar-B-Que where you can “Pick Your Meat,” “Pick Your Dish,” and “Pick Your Sauce.” Sauces range from Mild (with a kick) to “Damn Hot” (it’s no joke.) Meat choices are pork, beef brisket, chicken thighs, or hot links. This is slow roasted wood smoked barbeque at its best. They even have Walkabouts served with a heavy dose of fun and cleanliness they call “Funkensparkle.”
While we all love to enjoy the wide variety of food stalls and restaurants at Pike Place Market, Chef Sean pointed out that this market is home to the most diverse population of anywhere in the country which adds to the beauty of visiting the market.
In addition to these wonderful food delights at the market, the Atrium Kitchen (which has cooking classes at the market) is home to another neighborhood organization. Chef Traci Calderon started Nourished Neighborhood in 2017. This organization provides hot multi-course meals to both seniors and the low-income community as well as where guests of all facets of the Seattle community can come to share a meal once a month. Since March 2020, because of Covid, they shifted towards delivering meals to home bound seniors and people living homeless throughout Downtown Seattle, Queen Anne, Capitol Hill, Belltown, and Ballard. Over 35,000 meals have been served to home bound seniors and the homeless population.
In May of 2013, Pike Place Market Preservation & Development Authority and Seattle Urban Farm Company teamed up to create a community garden called the Secret Garden in the Pike Place Market. The 2,000 square foot garden is comprised of a rooftop patio, garden seating, and garden beds in the heart of the market and is now a gathering space for Senior Center residents, volunteers, and market visitors to meet and participate in garden activities. Produce is donated to the Pike Market Senior Center and Food Bank.
Standing guard over the market is Rachel the Piggy Bank who arrived on the scene in 1986 and has raised around $200,000 for the Market Foundation. Rumor has it that if you rub her snout, it will bring you good luck. For me, spending a day at Pike Place Market and enjoying a food tour with Eat Seattle Food Tour is good luck enough.
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A note from the author: My belief is that travel exposes a person to other cultures and helps us to understand, tolerate and accept. Food is an extension of how people from other regions live their lives.