Those of you who follow my blog regularly or who have looked through my recipes know that I am a fan of seafood. So, when I heard that Ethan Stowell (of How to Cook a Wolf, Union and Tavolata fame) was planning to open an Italian seafood restaurant just up the street from me, my interest was piqued. When I found out that all dishes would be priced at under $20, I went from interested to enthusiastic.

Anchovies & Olives, which has been open for just under two weeks now, is located in the new Pearl condominium complex at 15th and Pine. Like the building it’s housed in, Anchovies & Olives has a very modern look to it: low lighting, high ceilings, big windows and lots of clean lines and blank spaces. In larger restaurants, this type of decor always feels a little cold and impersonal. In the small space at Anchovies & Olives it seems to work – a small room always makes things feel more intimate. The busy open kitchen right smack in the middle of the restaurant also does its part to promote a warm and inviting atmosphere.

As promised, the menu is heavy on the seafood. In fact, other than foccacia bread and fried marcona almonds, I didn’t see a single dish that wasn’t based on some form of seafood. The menu is divided between “crudo,” appetizers, pastas, and entrees. The crudo menu offers a wide variety of ultra-fresh fish and shellfish dishes, all of which are served raw and with simple seasonings. The appetizers range from basic bread with olive oil to baccala (salt cod!) salad and clams with beans. The pastas, in true Italian fashion, are made by hand and served very simply. Spaghetti with sea urchin and conchiglie with octopus, tomatoes and capers are some of pasta dishes that caught my eye. A small number of entrees round out the menu and include dishes such as sea bass with house made sauerkraut and branzino with oxtails. The wine list features Italian wines only and is 70% white. You might consider this a bold choice, but I think it’s the right one. White wine is almost always a better choice with seafood. It’s about time white wine started getting some attention.

We started off with the focaccia bread and the fluke crudo. People will likely gripe at the fact that the bread isn’t free but, for only $2, you get a healthy serving of bread, olive oil for dipping and a smattering of Arbequina olives. The fluke crudo consisted of six slices of fresh raw fluke dressed in a citrus-infused oil with hearts of palm and some kind of fancy sprouts. It was simple and utterly delicious. For his main course, Robert had the linguine aglio olio with crab. It was a bit oily, but the texture of the pasta was great and the dish had a nice kick to it. Although I was highly tempted by the sea urchin spaghetti, I ultimately chose the grilled mackerel as my entree. The mackerel was served with sautéed hedgehog mushrooms and a sunchoke puree. It was a pretty small portion, but mackerel is so rich that it ended up being the right size for me. The mushrooms were really tasty and provided competition for the mackerel and fluke as best bite of the evening. To drink, we had a delightful white wine: 2007 Quattro Mani Toh-kai. This wine was light and crisp yet had enough body to make it a good match for nearly everything on the menu.

Overall, I’m very happy to have Anchovies & Olives in the neighborhood even if it is a bit pricey (our individual meals may have been $16 each, but crudo and wine sure do add up.) We spent a little bit more than usual, but we had great customer service and the seafood dishes were all well-prepared and were different from what you typically see in other restaurants. I’m looking forward to returning. The sea urchin pasta is next on my list. Come summertime, I could easily see us stopping by for some crudo and a couple of glasses of chilled wine!

We’ve been getting so much snow here in Seattle this week, and I’m completely loving it! Yesterday’s snowstorm thwarted our plans for dressing up and going out for our annual holiday cocktail – hiking boots, rather than high-heeled boots, were the order of the day around here. The snow does more than any winter cocktail ever could to put me in the holiday spirit so we ended up having a really special day anyway despite our holiday date being canceled. We also unintentionally wound up visiting three restaurants that I had never been to before making the day that much more memorable.

