I’m in my favourite place for a casual coffee and snack in my local area. I live in a pretty commercial corner of the town, which boasts about 5 Starbucks and one cosy café, one old-school diner, a food hall, and several other franchised café/eateries such as ‘Chipotle’, ‘Panda Express’, ‘Red Robin’ and ‘Subway’ just to name a few. When I can, I love an excuse to take me out of this highly commercial area so I can enjoy a good coffee, and a good vibe in an independent business. My local café is often too dark, the food is pretty ordinary, and the noise unworkable. There is no nice vibe, in fact it feels hostile at times.
Here, where I am this morning, up the road a bit, away from the shopping district, there is the smell of coffee and good, smoky bacon. There are always a lot of relaxed people around, many in my own demographic, as well as younger and older. Lots of dog owners (though they keep dogs outside). People play with their kids (or ignore them) on a big rug at the back. Many people have become familiar faces to me. There is light. The coffee is excellent. The food is usually delicious. They make a maple and bacon muffin which is awesome. I meet here to ‘write’ every Friday morning, though sometimes it’s purely a social gathering. Oh, and they know my name now, when I order stuff!
This place sits up on Roosevelt Rd, along with a few pubs and another couple of restaurants, amongst other small businesses in Mapleleaf. I love this part of town. It is a very steep 15 minute walk up through the suburb from my place, or it’s a short bus ride.
I can get a really good fresh croissant here, or a breakfast sandwich on an English muffin or a Bagel. There are lots of cakes and quiches to choose from. There is a range of great looking sandwiches that they will make fresh, including the BBQ pork, the Cuban, Turkey, cream cheese and cranberry, Tuna salad, Mediterranean roasted veges, (though I’ve yet to try one). I often get a croissant with ham and cheddar, which is chockers with good ham, unlike in Australia, where the meat portion on a sandwich is distinctly light-on. (I really think there is no excuse for skimping on the meat in a sandwich, because they are incredibly expensive, for that tiny sliver of turkey or beef or pork they give you at home.) Let the Americans take credit for knowing how to put together a good sandwich.
Although don’t get me started on the bread. AS we speak, I am stocking up on par-baked and bakery breads in my freezer, because there is no such thing as a corner bakery for miles or a milk bar where we can grab a loaf on my way home from places, and I live a good walk from the supermarket. I have tried several of the packaged brands of bread, the white, the whole-wheat, the grainy, and they all stick to the roof of our mouths. They have so much sugar in them. They feel wrong, they taste wrong. Only the Italian style or Sour dough breads are less sugary. The good bakery breads are excellent, but as I said, I have to get to a supermarket that is out of my way when I’m in transit, so I make special ‘bread shopping’ trips to stock up. If I had a bigger kitchen, I would make my own.
I love to buy a sandwich at QFC, an upmarket grocery where I can also get a hot sandwich from the deli counter on my way out, and savour it’s deliciousness on the way home as a reward for walking up to the supermarket along the noisy, smelly road. They give them names like ‘The Rainier’ or ‘The Snohomish’, and pack them full of really nice cheese, pestos, relishes, mustards and Boars Head Cured meats. I always feel like a bit of criminal for ordering one, but it is so worth it to get one. I always get it cut in half so it can be stretched to 2 meals, or shared. One day Johnny and I greedily thought we could eat more than a ½ roll each, and ordered a grilled cheese sandwich as well to share on our way home. We were really hungry and it was a very cold and grey day. We walked past the old homeless guy on his wheelie-walker on our way in, and the minute we saw him again on our way out we knew we had to give the grilled cheese to him. I will one day be greedy enough to order one for myself.
These are but a few memorable foody experiences I have had here in Seattle, in USA generally. I wish I could say I’ve had many more, but I really did know what I was in for, moving here. I knew it could be a challenge, to be able to eat what I was used to here. I knew the food would, at the very least, look different, and possibly taste differently. I have been really fortunate to fall in with foody types, who have travelled, and have shaken loose their need to have every little thing BBQed, covered in buffalo sauce and bleu cheese and other indiscriminate flavourings, or in a burger… people who ‘get’ food, and care where it comes from, and that it is different the world over. We’ve been taken to a place that does oysters and raw food, which is possibly the best place in town, we’ve had amazingly cooked Central American food at a gaudy old garage painted up to be a festive cantina- served Mojitos with plantain chips and moles to die for. We’ve had beautifully cooked Bistec et frites in a French restaurant, crab dips, lobster rolls, Aussie style pies, authentic Mexican food, Indian food, Korean banquet, Yum Cha and Southern style food truck delights. We had Caribbean style jerk cooked food in beautiful sandwiches, in another converted garage. (This up-cycling of mechanic workshops into restaurants is to be commended). We were fed a delicious crab and lobster filled ravioli- lasagne at Christmas. We have had fresh filled dumplings cooked for us, pork ribs and roasted chickens and lamb chops cooked for us by our friends in their homes. Beautiful, fresh and nutritious food.
