Unlike Portland, New York, San Francisco, Boston, and all the other smart-ass restaurant cities that look down their noses at Minneapolis-St. Paul, or at least we imagine they do, because we love to revel in our beleaguered inferiority complexes, Seattle doesn’t usually lord it over Minnesota. A recent visit there, however, has got me worried that Seattle is so superior in its foodie accomplishments that it can’t even be bothered to condescend.
It’s true that major port cities have a patina of gastronomic authenticity that our inland river towns just can’t match. But still, shouldn’t we have stuff that’s cooler than their stuff? I mean, it’s Seattle, Washington, not some glamorous international capital. Here’s a short list of items in Seattle that contributed to my concern.
1. Oysters. They may be the exact same oysters that Coastal Seafoods flies in daily and are exactly as fresh. But do we have any place where there’s nothing but shellfish on the menu, where tattooed fishmongers haul around buckets of oysters and shuck them before your very eyes, then serve them to you with drinks picked from a very short list of local beverages ideal for oyster accompaniment?
2. Pike Place Market. And while we’re on the topic of seafood, of course any coastal city will be more famous for seafood than we are, and Pike Place Market has been there since 1907, hence that nicely grubby authenticity. But why can’t our farmers’ markets have something super famous like the fish-slinging at Pike Place?
If you haven’t seen the fish-slinging, here’s how it works. The market goes from street level down to the level of Puget Sound. Vegetables, flowers, meat, tchotchkes, you name it, and then you come to the fish. Rows and rows of beautiful salmon and halibut and crabs. When you order something, one guy shouts the order, the rest of the fishmongers shout it back, and then one of them picks up a fish from its icy bed and flings it to the person behind the counter. The crowd goes wild.
The fish schtick got so popular that someone developed a whole corporate training system around it. Guess who? A Minnesotan. Not fair! Why can’t we have a famous market schtick ourselves, and then someone from Washington can write a book about it?
3. Starbucks. No, not just any Starbucks. The original Starbucks. Why, it seems like only yesterday (1976) that it was an obscure little coffee shop at the Pike Place Market. Now it’s like the freaking Mona Lisa. You can’t even get near it. Sure, we have Dunn Bros and Caribou. So far, no one’s making a pilgrimage.
4. Bagels. Look, there is just no reason we can’t have bagels as good as Seattle’s. Half the people there are expatriate Minnesotans anyway. But there’s this place that makes wood-fired Montreal-style bagels that are to die for. Guess where one of the owners is from. Nope, not Montreal. Damn it!
5. Cheese. We’re a dairy state, for goodness’ sake. Do we have a cheese shop where you can watch the cheese being made in a giant tub while eating a million delicious free samples? Do we have a farm outside of town where you can eat a million more free samples and buy the cheese from hipster cheesemongers who would have been part of the grunge movement if they’d been born a decade sooner? I’m thinking we must have some farms like that; I just don’t know what they are. What are they?
6. Ridiculously famous destination restaurant. Just because you never heard of it doesn’t mean it’s not famous. The Willows Inn is a couple hours north of Seattle, on one of the San Juan islands. The New York Times, arbiter of everything, anointed this restaurant one of its “10 Restaurants Worth a Plane Ride.” In addition, it made the list of the “41 Places to Go in 2011.” That’s the 41 best places to go in the entire world. Let’s see, were any of the recommended restaurants or places in Minnesota? Ha, ha.
7. Asian supermarkets. We’re pretty proud of our Eat Street and our above-average Asian grocery stores. But once you get a load of these Byerly’s-style super-duper-markets, you’ll remember why humility, if not downright shamefacedness, is a Minnesota virtue. It’s true that a lot more people of Asian descent live in Seattle than in the Twin Cities. Oh, stop making excuses! What do we have to compare to Uwajimaya? Nada, niente, 何でもない, diddly-squat!
Also on the topic of Asian food: killer dim sum and lots of it; Thai food of a quality that makes most of ours seem so-so.
8. Extreme locavores, or as they call them in Seattle, “localvores.” If you think Minnesota is a trendsetter in the eat local movement, get this: in Seattle, it doesn’t just mean eating things they grow in their yards. It means eating things that run through their yards. Yes, they eat squirrels. Maybe not everyone does. But who in MSP, may I ask, will step forward and proffer their rodent-harvesting über-locavorism to the press the way this Seattleite did? That takes guts, if you’ll excuse the expression.
(Squirrel stew photo from the Seattle Times)
Well, as I said, it’s not a competition. And even if it is, Minneapolis-St. Paul has many virtues that Seattle does not. For example, our streets are not as hilly. Our trees are less ostentatious. Our lakes are more petite. We’re more centrally located on the map. We have Prince and all they have is Jimi Hendrix and Nirvana and the whole grunge thing, but anyway, we also have Bob Dylan, so there.
Hey, and top this, Seattle: you may have it all right now, but our stellar rise to the top of the culinary scene is still in the future. Happy New Year!