We left the house early yesterday morning and carefully navigated down the icy sidewalks to our first stop: Kaladi Brothers Coffee. Kaladi Brothers began as an espresso cart in Anchorage, Alaska; they now have twelve locations in Alaska and one in Seattle. Robert goes to Kaladi Brothers nearly every day since it is around the corner from his work, but this was my first time. The people working there are really friendly and the space is funky and comfortable (and warm!) Their coffee is delicious and, considering that it has felt like Alaska in Seattle all week, it seemed fitting to be frequenting an Alaska-born coffee shop. An interesting side note: Kaladi Brothers coffee is also used to make Cha Dao Black Tea & Coffee Drink which you can find in grocery stores all around Seattle (and it happens to be one of Robert’s favorite beverages.) After a hot cappuccino and a hearty slice of banana bread, we slip-slided our way downtown to finish up the last of our holiday shopping.

On the way home from shopping, we decided to swing by Oddfellows Cafe, the brand new restaurant from Linda Derschang (of Linda’s Tavern and Smith fame) and Erika Burke (of Volunteer Park Cafe.) It is a beautiful space; Linda somehow always manages to make her restaurants look like they have been around forever. This big, light, airy cafeteria will be serving up simple fare for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. Not surprisingly, the menu has a lot in common with the menus at both Smith and Volunteer Park Cafe (lots of meaty comfort foods.) Things were a little hectic and disorganized while we were there but, considering that they just opened for business this week – the snowiest week in years – we were more than willing to be patient. I had a green salad and butternut squash soup which came with a hefty chunk of seeded baguette. Robert had the grilled BLT with avocado. Both were quite tasty. Based on what I’ve seen so far, it looks like Oddfellows will be a great addition to the neighborhood.

After stopping at home just long enough for me to make a batch of Mexican Wedding Cakes and for the next big blizzard to start up, we decided to head out for dinner. Hopvine Pub was slammed so we hiked across the street to check out Olympia Pizza & Pasta instead. Olympia is the sort of pizza place every neighborhood should have with old fashioned vinyl booths and a heavy dose of cheese. It’s also one of those places that I have walked by a millions times but, for whatever reason, never really noticed before. Its old school decor and menu full of comforting Italian-American classics made Olympia the perfect cozy retreat from the snow. Plus, we scored the best table in the house: window seat right next to the Christmas tree! I ordered a glass of sangiovese and the baked cheese manicotti which arrived at my table bubbling away. I lingered over my meal in a state of bliss, taking in all the little sentimental moments happening around me: a car driving by with a snow-dusted Christmas tree on top, a man scurrying home with the bare essentials (TP and a six pack of Jubelale,) a baby with a giant smile on its face upon seeing its very first decorated Christmas tree. It was like being in my very own holiday TV special. We wandered home in the snow full and happy – a perfect end to a perfect winter day!

Friday night, Robert and I headed down the street to finally check out Boom Noodle. When I learned last year that my neighborhood was about to get a Japanese-style ramen house, I was super excited. I pictured a noodle shop just like those in the International District: crowded, loud, harshly lit and lacking in decor, all offset by a menu of cheap, delicious noodle dishes. The perfect spot for a quick, satisfying meal on a rainy night. When Boom Noodle finally opened it’s doors and revealed itself to be an extremely posh restaurant and cocktail bar (with prices to match) I have to admit that I was a little disappointed. Silly as it may be, because it wasn’t my vision of what a noodle house should be, I hadn’t been particularly motivated to try Boom Noodle yet. Friday’s blustery, rainy weather had me craving noodles so we thought it was finally time to give Boom Noodle a shot.

The ambiance at Boom Noodle is hyper trendy. It has a very modern, IKEA-esque look, with bright green walls, high ceilings, and lots of black, metallic, angular furnishings. Boom Noodle is also host to the single most obvious restaurant trend of 2008: the communal table. While I’m not a fan of communal tables, they seem to work well with Boom Noodle’s “upscale cafeteria” style. There is also a handful of individual tables located in the swanky bar just past the restaurant. Everything at Boom Noodle is very heavily branded. The chopsticks, the bowls – nearly every dish was adorned with Boom Noodle’s logo. I even spotted a “Boom” wine behind the bar. Boom Noodle isn’t a chain yet, but it clearly dreams of becoming one.

