The Real Pike Place

Longtime Seattle resident Steve Lorton takes you beyond the tourist turf to local favorites at the city's 100-year-old public market.

Pike Place Market

Mike Jensen 

Say "Seattle" and visitors from around the world automatically think of Pike Place, where fishmongers bark out one-liners as they fling salmon back and forth. But there's a secret side of the market belonging to the locals, and you can see it if your timing's right.

About 8 a.m. each day, things begin to stir, and the surge of year-round tourists is a full two hours away. Dedicated patrons head for the produce at the market's south end, stepping gingerly around the sheets of water hosed across the floor for daily cleaning. "We've got chanterelles, of course, portobellos and shiitakes," says a cheerful vendor, pointing to an impressive array of mushrooms next to his dates and chestnuts. There are maitakes, cremini, eryngiis, and more. "But look here," he says. It's a box filled with what looks like black coral. "We got black trumpets. Real rich. Great in risotto."

Go ahead―purchase a few irresistible selections and move on to Uli's Famous Sausage. At $6.99 a pound, the pork-apple bratwurst sounds good. (You may not have a kitchen in your high-end boutique hotel room, but pick up the brochure filled with Uli Lengenberg's recipes. Maybe start thinking about Granny Smiths stuffed with sausage and breadcrumbs for the Sunday after Thanksgiving back at home?)

A stop that's suitable for kitchens either a few blocks away or across the country is DeLaurenti, a mainstay since 1946. More than 115 different olive oils pack the shelves and compete for attention with 250 cheeses, 500 Italian wines, and 10 types of prosciutti.

Of course, you can never sample too many cheeses, and Beecher's offers little-known, handmade artisan varieties. They're perfect for picnics aboard Elliott Bay ferries to nearby islands. And half a block away, you can smell Le Panier, brimming with baguettes, épis, and other classic French breads. Buy a croissant aux fruits or a chocolatine to savor with an espresso at one of the tables.

For more international fare, watch as dough and filling are combined in what their makers call "festive pies" at Piroshky Piroshky Russian Bakery, north of Le Panier, on the same side of the market. While traditional piroshky might be chock-full of beef, potatoes, onions, or mushrooms, here you can also get them with a salmon pâté―served with a delicious Russian accent. "This is to be eaten from the hand!" says the clerk in no uncertain terms.

Toward noon, when you see someone pull out a camera and photograph a child next to the market's iconic bronze pig, it's time to disappear into a restaurant for lunch. Maximilien, a venerable French café, is an excellent choice. Get a table overlooking Elliott Bay, and fasten your eyes on the ships moving through the fog.

For something more upbeat, Copacabana spotlights Bolivian flavors and South American bustle. If weather allows, sit on the terrace for a grand view of the market scene. Or, for a sense of Seattle's old working waterfront, head to The Athenian Inn or Lowell's, which retain the spirit of a bygone era. The two neighboring, three-story restaurants serve up panoramic views of the port, the ferries, and the Olympic Peninsula mountains.

No matter how much you pack in, one morning at the market is just a start. To really know Pike Place, you must take its resting pulse several times. Even locals who work here never get enough. "I'm at the market because I can't escape it. Don't want to," says Gary Goedecke. He has worked a day stall here for 33 years―selling hand-screened silk aprons and tote bags for the past 17―and is now president of the Pike Place Merchants Association. What keeps drawing Gary to work each day is, he says, "the unpredictability, the excitement, the friendliness of it. It's market magic, I guess."

From the November 2007 issue

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