Friday, May 27, 2011

Scrumptious Seattle with the PNBC: A slew of basics

(Ed.: I am pleased to report that E, who has previously written two guest posts, is assuming the position of Pacific Northwest Bureau Chief.  Her entries from the region will formally begin after she has relocated in the fall, but she has sent two tantalizing introductory posts, of which this is the first.)

While apartment hunting in Seattle this weekend with my mum, I had the opportunity to try out several restaurants ranging from fine to phenomenal.   The experience served to give me great confidence in the quality of food I'm going to be able to enjoy in Seattle, though I was already aware of its reputation as one of the best places to eat in the U.S.  One of the more well-known restaurants in the city, Toulouse Petit, will receive its own blog post for providing me what was, I think, the single best meal I have consumed in my young life so far.  Several other restaurants deserve mention, however, and they are detailed below.

1.  Louisa's Cafe and Bakery, in the Eastlake neighborhood
I was all set for a planned lunch in Eastlake on our first day, but neglected to notice that the favorably-Yelped restaurant I had selected was only open for lunch on weekends.  Whoops!  We were left wandering in Eastlake, and were drawn in the door of Louisa's by the totally incredible smell.  We later concluded it was probably the vegetable bisque soup that was the source of the delicious smell inside, and we felt cozy and comforted as we waited at one of the functional wood-slab tables in what was clearly a favorite hangout for locals of all ages (including many small children).

The menu was simple and family-friendly, and kind of fun - updated twists on classics like mac and cheese.  I ordered a tuna melt, and talked my mum into ordering the Hot Turkey Sandwich.  This sandwich turned out to be a feat of creativity, with a turkey dinner perched on top of a gravy-laden slice of bread.  It was worth the wait, mostly for the gravy - it was the best we'd had in recent memory, and good gravy can be hard to come by and even harder to make.  My grandma could do it - she had the magic touch and the determination.  But this gravy reminisced of hers, and it was wonderful.  

My tuna melt was also the best I had had in ages, made on thick crispy white bread with a good mix of cheddar and jack cheeses.  I could add salad to it according to my tastes, and I ultimately chose to make it open-face as the bread/cheese was a little overwhelming.  It was still by far the best tuna melt I've had since coming back from England, and we felt so lucky to have stumbled upon such a great hole-in-the-wall place.  Louisa's also had an extensive and promising-looking case of baked goods, and I will definitely be returning.
Grand Central was one of my great loves in Portland, and I was delighted to find they've opened a location in Seattle.  We only got a chocolate chip cookie here (I had forgotten how good a chocolate-chocolate chip cookie can be) so this post is more because I already know how good Grand Central baking is :).  I think their pumpkin bread is the best, but if you go and enjoy their cozy shop, I'd recommend anything they make.

3.  The Varsity, Ravenna neighborhood
I was originally very excited to blog this restaurant, because I got to have lunch there with my aunt and uncle, whom I don't see nearly often enough.  They graciously let me photograph their food before consumption for this post, and everyone agreed the food was generally good.  The Varsity is another kind of local hang-out, slightly dive-y, with a mascot dog, and the ambiance was good for our meal together and gave us a quiet corner to chat.  Unfortunately, the food was basic sort of to the point that I don't have much to say about it; The Varsity probably won't become one of my go-to places.  I think the happiest eater was my uncle, who had the fish burger pictured below and some perfectly-cooked fries.

4.  Volunteer Park Cafe and Marketplace, Madrona neighborhood
We found this place completely by accident while we were exploring the little twisty streets and gorgeous houses of the luxe Madrona neighborhood.  The cafe is in a cheerful yellow building on the corner of 17th and Galer and due to the color is hard to miss.  It seems to be the only establishment of its kind in the immediate vicinity, which is almost completely residential, and it seems to be a local hangout only (kind of a bonus for us, because it had so much character).  Apparently it has been standing there, in some incarnation of cafe/marketplace combo, since 1905.  I wouldn't necessarily say I felt confident in its adherence to health codes, but it was clearly remodeled and decorated with a great deal of love, and the food was interesting.  I got a mysterious-looking vegetable bread pudding that didn't photograph terribly well, but was hearty and good.  

It was predominantly bread and therefore a little dry, but it had peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, onion, a few valiant mushrooms, and a hint of pesto that was nice.  I think they melted Gruyere on the top.  As a meal goes, it wasn't extraordinary, but it was from such a great little cafe (I got my silverware from a set of aluminum tubs tucked into the top drawer of an old dresser in the corner) that I kind of had to love it.