The menu at Boom Noodle is broken out between small plates, chilled noodles & salads, hot noodles & soups, wok noodles & rice, and extras. The surprisingly lengthy list of small plates includes such interesting choices as omakase pickle plate, edamame puree and miso broiled rice cakes. The balance of the menu is devoted primarily to noodle dishes. Offerings range from the very traditional (chilled somen noodles served with grated daikon and tempura dipping sauce) to the more innovative (roasted red beet soba, a soup made with julienned beets, pickled plum, wakame seaweed, shiso leaf and red beet broth.) The drinks menu is also quite inventive. Ingredients such as shiso, ginger and yuzu all make an appearance on Boom Noodle’s cocktail list.

We started off with a couple pints of Sapporo and the Curry Potato Korokke: Japanese potato croquettes served with a ginger creme fraiche. The croquettes were tasty, and the flavor was strikingly similar to that of Indian samosas (it kind of left me wishing we had a tamarind chutney for dipping instead of the ginger creme fraiche.) For his main course, Robert ordered the beef yakisoba. He liked that it wasn’t overly sweet but thought it was a bit too aggressively flavored. I was really tempted by the red beet soba but ultimately chose the salmon udon which consists of thick udon noodles served in a white miso broth with spinach, shiitake mushrooms, lightly smoked white salmon and a hard boiled egg. The soup is garnished with a crispy salmon skin “cracker.” The noodles were perfectly cooked – chewy and thick like good udon should be. The salmon was delicious and the broth was good, although, like Robert, I found it to be too heavily flavored. Subtle doesn’t seem to be on the menu at Boom Noodle.

Boom Noodle’s name is derived from the Japanese term “my boom” which means the thing that you are currently obsessed with. After one visit, I can’t say that Boom Noodle is “my boom” just yet, but the innovative menu and the tasty (if overly bold) food is enough to keep me coming back. Plus, I still have to try that red beet soba! You can certainly get cheaper food in the International District but, on a rainy night when I want some noodles, the four block walk from my apartment to Boom Noodle sounds awfully good. Boom Noodle is located at 1121 East Pike Street.

Friday night, we found ourselves wandering around Capitol Hill without a particular dinner destination in mind. This is pretty unusual for us; normally, by about Wednesday or Thursday, I am so excited about the approaching weekend that I have already planned out all of the places where we will go to eat. We eventually decided to swing by Via Tribunali in the hopes that they might have a table free. We were doubtful since this section of Capitol Hill gets exceedingly busy on Friday nights (it’s no wonder when you consider the fact that Capitol Hill hotspots Pike Place Fish Fry, Neumo’s, Quinn’s, Bimbo’s and Via Tribunali are all located within the same two blocks.) We lucked out! Not only did Via Tribunali have a table available but it was a table right by the big open garage door, about as close as you can get to outdoor seating in Seattle!

Via Tribunali (or “the Trib” as it is affectionately called by people around these parts) specializes in authentic Neapolitan pizza. Authentic is not just a pretty word being bandied about here; Via Tribunali’s pizzas are made in accordance with the strict regulations of the Verace Pizza Napoletana Association, a group founded in the mid-1990′s whose objective is to protect the tradition of Neapolitan pizza. In order to be certified by the VPN, you must follow all of their regulations which detail such things as how the dough is made, how the pizzas are cooked and what ingredients may be used (for example, only true San Marzano tomatoes, grown in the volcanic soil of Mt. Vesuvius, are allowed.) True Neapolitan pizza is made in a wood-fire brick oven which must be approved by the VPN. Via Tribunali’s oven was hand-crafted using supplies imported from Naples including bricks made from the ashes of Mt. Vesuvius. Even the guy who made the oven was brought in from Naples. Now that’s dedication!