We’ve have tried Southern fried chicken in a few places, and I can’t fault it anywhere. It is always delicious. All I know is, I should never really have it.
All the same, as much as Seattle is fast becoming a foody destination, (according to word on the ‘street’), the idea where a café is a more casual place where there is restaurant style great food available has not quite caught on. Not in the suburbs, at least. People still expect and receive the over-sized sandwiches, huge plates of diced potato and bacon with everything, hot or BBQ sauce with everything, and there seems to be an expectation for people’s plates to be loaded up with no space left. Loaded up to the roof in some cases. Lunch is often a 3 courses on an order affair, with soup, salad, chips to go with your sandwich, panini, burger or bagel. You feel weird just ordering a sandwich. But I quite like the ½ sandwich +soup options in some places. (You don’t have to be a pig). You are often expected to order at the counter and bus your own dishes. As nice as the staff are at the counter, they don’t often clean up after you. Everyone knows where to put their dirty dishes. Salads are often very much a chopped up bowl of everything in a bowl. I have seen maybe two carefully arranged salads on a plate in 20 months.
Breakfast, on the other hand, is a FULL plate of stuff, and often a pancake to go with it. The American breakfast is seemingly a tradition that will never budge, especially since people in the west will now eat biscuits and gravy, fried chicken and waffles, and even pulled meat on their eggs Bene, (which often is smothered in béchamel and not hollandaise). The Avocado Smash phenomenon and the Shakshuka are happening, but only in those very trendy cafes where people line up out the door, such as you see on Portlandia. The best option if you don’t want to walk out feeling like you’ve done something really dirty and need to go and take a long shower and hit the gym all afternoon, is to have a breakfast bagel or croissant. Which is what I do here quite often. They don’t actually do big plates of food here, just sandwiches, quiches and cakes. Beautiful cakes, wholesome and generously full of fruit or nuts. Their coconut bread is to die for.
Today I am going to do something different for me, and order pie (fruit, probably berry), only I didn’t see any pies in the display case at the counter. But I do know that, unlike at home where you feel very strange and humiliated to ask for things you cannot see, I know I can ask here and they will probably want to give me along and well explained story about the display case being broken or the pie oven being broken or the berry supplier being on strike. And then we’ll probably get talking about my accent and about someone’s sister who went to Adelaide or somewhere. It will be pleasant and not humiliating. And then I’ll order something else.
When I leave here I will probably hit QFC and grab some good bread and maybe even a sandwich for Johnny and I to share for lunch. If we go to the pub later it will mean a fairly naughty food option. Happy Hour Food is often quite calorie heavy. Cheese balls, Fried curds with a delicious raspberry sauce, Fries, pulled pork potato skins, pizettes, nachos, burgers, sliders, buffalo wings are some of the things you might find on the menu. One of our 2 locals has much more fresh fare, (woodfired pizzas and salads for example) and the other has much more traditionally prepared, aka fried food. Unfortunately the one with the cheap Mug Club beer is the one with all the greasy options. My favourite item on their menu is a raw tuna Poke ‘nachos’ on fried wonton skins, with mashed avocado, jalapeno slices, spring onion and a teriyaki dressing. It is really delicious, but doesn’t seem to line my stomach for the ensuing pints of beer well enough, unfortunately. It has taken months of experimentation to figure out the best ‘drink friendly’ foods to begin a night on, and to work out that a starter snack of something small but stodgy then another later on after a couple of drinks, then maybe a THIRD night cap (small) supper is possibly the best way for me to cope with 3-4 (or more) pints. It can get pretty washing machine-like in my tum at times.
(I’d better poke in a disclaimer here: while I am not on a strict calorie controlled diet, I am actively trying to NOT put on MORE weight before I return home to the land of salad days). A heavy meal when drinking is just stupid. Dessert is ridiculous. No-one needs that much food! Well I don’t. I don’t move enough. And then, if brunch is on for the next day, well that is just really asking for more lard to deposit itself on my rear…
I’ve actually decided against the pie. The shared monster sandwich Johnny and I will have will be quite enough food for the rest of the day.
Until ‘happy hour’.