Pioneer Square is the hottest place in Seattle dining. The change that has occurred in the past few years since Elliott Bay Books left - the increase in foot traffic from energetic sports fans (and winning teams) as well as residential unit developments - has brought new life to the area. The recent announcement that Weyerhaeuser is relocating to Pioneer Square in 2016, along with the expected rebuilt waterfront and streetcar, should continue to encourage growth and activity.
The trick to re-invigorating this historic area seems to rely in large part on well-established and well-known restaurateurs opening new and creative spaces. We spent the last few weeks exploring some of the places, old and new.
Choosing the best coffee house in Seattle is much like trying to name the best bakery in Paris or the best sushi house in Tokyo. Yet one coffee joint really does stand out among the rest, and it started in Pioneer Square. Cherry Street Coffee (103 Cherry St.; 621-9372; cherrystreetcoffee.com), founded by Iranian-American Ali Ghambari, is a fun place that serves a delicious cup of coffee.
Not only is the coffee second to none (you heard that right), but a varied and satisfying breakfast and lunch menu awaits as well. The food is fresh and generously portioned. There's a Mediterranean touch to many dishes, which keeps things lively.
The original location is on Cherry between First and Second. Enter at street level and place your order at the traditional counter. Descend to the ample and varied seating options in the cozy room below. Your food will find you. There are now nine other locations.
We love the original, but ventured recently to the new location at 12th and Cherry near Seattle University. Its simple, modern style was inviting and we are pleased to report that the food and service were excellent. If credentials are important to you, take note that Ali's daughter, Laila Ghambari, recently became the 2014 United States Barista Champion. The bottom line: Cherry Street does it right.
We stopped at Intermezzo Carmine (409 First Ave. S.; 467-7797; intermezzocarmine.com) on our way to a Mariners game. Operated by the same owners as the veteran favorite Il Terrazzo Carmine, it is a separate establishment housed in the same building, but very easy to find right on First Avenue. This one is strictly for adults (no non-bar dining area).
When we visited at the end of summer, we were seated in the small outdoor area with a gas fire. We eventually found it cooler to move inside. We tasted a number of the small plates, including watermelon salad, beet salad, steak tartare and lamb chops. The melon salad was particularly popular, as were the lamb chops, and we were tempted to order seconds.
The Wagyu New York strip steak tartare with quail egg is recommended for the more adventurous. There were several other items we plan to return to taste, including mussels and octopus risotto. The cocktail list was intriguing with several unique craft cocktails, but, alas, those also are items for which we must return.
Intermezzo Carmine has only been open since June 16, but the secret is obviously out as people were waiting for tables and not because of a pre-game rush. Based upon our first encounter, the initial popularity appears well deserved.
For the many in-the-know Seattleites who have been searching for Pizzeria Gabbiano (240 Second Ave. S., Suite 102; 209-2231; pizzeriagabbiano.com), you must know two things. One, this pizza is the real deal; two, the front door is actually on Main Street. Armed with these two key pieces of intelligence, every pizza fan should visit this attractive small pizza place.
With only 36 seats, and a 24-foot, old fir table, this lunch place gets cozy. But with fresh tomatoes, gorgeous prosciutto, fresh basil and earned hype, it's worth the line. The owner, who is also known for previously reviewed Il Corvo, did something neat to open Pizzeria Gabbiano. He went to a local company called Community Sourced Capital, which works like Kickstarter in some ways, but is more analogous to a loan where the participants get their money back. After sampling the pizza, we are very thankful to the members of the community who invested in this great lunch option.
Seahawks football illuminated a new Pioneer Square for many newer fans and that light delightfully led straight to Altstadt (209 First Ave. S.; 602-6442; altstadtseattle.com), a German bierhalle and brathaus that opened its doors last November. The restaurant pours Germanic and Slavic-focus beers on tap, and rotates regional bottles and cans.
It's a good pre-game stop, but why not eat a hot dog at the game? Well, much to our liking, the cozy brick mecca makes its own wurst, krauts and even its own mustards. The bockwurst is a true standout; made with turkey and duck fat, this white sausage cannot be missed. We also recommend the kasespaetzle - spaetzle with Beecher's cheese, caramelized onions, bacon and pretzel breadcrumbs, and served with sommersalat.
Add Damn the Weather (116 First Ave. S.; 946-1283; damntheweather.com) to your list of stylish Seattle bars. We dropped by on a weekday evening after work, attracted by the intriguing name and the even more intriguing menu on the web.
This new bar (opened in June) is the creation of Bryn Lumsden, formerly bar manager of Rob Roy. The focus here is clearly on finely crafted cocktails, supported by exquisite small plates of food. If cocktails are not your thing, they also have a small selection of quality wine, beer, sherries and aperitifs.
We debated ordering the beef heart tartare, but good sense prevailed and we settled instead on chicken skins, followed by the tuna Carpaccio and a plate of sweet potato dumplings. The chicken skins were amazing, obviously deep-fried in super-hot oil making them crispy and light, accompanied by jalapeños and peanuts. The tuna Carpaccio was savory, but not fishy, and creatively paired with marinated watermelon balls. The sweet potato dumplings turned out to be light, creamy mini-gnocchi with just the right amount (i.e., a lot) of grated pecorino on top. Note the portions are small; this is not a place for a hearty meal.
The space itself is softly lit, providing an intimate feeling, even with the tall ceiling. There is seating at a handsome bar and at small tables. Unfortunately, some of us had to drive, so we passed on the cocktails - we'll return soon for those.
Taylor Shellfish Pioneer Square Oyster Bar (410 Occidental Ave. S.; 501-4060; tayloroysterbars.com) is exactly what we have come to expect from Taylor Shellfish, except perhaps even better. A storefront or two south of Rain Shadow Meats Squared, it is Taylor Shellfish's third oyster bar in the Seattle area. Bigger than the original retail and oyster bar at Melrose Market, it is more meal focused, offering tables and bar seating.
Sitting at the bar, we ordered a combination of Shigoku and Kumamoto oysters served with a primer from the bartender on the source and flavor of each variety. As expected, they were perfectly shucked with plenty of nectar in the shell, delicate with a light, briny edge. We followed the oyster starter with a shared "Homestead Steamer" consisting of manila clams, mussels, and fingerling potatoes with leek and cream broth (and generously sized bacon pieces), making the perfect dipping sauce for the Macrina Bakery baguette. The menu also offers a wide variety of steamer options and salads. We finished off our respective aperol spritz and French rose, content with the perfect Northwest shellfish experience.
We were able to taste only the tip of the Pioneer Square dining iceberg. We were uniformly impressed with the quality of the food, the menu selections and the attractiveness of the spaces. Exploring all of the dining options is highly recommended.
Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt is a multiservice, Northwest regional law firm with offices in Seattle, Vancouver, Portland and Bend. For comments on this article or to share your favorite places to eat or drink with the Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt attorneys, contact Mary Jo Newhouse at 206.407.1526 or at firstname.lastname@example.org; see also www.schwabe.com/dining_out.aspx. Follow us on Twitter @schwabedinesout.