The menu is, not surprisingly, primarily dedicated to pizza. There are a few salads and starters and a couple of calzones listed as well. The pizzas are all very simple in keeping with the tradition of Neapolitan pizza. If you like your pizza loaded up with tons of toppings, look elsewhere; these pizzas are all about good crust and good tomatoes (oh, and a little bit of cheese too!) I was really torn between the Margherita and the Napoletana which is topped with tomatoes, oregano, garlic and anchovies. I finally settled on the Margherita; you can’t go wrong with tomatoes, mozzarella and basil! Robert ordered the Toni Lupino which is topped with mozzarella, Italian sausage and coppa, a type of cured meat (pig collar, to be specific.) They were out of Italian sausage (crazy!) so he just got mozzarella and extra coppa.

Our pizzas arrived at the table hot and bubbly. They looked absolutely beautiful, and they tasted even better! The tomatoes were sweet and delicious and the mozzarella was creamy and comforting. I would have liked it if there were more than three leaves of basil on my pie but, again, that’s just part of the whole minimal ingredients thing. With all that luscious tomato sauce and olive oil, I thought for sure that my pizza would be soggy. Not at all! I guess this is where the stamp of authenticity comes in to play. The crust on this pizza was amazing! It was elastic and chewy, even in the center where the sauce had congregated. And, the bottom side of the pizza had just the perfect amount of char. A small word of warning: these pizzas are served unsliced so you’re going to have to do a little bit of work while you eat (I used a butter knife to cut into mine but you can also ask for a set of pizza shears.) Robert made fun of me throughout the meal for cutting my pizza into perfect, even wedges as I ate it. What can I say? I like a nice wedge of pizza. Besides, since I didn’t just tear right into it with my bare hands, I was able to slowly savor my pizza. And, this is pizza that should be savored. Delicious crust, silky tomatoes, creamy cheese and a big glass of Dolcetto d’Alba – I could eat like this every night!

Well, we finally made it to Pike Street Fish Fry. I’ve been meaning to try this place ever since it opened back in late April. I’m not sure why it has taken me so long. I’m a huge fan of fried fish, and Pike Street Fish Fry is only a couple of blocks from my apartment. Plus, I just love the term fish fry! It conjures up images of a different time and place. A fish fry is pretty much just what it sounds like: a meal made up of fried fish, usually served with fries and coleslaw. Fish fries are very popular in the Midwest and Northeastern part of the country, especially in areas with significant Catholic populations where fish is traditionally served on Fridays. My mom, who grew up near Chicago, remembers her dad stopping to pick up fish fry every Friday night on the way home from his job at the steel mill. Now, I too can stop by for some fish fry on my way home from work (although, since Pike Street Fish Fry is open every day, I don’t have to wait until Friday to get my fried fish fix in!)

Pike Street Fish Fry is located right next door to Neumo’s in the space previously occupied by Frites, a popular, but ultimately doomed, Belgian frites shop. Everything I’ve read about Pike Street Fish Fry makes a point of describing how exceedingly tiny it is inside. Fully expecting to walk into a space the size of a small closet, I actually ended up finding it to be almost roomy. It is small, but not claustrophobically so (although, if you are very tall, you may feel a bit cramped; unlike at most of Capitol Hill’s new restaurants, all of which seem to be competing to see who can achieve the loftiest space, the ceiling at Pike Street Fish Fry is extremely low.) Pike Street Fish Fry’s small size doesn’t matter too much, though, because it isn’t really meant to be a sit-down restaurant. There is only one small table inside and a few others outside; otherwise, you eat standing up at one of the counters or you order your food to go. Cal Anderson Park is conveniently located two blocks away and is the perfect spot for a fish fry picnic.

