Since I have made it clear that I spend much of my travel time and energy on eating and/or thinking about eating (just as I do at home, but more exotically, if you will), then the clear corollary is that I am inclined to travel toward, and for, specific foods and eateries. Returning to my home turf is clearly a time when this is bound to take on a significance and intensity of the grandest proportions. Needless to say, it would be impossible to revisit every place we love to eat in one trip, let alone a fairly brief holiday, but we are dedicated enough to the love of good food to make our best efforts in the attempt.
Spud Fish & Chips is a local landmark institution that predates even my existence by, say, half a length, and its place in my personal registry of notables was confirmed very early not only because it’s a great place to get very tasty, freshly made cod and chips for which people have long been accustomed to queue up around the block and down the street, but one of its four (I think) branches happens to be located about two doors down from where my grandparents had their apartment when I was small. The cod (or halibut or salmon or shrimp, if that’s your preference) is hot, moist and sweet and coated with a lovely, crispy golden jacket that holds the fillets neatly together whilst they are being gently paddled through a bit of sweet tartar sauce or drizzled with malt vinegar en route to their demolition. The fries are unevenly hand-cut so that one gets the meaty, mealy, potato-y big fries and the medium, slightly more greasy ones and the thin, crisp ones all together for fine textural variety.
From the first bite of cod, I was transported immediately to the days when my parents would pile us four girls into the car and head to Grandma and Grandpa’s and at some point we would essay right across the street to Alki Beach (the nicest and most popular tidal beach in Seattle), play until we were sufficiently caked with sand and maybe had had a quick stop to pay homage to the Ice Cream Cone Lady, a 3-meter mini of the Statue of Liberty that stands almost directly across from the apartment on the beach whom I so named for my obvious assumption about that strangely compelling object she lifted in her hand while she hugged what I guess I must have thought was the menu to her bronze breast. After these exertions we would inevitably get hungry for the aforementioned fish and chips, preferably followed by our own ice cream, and that was the heavenly point of the whole outing. Besides Grandma and Grandpa, of course.
Another luscious luxury I crave after too long away from it is the New England style clam chowder at 42nd Street Cafe in Seaview, Washington. In our earlier married years either my husband and I had a whole lot more free time on our hands or (more likely) were willing to cram more into the available time, so we went as often as we could manage for a three- or four-day weekend on Washington’s Long Beach Peninsula. It’s quite touristy, especially in the summer high season, because of the marvelous beaches, the excellent boardwalk, the fantastic biking and walking paths that range all over the peninsula, the usual silly shops, the fairly constant wind that makes it a prime place for kite flyers, and the regularly held classic car shows. Among other enticements. Primarily, though, it’s a place to go and relish the ocean–and, yes indeedy, to eat. For a pretty small set of towns and off-season residents, the peninsula offers a goodly range of fine eating, and we have favorite places and foods to show for it.
Cheri Walker’s glorious clam chowder is one of the many reasons we’ve faithfully, if not obsessively, returned to 42nd Street for all of these years. She somehow concocted the perfect balance of ingredients for a chowder I’ve never tasted anything close to matching, to the degree that while I won’t give many clam chowders elsewhere the time of day anymore after one look at their floury glue-like consistency and paltry pieces of rubbery clam, I would happily eat Cheri’s clam chowder three meals a day when I can get it. Bacon in it. Yes, you are unsurprised that I think this a superb ingredient in a clam chowder. I am nothing if not predictable. A major attraction of her clam chowder, however, is naturally the large quantities of fresh and tender clam bits therein. Little pieces of potato, the soft crunch of celery. That sort of goodness. But what really sets it apart is the light, savory broth, with just the right juices and herbs interlaced with cream and, I suspect, a tot of sherry or cognac to give the finish such sweetness and depth. In any event, heaven.
And while we’re on the peninsula, we indulge yet another seafood craving, this at another small-group chain restaurant. Dooger’s doesn’t either sound or look particularly impressive other than being a pleasant-looking middle-of-the-road place frequented by the older set and families with lots of squirmy kids. And it is that. There are people who disdain it for its plainness or complain that it’s predictable and dull. But we two have willingly waited at the no-reservations place as long as perhaps an hour on occasion when the crowds are in town. Why? Crab legs. Dooger’s makes the very ordinary extraordinary, at times. So very worthwhile. What you see on this plate is fairly common fare, mainly: a butter and sour cream loaded baked potato, fried white bread, a little plastic cup of very very simple seafood sauce with a hint of horseradish. All well made in their simple ways, to be fair. We always start with the salad-from-a-bag salads because (a) they go through their salads so fast that it’s always fresh greenery on your plate there and (b) it’s piled up high with the sweetest little lightly briny tiny shrimp your heart could desire. A perfectly refreshing start. Followed by this comfort food pile-up of potato and toast and oooooooooh, Dungeness crab leg pieces. Already cracked open for us lazy diners, and as we generally choose them (though you can order them sautéed in garlic butter, steamed, or Cajun spiced, too), coated with the most delicate dusting of flour and deep fried in a flash to meltingly dainty little bites of sheer Northwest nirvana. Try ’em straight up or with a squeeze of lemon.I limited myself to the ‘small’ serving shown here only because I decided I would also succumb to the key lime pie which, you guessed it, is presumably made from the recipe right there on the Nellie and Joe’s juice bottle, but by golly has been a popular recipe for eons for good reason. Still and all, next time: just get more fresh, delectable crab legs. Who really knows when I’ll get to eat as many of them as I want again?
Thankfully, I have in no way limited my foodly fun to these few specialties on this trip any more than I would do so at any other time. There was a scrumptious lunch of grilled Tillamook cheddar cheese sandwich also, happily, jammed with Dungeness crab at the charming diner the Beehive in Montesano, Washington (sensing a theme here, are you?) and accompanied by light, crispy onion rings, and followed by a densely packed pie of tiny wild blackberries with just enough sugar to hold them into proper pie form. There was a delectable pub supper at A Terrible Beauty (right in West Seattle) of beer battered salmon and chips. The ethereal, candy-like Walnut Prawns at Lee’s Chinese, also in West Seattle.I could go on, but I’m starting to get hungry as usual amid the Foodie Tuesday tales, so I must bid you adieu for the nonce and grab my cutlery as I trot over to the kitchen in search of . . .