Thursday, August 26, 2010

From the Market to the Table

By a single vote in the Seattle City Council in 1921, the Pike Place Market, then only 14 years old, was spared relocation.

In 1924, Seattle's mayor, "Doc" Brown, dismissed Pike Place as a "narrow cow path" and proposed a giant new public market structure. His idea repelled the public, and he lost the 1926 mayoral election.

Brown’s scheme was the first of many that would have effectively killed the Market in the name of "saving" it.

Around this time, a judge ruled that all stalls--farmers' and middlemen's--were illegal on public sidewalks. The matter went all the way to the State Supreme Court and Legislature, but the crash of a different market in 1929 imposed a truce. As the Depression deepened, Seattle needed her public market more than ever before.

But the City's 1968 demolition of the old National Guard Armory fed fears that the Market was next. Anxieties were not calmed when Mayor Dorm Braman denounced the Market as "a decadent, somnolent firetrap."

Urban renewal proposals brought new challenges to the existence of the Market, but supporters successfully mounted defenses against each. And as the Pike Place Market passed its 100th birthday, it was characterized as "still active, still varied, exciting and terribly important in the welter of overindustrialization."

We entered the Market early one weekday morning and passed two of the most popular--and colorful--types of shops: flower shops and fruit and vegetable stands.

By late morning, the aisles became quite crowded, and it always seemed as though we were headed against the flow of traffic.

But at one of the shops, the traffic was at a standstill. The Pike Place Fish Market has become the primary tourist attraction of the Market. In 1965, John Yokoyama purchased Pike Place Fish, from his employer, and he tells the story of an early meeting with his staff and a consultant. "The first step for us at Pike Place Fish was to decide: Who do we want to be? We wanted to create a new future for ourselves. One of the young kids working for me said, 'Hey! Let's be World Famous!'

"The more we talked about it, the more we all got excited about being World Famous. So we committed to it. We added 'World Famous' to our logo and had it printed on our shipping boxes.

"Then, after a while, we asked ourselves, 'What does this mean--being world famous?' For us it means going beyond just providing outstanding service to people. It means really being present with people and relating to them as human beings.... They experience being known and appreciated whether they buy fish or not."

This philosophy was clearly practiced. There were always two staff members in front of the counter talking to people and answering questions. Also, there was constant banter between staff and visitors.

And, yes, they do periodically toss a fish to a fellow behind the counter (as in the photo above).

But we moved on to some of the smaller speciality shops.

At Three Girls Bakery, you can buy sandwiches at the deli portion or loaves of bread from the shop's window, from which we purchased a ciabatta and a rosemary garlic(left and right, respectively, in photo below).

We also purchased a bottle of Olio Pomorodo (olive oil with sundried tomatoes, oregano, and garlic) from Sotto Voce and four cheeses from Beecher's Handmade Cheese (Flagship, Raw Milk Flagship, Marco Polo, and Just Jack).

From Pappardelle's, we bought some Southwestern Blend pasta (blue corn, yellow maize, red Southwestern chili and green jalapeno). We passed on the chocolate linguine.

And at three other shops, we purchased Woodring's Peach Chipotle Pepper Jam and Raspberry Pepper Jelly with serranos and jalapenos, some Dry Roasted Hazelnuts from Holmquist Orchards, and from Market Spice: Market Seasoning, Seventh Wonder (for potatoes), Italian Vinaigrette, and Yogurt Dill Dressing.

Our Plan Was to Shop
and then have lunch at one of the small cafes near Pike Place Market.

Plans changed when one of us picked up information on Ivar’s while we were crossing Puget Sound on the ferry. We remembered fondly the excellent clam chowder we had eaten at the Ivar’s in the food court of SeaTac Airport on a stopover from Alaska to Philadelphia. And since there is a large Ivar’s restaurant (with its trademark motto in neon) almost next door to the ferry terminal, what could be better than to have a good bowl of chowder before returning to Bainbridge Island?

The waterfront Ivar’s offers two dining alternatives. There is a “fast food” take-out stand and your meal can be eaten under a large tent-like structure or on the dockside patio. Of course, outside you have to contend with hoards of aggressive seagulls encouraged by the tourists tossing them French fries. And where you find aggressive seagulls you find…Well, you know what you find. Or, you can eat inside in air conditioned and gull free comfort. The latter was our choice.

Chuck, of course, started with a bowl of the while chowder which “has won numerous awards: Best of the Northwest Chowder, Best of Western Washington KING 5 TV, Bremerton Sun Readers' Poll, Chowder Champions Hall of Fame, Cook Off Competitions (most recently the Santa Cruz Chowder Cook-Off 2003), Award of Excellence from the American Tasting Institute…” (from the restaurant’s website). It was as good as we remem-bered--liberally stocked with potatoes, onions, celery, and--especially-–clams in a rich and creamy base. While it was thicker than I like, Chuck thoroughly enjoyed every spoonful.

I, on the other hand, ignored the maxim “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Rather than staying with what I knew and had enjoyed, I decided to order a cup of the red clam chowder expecting to get chowder similar to the clear broth with tomatoes style of Manhattan clam chowder. Was I dis-appointed! This resembled a very thick gluey cream of tomato soup with some potatoes, celery, and clams and some unidentified seasoning which may have been thyme. If I am going to eat cream of tomato soup, I want a grilled cheese sandwich alongside to dip into the soup.

Now it was on to the main course. Chuck ordered the Fried Seafood Combination with breaded cod, battered clam strips, and fried shrimp and served with French fries. What does it mean when the fries are the best thing on the plate at a seafood house? They had a crisp exterior and a fluffy and steamy interior and were really quite good. The clam strips were good but didn’t make me forget New England. The shrimp were on the small side and were a bit overcooked – probably because they were so small. And the cod was a small strip of fish inside a thick tube of breading.

For my lunch, I ordered the appetizer portion of calamari rings that had been lightly dusted with flour and cornmeal before frying. The coating was so thin as to be transparent and under this coating were tender and sweet rings of squid. The accompanying chipotle lime aioli gave the dish some zing. My calamari was as good as Chuck’s seafood was disappointing.

Well, this lunch had its winners and losers. Chuck’s chowder, his fries, and my calamari all earned 4.0 Addies while his seafood combo and my chowder don’t merit anything higher than 2.5 Addies.

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