The menu is divided up into several categories: Battered & Fried, Just Fried, Grilled and Sauces. The Battered & Fried section lists five or six choices of fish as well as one or more seasonal vegetable (asparagus in the spring, green beans in the summer, etc.) Fish is brought in daily from Mutual Fish, and there is a strong emphasis on sustainable seafood. The Just Fried section includes French fries and “Spanish fries” which are French fries served with a sweet chili sauce and sour cream. Grilled offerings include octopus, steak and fish of the day. Finally, there are the sauces: classics such as tartar sauce as well as more unusual options like smoked chili aioli, salsa verde and curry ketchup. Everything is ordered a la carte, and each individual item costs anywhere from $4 to $10. Anything on the menu can be turned into a sandwich with slaw for an extra $1.

I gluttonously ordered straight off the Battered & Fried menu: smelts, zucchini and lemons. Robert chose catfish and Spanish fries. Our order came up, and we immediately realized that we had ordered way too much. I’ve never had so much fried food in front of me before. It looked like we had joined some sort of battered and fried Olympics. How embarrassing. My smelts were pretty tasty, though. They were fried in a very light batter, similar to tempura. It was nice and crisp and actually stayed crispy the whole time! This was a real treat. I absolutely hate soggy fried fish, and it’s amazing how many places can’t seem to get it right. The smelts measured about 6 inches each, edging close to the size at which I would no longer consider eating them whole. But, I ate my smelts head to tail, taking a slightly sadistic pleasure out of dipping them head first into Pike Street Fish Fry’s delicious salsa verde.

The fish, fries and zucchini were all very good, but my favorite thing was the lemons! Battered and fried lemon slices come with each serving of fish at Pike Street Fish Fry. I had heard great things about these lemons so I ordered an extra helping. I’m glad I did because I only got two measly slices with my smelts. I wouldn’t have thought fried lemons to be very good, but these were tart, sweet, crispy and totally wonderful. I put forth a good effort, but I wasn’t quite able to finish my extra lemons. I ended up giving them away to the people sitting next to us (as fellow fried lemon aficionados, they were more than happy to take my leftovers.) Overall, everything that we ate at Pike Street Fish Fry was really good. The prices and location are pretty hard to beat, and I’m looking forward to working my way through the various types of fish on the menu (the fried fish balls and grilled octopus are next on my list.) I see many, many fish fry picnics in my near future!

Pike Street Fish Fry is located at 925 E. Pike St.

We wanted to get a really early start on our hike last Sunday so Robert and I decided to spend Saturday night in Leavenworth. Leavenworth is located on the eastern slopes of the Cascade Mountains, about 100 miles east of Seattle. It also happens to be situated 11 short miles away from the trailhead to Lake Caroline making it an ideal stopover location. For those of you that don’t already know, Leavenworth is not your average town. It is a full-fledged Bavarian village! Every single building in Leavenworth is outfitted with Bavarian touches, even the gas stations and the supermarkets. Some people might call it a cheesy tourist trap, but I like it. My grandparents lived there for many years so we used to visit all the time. I had lots of fun in Leavenworth as a kid. Bavarian-styled buildings and kitschy toy and gift shops – what child wouldn’t love it? It was like our little Disneyland (minus the rides.) Although it is much bigger now, and many of the kitschy shops have been replaced with upscale wine tasting rooms, Leavenworth is pretty much exactly as I remember it.

After an amazingly traffic-free drive down Highway 2 on Saturday afternoon, we arrived in Leavenworth famished! We immediately headed down to München Haus, a classic Leavenworth eatery where I knew I could get my hands on the one thing that I was craving: sauerkraut. Hey, this is a Bavarian village after all! München Haus is located right in the heart of downtown Leavenworth. It is less of a restaurant, and more of a glorified beer garden (or is that biergarten?) Communal picnic tables are arranged around a small courtyard where bands sometimes play. The restaurant is primarily outdoors, although most of the seating is covered by roofing or large umbrellas which provide much needed relief from the hot sun (or snow, depending on the season; in the winter there is also a big open fireplace in the courtyard to keep everybody warm – sounds cozy!)

