Savouring Seattle, one bite at a time

Making the most of a food-inspired trip south of the border.

A food-lover's trip to Seattle doesn't have to break the bank.

by Vicki Brydon

At less than a two-hour drive from the Canadian border, Seattle makes for a fun and easy getaway when you need a change of scenery and don’t have a lot of time. Yes, the Canadian dollar is hovering at the lowest exchange rate seen in years, but I figured with some planning I might still have a fabulous experience without breaking the bank. How did I do? Read on!

With a wide variety of accommodation and dining options along with some neat attractions, Seattle has a little something for everyone.

I scored a terrific Black Friday deal on Hotels.com for a three-night stay at Hotel Ändra (www.hotelandra.com) in February. The hotel is located downtown near the Seattle Monorail station and is within walking distance of Pike Place Market, the Space Needle, Capitol Hill and Belltown. While the room rate was reasonable at US$149 per night, daily valet parking charges ran US$39 plus tax (and with credit card exchange rates, it came close to C$60 – ouch!).

There were cheaper outdoor lots in the vicinity and if you’re comfortable leaving your vehicle unattended, that’s a better option.

My focus was to explore the Seattle foodie scene, and I wasn’t disappointed. With so many gastric choices, I went to the experts and booked a tasting tour with Savor Seattle (www.savorseattletours.com). Six different culinary tours are on offer, and I chose Hip on the Hill, a late-afternoon two-hour jaunt through Seattle’s most eclectic urban neighbourhood, Capitol Hill. The tour cost US$52 and featured 14 bites and sips at six locations.

Our meeting point was Cupcake Royale, which opened in 2003 as the first gourmet cupcake bakery west of New York City. After meeting Jon, the affable tour guide, our group of five sampled the Cupcake Royale classic – vanilla cake with chocolate buttercream – and hit the pavement for the next stop.

Infused with historical tidbits and fascinating architectural information, the tasting tour was so much more than just food sampling. Sure, we tried wood-fired bagels and artisan coffee, Korean and Hawaiian fusion tacos, Thai crispy marinated rice with pork, fresh ginger and lime, chicken and pesto sausages with house-made hard apple cider and capped it off with frozen custard (all of which were fantastic!), but Jon’s entertaining stories of Capitol Hill’s famous hipster residents, movie sets and gentrification were equally tantalizing.

Oh, and no need for dinner plans afterwards. I was stuffed! The tasting portions are generous and you get more than your money’s worth, even with the grim exchange rate.

Savor Seattle also offers a three-hour Gourmet Seattle tour, Chocolate Indulgence, Booze n’ Bites and Pike Place Market excursions ranging from $42 to $72 (in US funds, of course) with one including early morning VIP access; I would definitely try one of these on my next trip.

My foodie expedition wouldn’t be complete without a wander around the famous Pike Place Market. Like Granville Island on steroids, Pike Place is spread over nine acres on Seattle’s waterfront and is bursting with vibrant veggies, dewy berries, just-caught seafood, fresh flowers, pungent cheeses, aromatic spices and, among other things, a plethora of inventive pasta including chocolate linguine.

Most stalls provide samples and you could easily skip lunch by spending hours tasting the wares. In addition, there are small casual cafés and bakeries offering budget-friendly sandwiches, steaming bowls of chowder, crumpets and Southern-style biscuits and gravy.

Seattle is known for java, in large part thanks to a certain coffee chain. Long before becoming the conglomerate it is today, Starbucks opened its very first location across from Pike Place in 1971. The outlet still stands and, curiously, I noticed the queue for drinks was never less than 30 people long, despite being surrounded by a variety of funky independent shops. One of these that you must visit is Storyville Coffee (www.storyville.com), a Seattle-based roaster with a mission to end human trafficking by donating a portion of its profits. The coffee was sublime, the ambiance easygoing, the staff extremely jovial and the tray of still-warm sea salt caramel rolls looked magnificent.

If you do want to check out Starbucks in its ancestral home, skip Pike Place and instead head to the Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room (www.roastery.starbucks.com), a large open warehouse-type space just west of Capitol Hill that showcases the past, present and future of its coffee. With roasting and brewing displays expounding the art and science of creating the perfect cup, and a menu of blends exclusive to that location, it’s worth the trek.

There are restaurants on nearly every corner, but I found two worth noting in particular. Purple Café & Wine Bar (www.thepurplecafe.com) is a hip eatery featuring delectable wine pairings for every menu item (including dessert), gothic candle chandeliers and a giant circular wine rack that acts like a beacon in the centre of the two-level loft space. The second is Tilikum Place Café (www.tilikumplacecafe.com), a cozy brick-walled bistro in Belltown that gives off the friendly vibe that ’80s-sitcom Cheers was famous for: where everybody knows your name. Both are excellent choices for a charming meal and not too spendy. Though, of course, the exchange added about 40 per cent to my bill, which was a little cringe-worthy when I checked my bank account.

The close proximity of Seattle means that a one-nighter is easily feasible and even a day trip is an option if you want to save on accommodation costs and still indulge your inner foodie.

Though I found it challenging to stay on budget, I still had a great time and highly recommend making the quick trip for your own epicurean adventure. Just wear your stretchy pants – trust me.

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