In and Around Seattle’s Pike Place Market

Our weather around here has been unprecedented. You could honestly say that since June, there has been very little rainfall in the Pacific Northwest. This past July has been the driest on record, matched only five other times since measurements have been taken (1896, 1922, 1930, 1958 and 1960). Some may be quick to proclaim that our outstanding weather this summer is a sign of global warming, but that prognostication will have to wait.

So, it was a no-brainer that we should get off our duffs and spend the day just being outside. We chose to enjoy the day in and around Pike Place Market, tourist destination extraordinaire and source of local pride. It was easy to hop on the bus from the Eastside and leave the driving to Sound Transit.

We arrived at the Market a little after 8am, when the stall vendors were still setting up and before the crush of summer tourists. In a few short hours, the cruise ships that dock to the north of the Market will unload thousands of passengers. At this hour, we were ready for breakfast.

Breakfast at Lowell’s

Lowell’s has been in business since 1957. Like The Athenian next door, its location overlooking Elliott Bay makes it a prime restaurant for locals and tourists alike. From almost any seat on the upper floors, you can get a commanding view of the bay, ferry boats plying back and forth between the waterfront and Bainbridge Island or Bremerton on the peninsula, West Seattle, Safeco Field (where the Mariners play), Qwest Field (Seahawks), container terminals operated by the Port of Seattle, Olympic mountains and now the Great Wheel. During peak hours, it’s almost impossible to get seating, but our arrival early in the morning guaranteed that we had the place almost to ourselves for a leisurely, relaxing breakfast. We shared a Lowell’s specialty, slow-braised corned beef hash. It was a solid version (☆☆½) consisting of diced corned beef that hinted of cloves and other warm spices and potato chunks that were too soft. The eggs were poached perfectly, hash browns cooked well. The coffee was good and self-refillable from pump pots.

The view from the third floor did not disappoint.

Pike Place Main Market vendors and shops

It used to be that more farmers sold their produce at the Public Market. But now, as it has been for some years now, the eastern stalls along the Main Market are dominated by Hmong and other flower vendors. You could make a strong case for saying that they have revolutionized the floral business locally. With their plethora of flowers and knack for floral arrangements, the florists will sell you quite a beautiful bouquet for as little as $5. More money will get you harder-to-find specimens and fuller arrangements, rarely amounting to more than $20.

Summer fruits were in abundance today, including many berries. With fall fast approaching, the first mushrooms were making their appearance. And it would not be the Pike Place Market without its seafood stalls. The much-publicized Pike Place Fish Co. has such a dedication to quality, customer service and just plain having fun that The Boeing Company used a short documentary of its operation as an example to its employees of a commitment to excellence.

Top Pot and Voodoo have their fans, even Winchell’s or Dunkin Donuts for that matter, but locals and tourists flock to Daily Dozen Doughnuts, Seattle’s own that has been serving customers for as long as I’ve been coming to the Market. The thing is, they make miniature donuts. Fresh out of the frying oil, they are quickly tossed with powdered sugar or cinnamon or sprinkled or just plain. Are these the best ever? Maybe not, but they’re fun and their miniature size makes you feel less guilty.

No visit to the Market would be complete without a visit to one of the great ethnic markets of Seattle, De Laurenti, which sells Italian food items of all kinds.

The Sanitary Market

Most of the restaurants and bakeries are located in the Sanitary Market, east of the Main Market. To this day, the name invites questions, if not snickers. It is so-called because horse carts were not allowed inside when it was first built in 1910.

The first Starbucks store opened here in 1971. Genuflecting fans and curiosity seekers swarm the store, it seems all the time. Because of very limited space, there are no tables inside to sit down. All you can do is order a cuppa joe (or a latte, etc.) and drink up the atmosphere (and purchase limited Pike Place Starbucks souvenirs). The sign that hangs in front of the store still has illustrations of the original Starbucks logo mermaid that, as the chain became more successful and mainstream, prompted a less provocative redesign.

Straight from Portland, Le Panier has been making delicious French pastries, both sweet and savory, at this location for many years. This place is always packed with customers, even early in the morning, when you can grab a quick pastry and coffee. Their macarons are a personal favorite and their baguette sandwiches are very good.

Beecher’s Handmade Cheese began business at the Market in 2003 and has since opened a store in New York City. Their cheeses have won national recognition. I’ve yet to try the much-praised mac & cheese made with their Flagship and Just Jack cheeses. Minus the pasta, the same cheeses make up their praised grilled sandwich. At the shop, you can actually see cheese being made in a giant vat, in an enclosure walled off by glass.

The giant kitchen supply retailer, Sur La Table, got its start here at The Sanitary Market.

A relative newcomer to the Market is a deli that offers a wide variety of take-out foods. Michou has won several awards for their freshly prepared items that include sandwiches, salads, soups, pizzas and pastries.

Waterfront and Alaskan Way

We made our way down to the waterfront from Pike Place Market by taking the Hillstreet Climb, a broad stairway that connects Western Avenue (the back of the Market) to Alaskan Way, the street that parallels Elliott Bay. Along the climb are one of Seattle’s best Mexican restaurants (El Puerco Lloron) and one of the first gelaterias to open its doors in town (Procopio). The bottom of the stairway lies underneath the Alaskan Way Viaduct, a raised section of Highway 99 that will soon be dismantled and the thoroughfare replaced by an underground tunnel, Seattle’s version of Boston’s Big Dig.

Our urban walk continued northward along Alaskan Way, past the gigantic (and undeveloped) Piers 62 and 63, past the port where cruise vessels dock, past Pier 70 from where The Victoria Clipper makes it daily sailings to and from Victoria, BC, to the Olympic Sculpture Park. All of the piers along this commercial stretch have public access to the edge of Elliott Bay. These provide nice views to the south of Seattle’s distinctive skyline.

SAM Olympic Sculpture Park

At the start of the Ellliott Bay Trail was an impressive concrete stairway framed on one side by an angular wall. They comprise a grand entrance to Olympic Sculpture Park, an urban stretch along the railroad tracks that provides space for a collection of modern sculpture, sponsored by the Seattle Arts Museum (SAM) and spread out over a quarter mile. One piece is a glass- and laminate-covered walkway suffused with pigments that cast subtle colors on the ground, depending on the sun’s angle. Inside the informational building was an impressive wall entirely covered by artwork, drawn with blue paint and silver paint pen, that depicts the power of water.

Sights along the Elliott Bay Trail

The Elliott Bay Trail is a 5-mile path that starts at Qwest Field in the south and ends at Smith Cove in Magnolia in the north. We didn’t connect to it until we came to the Olympic Sculpture Park. From there, it’s a fairly wide path for foot traffic, a parallel one for bikers and other wheelers right next to it. Along the way, you can get wonderful views of Elliott Bay and, on clear days, the Olympic peninsula and the mountains that dominate it. Many birds can be seen offshore.

Our endpoint for the day’s excursion was an immense structure along the Elliott Bay Trail that I often see when driving past, the Dreyfus Grain Elevator complex that loads corn, soybeans and wheat from Midwest and Northwest states onto outgoing marine vessels. Trains unload the grain which can be stored in gigantic silos or loaded directly onto the ships. It’s an impressive sight, an engineering marvel. From here, we turned around and headed back to the Market.

Lunch at Gourmet Dog Japon

Before boarding the bus back home, we had a quick lunch at Gourmet Dog Japon.

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