München Haus specializes in one thing: bratwurst! They have a wide variety of brats to choose from including standards such as kielbasa and knackwurst, as well as more unusual fare like curry wurst and vegetarian wurst. You order and pay for your brat at a window and then grab a seat in the seating area and wait for your order to come up. Beer and wine is sold at another counter and, since this is Washington State, they feature plenty of local brews and wines in addition to the expected German imports. All brats are cooked to order on an open grill. München Haus is a very busy place, and I’m fairly certain that this has something to do with the aroma coming off that grill. It is pretty hard to resist. It may also be because München Haus’ food is relatively cheap. Our two brats came to $11.

Robert had the München Haus Beer Brat, an all-pork bratwurst boiled in beer. I ordered the vegetarian wurst. I really didn’t expect much from my wurst but, since I was in it mainly for the sauerkraut anyway, I wasn’t too concerned. Boy was I surprised! München Haus’ vegetarian wurst was amazing. It was spicy and flavorful, with plenty of delicious caraway seeds sprinkled throughout the “meat.” But, best of all, it was somehow actually juicy. Vegetarian meat substitutes have gotten better over time, but the one thing they are never able to imitate is the juiciness you get with a piece of meat. Not so here. I don’t know if München Haus just slathers it with grease before grilling or what, but it was great. I think Robert was even a little jealous. Topped with a smoky porter mustard (one of about 30 different mustard offerings,) horseradish, chopped onion and München Haus’ famous apple cider sauerkraut, this vegetarian wurst made me one happy camper (for that night at least – the next night, of course, I was fated to become one truly unhappy camper!) We washed our brats down with München Haus’ house brew: Alpine Brewing Company’s Marzen Amber. After dinner, we did a little shopping, cooled off with some huckleberry ice cream in a waffle cone, watched Bavarian music in the park and grabbed an Icicle Ale at Gustav’s before heading back to our hotel.

Besides ice cream, one of my favorite things in Seattle right now is the Grilled Sardine Sandwich en Baguette at Cafe Presse. I’ve expressed my love of oily fish before on this blog, and sardines are among the best of this group. Sadly, none of the fishmongers here seem to ever sell fresh sardines. Canned sardines are good, but nothing beats a grilled or pickled fresh sardine. Hopefully, if the new trend towards eating lower on the seafood chain holds up, we will begin to see more of these kinds of fish in the shops. I would absolutely love to be able to walk down to Pike Place Market and pick up some fresh sardines or anchovies. Until that happens, I will continue to content myself with Cafe Presse’s delectable sardine sandwich.

A mere $5, gets you a crusty, chewy baguette filled with crisp butter lettuce, vinaigrette and mayonnaise, and two plump sardines, their beautiful, shimmering silver skin charred to perfection. If you are squeamish at all, don’t worry. Their heads and tails have been removed; you’ll only have to contend with a vertebral column or two. The baguette is guaranteed to tear your mouth apart, and the sandwich drips everywhere, but it is so worth it. The sardine sandwich comes with just a few cornichon on the side but, if you desire a more filling meal, a large bowl of frites only costs $4. When we go to Presse for breakfast, which we do frequently, I almost always order the sardine sandwich. Yes, that’s right, for breakfast – I like to get my omega 3′s in early in the day! They’re good for your brain!

So, for as long as I can remember, I have had these recurring dreams where I discover a whole new world of shops hidden away in mysterious tunnels around Seattle. In these dreams, the tunnels are almost always located somewhere down at Pike Place Market, although sometimes they connect up with other tunnels in Pioneer Square. Sometimes they are underground and are actually very cool and cave-like and other times they are more like simple alleyways that I just never noticed before. Frequently, these shops are full of really awesome clothing (all of which fits me perfectly of course) but, more often, they are filled with unusual and delicious foods or yummy, whimsical candies. What kind of person dreams of hidden candy shops? Was I born in Whoville or something?

Whenever I have one of these dreams, I wake up really excited. I know it’s only a dream but, there are so many hidden nooks and crannies down at the Market already, it makes me think that, if I just looked hard enough, I might actually discover something new and wonderful that I hadn’t come across before. And, Seattle does have a whole underground level. Perhaps there really are special caves down there with mysterious underground dwellers selling all manner of wondrous candies! Okay, maybe not, but that sure would be exciting!

