A Food-Lover’s Tour of the Pike Place Market

Pike Place Market Summer Sundays

Since its founding on August 17, 1907, the Pike Place Market has been described in many ways. The soul of Seattle. The bizarre bazaar. Seattle’s alimentary canal. And perhaps the most evocative: a cluster of buildings on a cliff above an inland sea. For me it is all those things, plus one more: my neighborhood.

Each time I explore the ‘hood, I’m inspired by the peekaboo views of Elliott Bay; the aromas of exotic spices swirling through the air; the farmers proudly selling their hand-raised bounty; and the street performers who sing, perform magic acts, and play spoons on their bald heads. It’s a feast for all the senses that attracts almost 10 million tourists and locals each year, and nobody enjoys it more than avowed “foodies” such as myself.

If you’re lucky enough to spend an entire day in the Market, begin in the morning, but not too early. This Market has civil opening hours—9 a.m. weekdays and Saturdays, 11 a.m. on Sundays—although many of the businesses open earlier.

Start with a cafe au lait and a freshly baked croissant at Le Panier, Very French Bakery. Grab a seat and watch the Market come to life as the farmers begin setting up for the day and the craftspeople trundle their goods through the brick-lined streets. If all the seats at Le Panier are filled or you feel like walking, grab your coffee at the original Starbucks location just a little farther north along Pike Place.

Begin your shopping day under the Market clock at DeLaurenti Specialty Food & Wine. This Italian food mecca has been a Market fixture since 1928, and with hundreds of bottles of olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar, dozens of containers of olives and tomato-based products, a well-stocked deli and take-out pizza window, a café and a wine shop, DeLaurenti is not for the indecisive! MarketSpice, located across from DeLaurenti, has been in the Market since 1911. Here you can sample orange-scented MarketSpice tea and buy dried herbs and spices in small quantities, just enough to replenish those stale seasonings in your spice rack once a year.

On the east side of Pike Place, Frank’s Quality Produce is your first stop at a “highstall,” one of the Market’s numerous permanent fruit and vegetable stands. Here independent produce vendors offer goods from all over the world and also sell local produce in season. You’ll know you’ve stumbled upon a highstall, as opposed to a “lowstall” or “daystall” where local farmers and artisans sell their wares, if you spot tropical fruits (such as bananas or pineapples) on display.

Just north of Frank’s, in the Sanitary Market Building, step inside the Pike Place Market Creamery. Here, proprietor and self-proclaimed “head milkmaid” Nancy “Nipples” Douty features milk in glass bottles; eggs from free-range fowl; specialty butters; and any other dairy-related need. Be sure to try Nancy’s duck eggs; with their rich flavor and chubby yolks they are especially tasty for fried-egg sandwiches!

Continuing the dairy theme, watch the cheese makers at work at Beecher’s Handmade Cheese, which sells not only its own fresh cheese curds and hard cheeses, but carries a wide selection of artisan cheeses from around the Northwest. Just up the hill from Beecher’s, take an extended browse through the 12,500 items at Sur La Table, a kitchen equipment store that began in the Market in 1972 and has since sprouted branches across the country.

Farther north along Pike Place, the sweet, pungent smell of Indian spices will draw you into The Souk, a great resource for lentils in bulk, frozen halal meats, and chapati bread. Authentic German sausages are the draw at nearby Bavarian Meats.

After all that shopping, lunch sounds good. Take a gander at Emmett Watson’s Oyster Bar (named one of America’s best regional classic restaurants by the James Beard Foundation) or backtrack to Matt’s in the Market.

A leisurely stroll through the Main and North Arcades is in order while lunch digests. Start at the south end (near Rachel the Pig) at Don & Joe’s Meats, a family-owned meat store that has been in the Market since 1969. Pike Place Fish, nicknamed “the home of the low-flying fish,” is as famous for its singing fishmongers and their fish-throwing antics as for its impressive array of Northwest seafood. As you cruise by the four fish stalls along Pike Place during the summer months, be on the look out for justly famous Copper River king (Chinook), sockeye, and pink salmon from a delta in southeast Alaska.

Continuing north, Uli’s Famous Sausage offers homemade sausage created by Master German Butcher Uli Lengenberg, an engaging bear of a man. Check out the blackboard at Pure Food Fish for what’s fresh and tasty in seafood the day you visit. If you want to pick up something for dinner or send a care package to the folks back home, place your order with Richard, one of my favorite fishmongers, and tell him  that “Rex” sent you!

