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Friday, September 26, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Dining Deals

No frills, just top-notch chowder to take off the autumn chill

Special to The Seattle Times

Pike Place Chowder


1530 Post Alley, Pike Place Market, Seattle, 206-267-2537

Chowder house

Recommended

$

Hours: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. daily.

No alcohol / credit cards: AE, MC, V / smoking at outdoor tables only / no obstacles to access.

There's nothing like a crisp autumn day and a gambol through Pike Place Market to stir the palate toward a bowl of steaming chowder.

Now, right next to Seattle's Best Coffee, near Post Alley and Pine Street, you can get a really good example of the breed. Or six.

By "really good" I, in fact, mean "best in the whole darn country." That's the prize Pike Place Chowder's clam chowder has now walked away with three years in a row at the Newport, R.I., Great Chowder Cook-Off. If you recognize that honor as belonging to West Seattle's Charlestown Street Café, you're right. Same folks. Same chowder. Different place.

Where the Charlestown features its chowder as one among many menu choices, Pike Place Chowder plays to its strength by sticking to one theme. That means you can choose the award-winning New England clam chowder, a smoked-salmon version, seafood bisque in a winsome tomato-basil cream, a broth chowder featuring crab and bay shrimp, a vegan chowder with corn and chilies and wild mushrooms, or a Southwestern corn-chicken chowder.

You order these in a deli line by the bowl, the cup, the big bowl, the quart to go, or (at a slightly higher price) in a hollowed-out sourdough bowl. (Don't miss the bin of these scooped-out sourdough "fillets," free of charge near the register and great for swabbing.) There's also a case of fresh whole and half salads up front, including a shrimp Louie, a Caesar, and a spinach salad with bacon and toasted almonds. Order a little cup of accompanying dressing and you're set.

And that's it: no frills, no table service, nothing else on the menu.

You haul your lunch to one of a dozen or so tables, which are inside or outside depending on whether the weather merits rolling up the garage-style doors — a feature that, in these transitional days of autumn where chilling updrafts sail off Elliott Bay, can make autumn feel crisp indeed.

Nothing a bowl of chowder can't fix.

Check please

Clam chowder in sourdough bowl: Best in the country? I can't fairly judge that, but I can say — just as when I sampled it at the Charlestown Street Café last year — it's plenty terrific. Maybe the fine dice of vegetables is the key to the beautifully integrated flavors, or maybe it's the generous hand with the firm, fleshy clams. Or maybe it's the brave restraint with the bacon. Or heck — maybe it's just all that cream. In any case, it's both luscious and down-to-earth, and particularly nice when served in a munchable bowl.

Cup of smoked-salmon chowder: Lovely, creamy and all ablush with the smoky essence of Nova Scotia smoked salmon. Super rich, made with cream cheese, it's also pocked with capers for just the right briny punctuation.

Half curried chicken salad: Terrific! Even overgrilled chicken couldn't ruin this fresh and unique take on the curried salad, in which almonds, raisins, green onions, diced tomato and a happy oblivion of comforting mozzarella all danced merrily with fresh greens under a sunny curry dressing. A lot of culinary bang for your $5.95.

Half Greek salad: Fresh, crunchy mixed greens tumble with impeccably fresh tomato chunks and cuke slices, onion and bits of pepperoncini. The whole thing is scattered with feta cheese, and a container of good Kalamatas come on the side. I wish the dressing had had more body — it was a pretty basic oil and vinegar — but, on the whole, this salad was leagues ahead of what you'd encounter in most chowder houses.

Itemized bill, meal for two

Clam chowder in sourdough bowl $6.45

Cup of smoked-salmon chowder $4.45

Half curried chicken salad $5.95

Half Greek salad $4.95

Tax $1.91

Total $23.71

Kathryn Robinson: kathrynrobinson@speakeasy.net

Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company

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