Lively, literate and liberal-minded Seattle is also a great eating city: You may come for the coffee, but you’ll stay for the biscuits and brandade de morue. Consider Pike Place Market, as much an emblem as the Space Needle and emphatically not a tourist trap. Locals shop here for a wide array of fruit, flowers and, of course, fresh fish. Take a moment to admire the arrangements of glistening seafood, luminescent on their beds of crushed ice, and don’t miss the famous salmon-tossing shtick—it’s hokey, but it’s fun. Be sure to pick up some fresh fruit to bring back to your hotel and avoid mini-bar temptation; the local apples are exceptional.
Across the street from the rambling market is a mother lode of food shops and eateries, including perennial favorite Piroshky Piroshky. There’s no place to sit and almost always a line, but it’s worth the wait for a handcrafted Russian pastry warm from the oven, be it an apricot turnover or a hand-held pie packed with bacon, hash browns, eggs and cheese. A few blocks away is the famed Fran’s Chocolates, where confections are displayed in elegant rows under glass and complimentary samples wait on a silver platter. There are assorted truffles and chocolate-dipped fruit, but the salted caramel is the star. Gray salt caramels dipped in dark chocolate are sprinkled with sea salt from the Brittany coast; smoked salt caramels dipped in milk chocolate are finished with sea salt that’s been smoked over Welsh oak. Either makes a compact souvenir that’s a perfect “thank you” for your pet sitter.
In the same Pike Place neighborhood, Le Pichet is a bastion of rustic food and wine that’s open from 8 am till midnight. This 32-seat gem offers an excellent selection of charcuterie, including house spice-brined beef tongue and Serrano ham from the Spanish Pyrenees, offered in open-faced tartines or plates stacked with up to eight selections. Non-carnivores will revel in the warm brandade de morue, served with crusty grilled bread and olives. As for main courses, the grass-fed steak frites is bested only by the pan-roasted local salmon fillet in a lovage broth dotted with crispy semolina dumplings. If dessert would send you over the top, enjoy the complimentary housemade butter caramels presented with the check. And because this is Seattle, you can always grab a coffee to go.
Unless you time it just right, you’ll be taking your order to go at Biscuit Bitch at Caffe Lieto. Tiny and cheerfully frenetic, this “trailer park to table” spot specializes in huge, fluffy, flavorful biscuits with sausage gravy (or a gluten-free, vegetarian shiitake mushroom gravy) and “fixin’s.” Replete with bitchy badinage (“It’s your choice, bitch!”), the menu offers options such as a Hot Mess Bitch that involves eggs, garlic grits, cheese, grilled Louisiana hot link and jalapeños. A limited number of gluten-free biscuits are baked each day, so celiac bitches can get in on the fun, too.
For post-prandial snoozing, there’s the centrally located Fairmont Olympic, a historic 450-room hotel whose down pillows and duvets ensure luxuriously restful sleep. After a swim in the glassed-in rooftop pool or a run on the treadmill, you can indulge in a room-service breakfast poolside wearing a fluffy terry robe and slippers. And if you prefer to dine in the hotel one evening, the on-site Shuckers turns out a fine crab Louie salad, as well as an oyster-palooza of 13 kinds of oysters prepared nine different ways.
A 10-minute cab ride from the Fairmont is Capitol Hill, a densely populated area that’s a center for the LGBTQ community. It’s also home to Capitol Cider, a friendly tavern whose lower level boasts shuffleboard tables, a fireplace and a stage for live music. Upstairs the vibe is quieter, with dark paneling, cozy booths and a kitchen that’s soy-, peanut- and gluten-free. Omnivores won’t feel deprived, however, with dishes such as roasted cauliflower salad with dandelion greens, toasted hazelnuts and tart cherry vinaigrette or steak frites with charred broccoli and harissa butter. Everything is delicious, and the waiters are happy to offer guidance on the 20 rotating taps of specialty ciders.
If your schedule allows for a day trip, make your way to the waterfront and hop a ferry to Bainbridge Island, a scenic 35-minute ride away. Seven artisanal wineries, a brewery and an organic distillery are located here, along with eminently browsable galleries, stores and a small-but-special farmers market (kiwi berries, anyone?). Bainbridge Island Museum of Art, a LEED-certified, solar-paneled structure with a rooftop garden, is only a short stroll from the ferry. You won’t find blockbuster exhibits; local and regional contemporary art fills the museum, which is less than three years old but garnering national recognition. After a visit, head to Mora Iced Creamery for superlative artisanal ice cream; flavors may include one of three (!) permutations of dulce de leche. Once you’ve indulged, take a quick $2 bus ride to the Bloedel Reserve, an entrancing 150-acre mix of woodland and landscaped gardens, including a Japanese garden and a reflecting pool—an ideal place to walk off some of a Seattle sojourn’s well-earned calories.
–Although nearly 20 shops in Seattle now sell marijuana for recreational use, take note: You must be at least 21 to enter, purchases are cash-only and available in limited quantities, and merchandise can’t be carried across state lines or used in public.
Bainbridge Island Museum of Art biartmuseum.org
Biscuit Bitch biscuitbitch.com
The Bloedel Reserve bloedelreserve.org
Capitol Cider capitolcider.com
The Fairmont Olympic Hotel fairmont.com/seattle
Fran’s Chocolates franschocolates.com
Le Pichet lepichetseattle.com
Mora Iced Creamery moraicecream.com
Pike Place Market pikeplacemarket.org
Piroshky Piroshky piroshkybakery.com