The spirit of it’s founders lives on more than a century later by providing a place where local merchants can sell natural products, sourced sustainably, directly to the consumer at a fair price. From specialty foods, fresh produce, and unique wares, it’s an eclectic mix of flavors, cultures, and the enduring spirit of farm to table.
It was a no brainer to head to Pike Place Market as part of our whirl wind tour of Seattle. After all, it’s probably the most well known attraction in the Emerald City. Hoards of locals and tourists alike all descend on this historic market daily.
My sister gave us a gift certificate for a ‘foodie’ tour with Savor Seattle for Christmas last year, knowing we’d be visiting the area. The present would have covered the basic tour.
Our decision was whether or not to ‘upgrade’, and take the VIP tour allowing us an early start time (beating the crowds of ~30,000 people) and a tour group limited to just 12 people. Hmmm. It was Valentine’s Day, the only day we had to visit the market, and just $25 to upgrade? The no brainers just keep coming. Gotta love easy choices.
Our guide, Mark ‘Poppins’, arrived ‘in character’ with a buoyancy and enthusiasm that, for us, was a tad annoying having gotten in from Sydney late the previous night with little sleep. This was exasperated by the fact that the rail we planned on taking would not open until 9am so we had to huff it on foot in order to make our 8:45am meeting time, leaving no time for for coffee.
We arrived at the market easily enough, but ended up looking like lost sheep, bewildered and bleating, trying to figure our where to go from the giant bronze pig we stumbled upon. Even so early the place was bustling with people.
After some fretful ‘googling’, we finally made our way to the meeting point at the Market Theatre. You can’t miss it, just ask directions to the infamous ‘Gum Wall’.
The tour began with a brief introduction from our host. As a long time Seattle resident, successful commercial actor/waiter/bartender, and food lover, Mark let us know he is uniquely qualified to lead our group. We received our headsets and instructions to ‘follow the pink umbrella’, the tours signature way of keeping our small herd together.
He went around the room, asking what each of us hoped to achieve from the tour, allowing us to get acquainted and to set our expectations with the witty quips and puns one could expect for entertainment as the tour went on. We were curious what we would discover but honestly, as long as it involved caffeine of some kind, we’d follow his lead. So, with a resounding “Let’s Do This!” from Mark, and a flail of his umbrella into the air, we were on our way.
Our first stop was Honest Biscuits. Mark got back in our good graces from our dubious beginning by doubling us up on a delicious local coffee. We found the home-made biscuits to be delightful, not something we can easily get in Sydney, but everyone (Mark included) said Serious Biscuit was way better.
Daily Dozen Donuts featured bacon and maple donuts. It was, ah, an interesting taste sensation, but the consensus agreed that the cinnamon ones were better.
On the way to Daily Dozen Donuts, we walked over engraved tiles that were sold to help with renovations back in the 80’s. For $35, you could purchase a piece of Market history. Look for rows 351 and 352 to see the tiles sponsored by Ronald and Nancy Reagan. Tom Selleck has a square.
Since it was Valentine’s Day, Mark pointed out 30 tiles, all numbered, starting with 2 and ending with 113. Turns out, they were purchased by a woman for her husband as a Christmas present to celebrate the place they met. Her husband, a mathematician, ordered the inscription on the 30 tiles to represent the 30 years they had been together, all prime numbers. Awww.
Market Spice, as the name implies, sold spices—as well as mortars & pestles, salts, and spice racks. They served a delicious cinnamon & orange clove tea. I don’t particularly care for cinnamon, so well done Market Spice!
If you’ve ever wanted to play fish monger, Pike Place Fish Market is for you. As part of the tour, I had the opportunity to have a large salmon thrown at my head, with the intent that I would catch it somehow. It’s really a matter of keeping smelly dead fish of your clothing. Self preservation kicks in a primal sort of way.
After sampling sustainably caught salmon prepared in three different ways, we cleaned our pallets at Franks Produce. Here we were served a variety of locally sourced fresh fruits, the best of which was the Opal apple. By far, it’s the best apple I have ever tasted and I really love apples.
Beechers Handmade Cheese was next. They’re famous for their Mac and Cheese. Mark relayed an anecdote that Martha Stewart had expressed some interest in the recipe, but frankly, I think Velveeta Mac & Cheese has them beat by a long shot. Please don’t take offense Seattle, it’s only my humble opinion.
Following the pink umbrella to our next eatery, we passed the original Starbucks, at least a facsimile thereof. The original building was demolished; the current building started operations a block to the south in 1975.
We’re told the original logo designs were demolished as well. The Siren underwent a breast reduction and her belly button was completely removed from the logo. It seems the original logo was a bit too risqué for the Seattleites of the seventies. Honestly, I don’t know what the big deal is. I drink tea every day from a Starbucks mug I got from a former employer, and I never noticed it’s a woman on the logo (I thought it was a ship’s wheel).
We were meant to take some time in Country Dough, purveyors of Szechuan flatbreads, to watch them hand make the dough. They were so busy by the time we got to them, we apologetically shuffled through the small space sideways, through the waiting patrons, and out through a side door.
Instead, we peered through the window trying to catch a glimpse of the process between the signage on the window. I can tell you that they use a really large, sharp knife to cut the dough. I can also tell you that our umbrella toting guide was nice enough to bring our yummy chicken sandwich to a quiet sheltered spot out of the drizzle.
Our last stop was for a drink at Rachel’s Ginger Beer. The treat with this place was the refreshing Snoqualmie ice cream they plopped into your drink. I’m not the biggest fan of Ginger Beer, but I’d go for a scoop of that ice-cream any day.
Overall, we sampled some delicious food and we learned some interesting tidbits about the area’s history, but I’ll be honest, this is a pricy tour. If you’re new to Seattle, or if you really love trying new foods, it’s totally worth it.
We were glad to learn that the Pike Place Market gives back too.
The giant pig we met at the beginning of our day is actually a piggy bank named Rachel. She accepts donations for Pike Place Market’s non-profit social services. A vegetable garden on the roof is dedicated to serving the local Food Bank and Senior Center. All the leftover food and produce that can’t be resold goes to the local Food bank as well. Gotta love that business plan!
At the end of our tour, Mark asked us to relate our favorite part of the tour to get our 10% discount card for partner merchants. This was his opportunity to accept a gratuity for his efforts. He continuously checked in with the group, making sure we were still engaged, or at least pretending to be.
One of the husbands in our group was clearly there at his wife’s request. I’ve never seen anyone wear an expression of boredom for so long. Yet, for the rest of us, Mark’s enthusiasm was infectious. He was attentive, courteous, and knowledgeable. I felt like I had an experience that I couldn’t have gotten without his expertise.
In fact, we tried going solo. After the tour, we ventured on our own through the meandering stalls. Within 5 minutes, we had circled the exact same area twice. The massive crowd steered us where it wanted us to go. We felt claustrophobic and overwhelmed. We really missed our guiding pink umbrella! Frugalness is in our DNA, but we gladly gave Mark ‘Poppins’ a little extra for his efforts.
We would not have had as good a time if we had tried to explore the market on our own, nor would we have been fed with such a tasty variety. It was truly a tour to Savor.