I bring all of this up because, several months ago, I stumbled upon a photo from Procopio Gelateria, located on the Pike Street Hill Climb between the Market and the Waterfront, and I was immediately hit with a sense of déjà vu. I can’t remember having ever gone to Procopio before, but, in this photo, it looked so familiar. In fact, it really looked a lot like one of the specific shops I had imagined in my dreams. Was it just a strange coincidence? Did I have some sort of psychic connection to this place? Or, did I go there once as a kid and have images of it stored away in my subconscious only to be brought forth in a dream later in life? Procopio has been in business since 1980 so it’s not completely outside the realm of possibilities that I went there as a child.

I became kind of obsessed with Procopio for a while after that. I really felt that I knew this place from somewhere. Finally, I couldn’t stand it anymore so I had to go check it out and see if I could resolve this mystery. Since today was my birthday, I decided a birthday gelato was in order. My friend and I took a break from work and headed down to Procopio. Well, I am sad to report that no major revelations took place. The shop from my dreams was several stories high with walls of glass and mirrors on all sides and a tall staircase winding down from the entrance. Procopio has some windows and mirrors and there is a long staircase outside the building but the similarities end there. I was more immediately struck with how similar Procopio’s layout is to that of Zig Zag, a bar a few shops down from Procopio, than I was by anything from my dreams or childhood memories. I don’t know where that initial feeling of déjà vu came from, but I was definitely not feeling it today.

That’s not a very thrilling end to my story, I know. But, do you know what is thrilling? Delicious gelato from Procopio! They only had about 10 or so flavors available today, but they all looked really good. I was tempted by the prickly pear, kiwi, blackberry and lavender. In the end, however, I couldn’t resist my two favorites – coconut and pistachio – so I got a scoop of each. The gelato was so creamy and the flavors were subtle but amazing. It was the perfect treat for this first day in June that actually feels like summer (the sun actually came out on my birthday for once!)

It was an amazingly sunny and hot day in Seattle yesterday, and Robert and I took advantage of it with a trip to the Ballard Locks. On the way, we decided to swing by Lunchbox Laboratory, Ballard’s new burger shack, to see what all the fuss is about. I’ve been hearing about this place everywhere for the past few weeks it seems. All of the food blogs are raving about it. It even came up in my knitting group forum. Lunchbox Laboratory is apparently the new hotspot in town so, of course, I had to go and check it out!

At first glance, Lunchbox Laboratory looks like your average burger joint: casual, kitschy and tiny (and, when I say tiny, I mean tiny – there are only three tables inside!) As evidenced by the long line of people waiting to order, however, it is anything but average. Moments after we had secured our place in line, the line behind us had doubled in size. I guess I’m not the only one who’s been hearing all the buzz about this place. There was only one woman taking orders and serving food so the line was moving pretty slowly. Although there were only 5 or so people ahead of us, it still took about 20 minutes for us to even get to place our order.

20 minutes is actually the perfect amount of time to wait, as it turns out, because Lunchbox Laboratory’s menu is huge! It takes at least 10 minutes to even read through the thing. Then, you have the challenge of actually making up your mind. The menu is written up on two big boards: daily specials and drinks on one and burgers and sides on the other. The burgers are “build your own.” You start with a choice of patty which includes standards such as beef and lamb as well as some more unusual options like kielbasa and “the dork” (a duck and pork blend.) Then, for toppings, you choose from a list of a dozen or so cheeses and an even greater number of creative sauces (satan’s tears ketchup, million island, and stone-ground horsey aioli to name just a few.) There are some other toppings available as well such as maple bacon and crushed green olives. Sides include fries (skinny, krinkle, tater tot, sweet potato) as well as onion rings and mac and cheese. As if that wasn’t enough to make your head spin, even the fries come with your choice of salt (bacon, smoked tea, etc.) A variety of daily specials and shakes and sodas round out the menu. We had barely managed to get it all figured out before it was time to place our order (I’m guessing this is a common problem since the woman taking orders actually complimented us on our ability to place our order in an organized and efficient manner, a feat I’m quite proud of!)

