I sip the scarlet concoction and walk, noting the celebration of local produce that fills the cobblestoned streets of the market: blueberry vinegar from Canter-Berry farms; lavender sprigs from Market Lavender’s farm; samples from Holmquist Hazelnut Orchards and Martin Family Orchards; and beets, bok choy, kohlrabi, radishes and cider from the Snohomish Valley. Alvarez Farms displays its organic peppers and cucumbers, ears of corn and ripe tomatoes. And if you’re craving pearly Walla Walla onions, this is the place.
Against a backdrop of signs for donut peaches, Frank’s homegrown Italian basil, “super-freakin’ sweet strawberries” and bins overflowing with Bing cherries and jewel-like organic Rainier cherries (red fading to yellow), an apron-wearing young woman with a distinctively raspy voice stands among the foot traffic. Dreadlocks escape her bandanna and brush her shoulders as she slices off crescents of a peach. “C’mon,” she says, “try some — they’re amazing.” A true Seattle character, she proffers the glistening peach parts to hesitant — then visibly grateful — passers-by.
The streets perpendicular to the Sound are on steep inclines. At the corner of the downward slope of Pine Street where it intersects with Pike Place, musician Jonny Hahn sits at an upright piano, peering from under his floppy hat as he plays tunes from his CD Words Escape Me. Around the corner there’s an indie bookstore, henna tattoo parlors and a reflexology studio. It’s a superbly eclectic, bourgeois and bohemian magnet. Cobblestones and handcarts and hanging flowerpots. The guitar-playing street performer who strums while maneuvering the Hula Hoop around his hips is standing outside the upscale cooking shop Sur La Table. But the real music of the market is the slicing, slurping, sampling, grazing.
The market and its popularity bolster the independent food shops that line it. There are gifts from the sea and from the baker’s oven. Jack’s Fish Spot — which includes a seafood-and-oyster bar — displays bowls of shrimp salad that fill a glass case. Pike Place Chowder boasts “Seattle’s Original Dungeness,” where crab-roll sandwiches and smoked salmon almondine are on offer.
I stroll, happily aimless — almost. I’m in search of heartier fare. The vegan snickerdoodles at Cinnamon Works look great but are not really my style; it’s the sublime scent emanating from Piroshky Piroshky that brings me up short. The selection of generously filled Eastern European pastries (six meat, eight vegetarian, 14 dessert) in this tiny storefront is almost overwhelming, so I ask the counterman which type, exactly, is responsible for what I’m smelling. Savory or sweet? Is it the fish-shaped smoked salmon paté piroshky or the classic potato, cheese and onion? The marzipan roll, the Moscow roll (Bavarian cream blended with Cream of Wheat) or the crazy-decadent Oscar’s star (packed with chocolate, sweetened cream cheese and hazelnut)?
“What you’re smelling is all of them,” he tells me with a hint of pride, which hardly makes deciding easier. I table that decision, opting to pop into Beecher’s, the glassed-in shop on the corner where I watch artisans stir huge vats of cheese. I’ve previously dined on their “World’s Best” mac ’n’ cheese, made with their flagship jack cheese and penne pasta, so this time I grab a container of fresh curd seasoned with market herbs and take a seat on a milk jug at the counter. Through the glass, the churning and stirring continue with deadly seriousness.