Just past the historic Athenian Inn (where scenes from Sleepless in Seattle with Tom Hanks and Rob Reiner were filmed) and Lowell’s (a favorite spot among Market regulars for after-work drinks), don’t miss the asparagus, fiddlehead ferns, wild mushrooms, and heirloom tomatoes at Sosio’s Produce, named for Sosio Manzo, an Italian immigrant who came to the Market at the tender age of 20.

Stopping by for samples of dried cherry trail mixes and chocolate-covered cherries and nuts at nearby Chukar Cherries is a must; sampling the specialty-food products at Woodring Orchards and award-winning pepper jellies at Micks Peppouri is another must-do Market activity.

In the Market’s North Arcade, City Fish was started by the City Council of Seattle in 1917 when the price of salmon had skyrocketed to a whopping 25 cents per pound! Nearby you’ll find Alm Hill Gardens, which has been coming to the Market for more than 35 years selling fresh produce, berries, and flowers. Their pine and holly berry centerpieces make fine holiday decorations.

Just up Pine Street you’ll notice a blue neon sign of a fishing fly that signals Kevin and Terresa Davis’s wildly popular Steelhead Diner. “Diner” in this case is nothing like you might imagine. Instead, you can find excellent renditions of Kasu-Marinated Black Cod; Wild Alaskan Salmon with Dried Cherry/Rosemary/Brown-Butter Sauce; Brutus Salad (Kevin’s take on the classic Caesar); and even Southern-Fried Half Chicken.

Stackhouse Brothers Orchards offers samples of dried fruits and almonds. Their orange-honey-coated almonds add a sweet crunch when tossed in mixed-green salads. Holmquist Hazelnut Orchards has been harvesting hazelnuts near the Canadian border since 1928. The DuChilly variety they produce is sweeter and lower in fat than conventional varieties and makes a flavorful addition to baked goods and sauces.

Interspersed throughout the Main and North Arcades you’ll find the Asian farmers selling Asian vegetables (Chinese broccoli, bok choy, and pea vines), “American vegetables” (zucchini and tomatoes), and prodigious flower bouquets. On Wednesday, Fridays, and Sundays from May through October, certified organic farmers set up under colorful awnings along Pike Place, while conventional farmers set up within the Main and North Arcades every day of the week.

Just past the Market’s north border across Virginia Street, you’ll find Etta’s Seafood, which serves one of my favorite renditions of salmon in town: Cold-Smoked Salmon with Cornbread Pudding and Shiitake Relish. Along Western Avenue, The Paris-Madrid Grocery specializes in foods, wines, and supplies from both sides of the Pyrenees. Don’t miss the cheeses, jamón Ibérico, and everything you’ll need to prepare paella. World Spice Merchants sells the freshest gourmet spices selected from around the world, inventive spice blends, and premium loose-leaf tea.

If you’ve followed my Market tour this far, you’re undoubtedly suffering from sensory overload, but a leisurely dinner should revive your spirits. French options abound in the Market and include Le Pichet, Place Pigalle, Cafe Campagne, and Maximilien-in-the-Market. If Italian strikes your fancy, then consider the grotto-like ambience of Il Bistro or the lively appeal of The Pink Door.

After dinner, kick up your heels (or watch the beautiful dancers do it!) at Can Can, enjoy a drink at the Alibi Room, or take part in some improvisational comedy at TheatreSports. Or maybe a soft, inviting bed sounds better, where visions of my neighborhood will undoubtedly tiptoe through your dreams.

Other Market shops of note:

The Perennial Tearoom, along Post Alley, for a wide selection of bulk teas, whimsical teapots, and daily-changing tea samples

The Tasting Room: Wines of Washington, along Post Alley, for samples from Washington State’s best boutique wineries

Made in Washington, Post Alley Market, for gift items made exclusively in Washington

Pike and Western Wine Shop, at the far North end of Pike Place, carries a good selection of wines from the Northwest and around the world

La Buona Tavola, along Pike Place, offers truffle-infused soups and sandwiches to take away or eat in-house, a plethora of truffle-based specialty products and accompaniments that you are welcome to sample before you buy, and wine tastings.

The Confectional, in a prime spot along Pike Place, baker and self-confessed chocoholic Paul Verano offers mini cheesecakes, cheesecake truffles, and medium- and full-sized cheesecakes in flavors such as Quadruple Chocolate, Vanilla Latte, and Triple Berry, along with daily and seasonal specialties.

La Bottega Italiana, on First Avenue just south of DeLaurenti Specialty Food & Wine, offers daily-made gelato (hazelnut and pistachio are favorite flavors!) and perfectly pulled Italian espresso, all served up by a brooding, model-attractive native Italian.

Article adapted and reprinted from Seattle Homes & Lifestyles magazine.