We took our burgers down to the locks and found a nice shady spot to sit and eat. All of the food was still piping hot and crisp when we took it out of the bag, always a good sign. The burgers, which were absolutely enormous, came wrapped up in tin foil with a little box of sliced tomato, crisp romaine hearts, shredded onions and pickles on the side. I had a falafel-quinoa burger topped with havarti cheese and basil aioli. It was great but impossible to eat politely! The patty itself was crusty, tasty and very moist (a rare quality among veggie burgers.) I could see pretty little flecks of red quinoa throughout the patty which made me happy. Robert had a buffalo burger with havarti and BBQ sauce. He loved it. We both ordered the same fries, skinnies with bacon salt (which is magically vegetarian.) They were delicious! I washed my burger down with a Jackson Hole huckleberry soda.

I could only eat about half my burger before I felt like I was going to explode. Robert had to lay down for a bit after finishing all of his. I’m pretty sure these burgers are potentially coma-inducing. I can only imagine what might happen to a person who orders the cheese-stuffed beef patty topped with more cheese and maple bacon. Yikes! Feeling the need to work off some of our gigantic, delicious lunch, we wandered around the locks for a bit. Robert hadn’t been there before, and I always forget how neat it is. We spent some time watching the water levels being raised and lowered to allow the boats to pass through. We saw tons of baby salmon passing through the fish ladder on their journey out to sea where they will mature into adults. We were even lucky enough to spot a greedy sea lion on the other side waiting for the baby salmon to come through!

Robert and I took a trip to the Ballard Farmers Market last Sunday. Our Capitol Hill Farmers Market opens this coming weekend, and, although I’m super excited about it, it really can’t hold a candle to the Ballard Farmers Market. The Capitol Hill market is very small with only a handful of farmers selling their produce and an even smaller number of vendors offering baked goods or other prepared foods. The Ballard Farmers Market, on the other hand, has everything! Organic meats, fresh shellfish, tons of cheese vendors, pizza fresh from Veraci’s mobile pizza oven, live music, you name it. I’m so jealous that it isn’t in my neighborhood. I’m hopeful that our little farmers market will begin to catch on and grow a bit over the next few years (it’s still pretty new.)

Aside from the fact that a trip to the farmers market is generally a fun way to spend the morning, our main reason for going was to get our hands on some tamales from the Patty Pan Grill stand! The last time we visited the market, back in early April, we had just eaten breakfast so we weren’t in the mood to eat anything more. But, after catching a whiff of the grilled onions and veggies coming from the Patty Pan Grill stand, we made a pact to come back as soon as possible. All of the tamales at Patty Pan Grill are vegetarian, and you can order them solo or with a side of their delicious grilled vegetables. The grilled veggies – that day a mix of cabbage, kale, gai lan, and onions – are cooked on a large cast-iron griddle with ground cumin and chili powder. The aroma coming off that griddle is amazing. We ordered a tamale and a grilled vegetable quesadilla (pictured.) The tamale and quesadilla were both good, but it was the grilled veggies that really did it for me!

Robert decided to pick up a 3-pack of tamales to take home and have as his Cinco de Mayo lunch the next day. We also bought a poppy seed-filled bread and a raspberry strudel from the Little Prague Bakery, a half loaf of Tall Grass Bakery’s awesome pumpernickel-dried cherry bread, a small wedge of “Tipsy Cow,” a cabernet-washed cow’s milk cheese from River Valley Ranch (which went beautifully on the pumpernickel-cherry bread) and some baby carrots and rapini which Robert used in a delicious noodle stir-fry for dinner Sunday evening. Hooray for the farmers market!

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