Best Food and Drink in Seattle 2011

Or, why we couldn't stop eating in 2011.
Allison Austin Scheff  |   December 2011   |  FROM THE PRINT EDITION

Best Pie
Seattle Pie Company

It was the year of the pie! Proof: A half-dozen new pie shops opened this year, A La Mode, American Pie, High 5 Pie and the easy-to-remember Pie among them. But after eating our way through miles of crust and pounds of filling, we're convinced that the shop that makes the best pies is one that we discovered a couple of years ago in Magnolia: the sweet, charming Seattle Pie Company.

Chef and owner Alyssa Lewis’ pies have flaky crusts, delicious fillings, and a crumb topping on the apple-huckleberry, apple and cherry crumb pies that is so good, you’ll be tempted to eat it right off the top with a spoon. Especially delicious: coconut cream, banana cream and the to-die-for chocolate cream pies. Long live pie!

3111 W McGraw St.; 206.217.4743; seattlepiecompany.com

Best Pop-Up Restaurant
Little Uncle

Despite the dozens of local restaurants opening every month, Seattle foodies are always on the hunt for the even newer, even hotter, even more brag-worthy finds. Enter: the pop-up restaurant.

Usually only around for a limited stint in a borrowed or rented space, these temporary restaurants are a clever way for chefs to test recipes for upcoming restaurants, play with different concepts or just cook in a different style than their current jobs allow. This year, we saw pop-ups from Skillet pre-diner, Canlis’ Hearth & Home pop-up, which lived inside Queen Anne’s Macrina for two days last winter, and chef Erik Jackson of Cuoco, whose pop-up was called A Square Meal when he staged it at the Volunteer Park Café last summer.

But our favorite—perhaps because it has been so long-lived—is Little Uncle, which, until late September, was known as Shophouse. Lark sous chef Wiley Frank and his wife, Poncharee Kounpungchart (shown above), cook the Thai street food that both of them love dearly. In fact, the success of the pop-up—which first lived at Licorous before the bar closed this summer, and is now alive on Monday nights at La Bête (Capitol Hill, 1802 Bellevue Ave.; labeteseattle.com)—spawned a summertime farmers market stall in Columbia City. Could a brick-and-mortar space be far behind? littleuncleseattle.com

Best Diner
Skillet Street Food

Could it be that the economic downturn, our uncertain times and our frayed nerves are making us all even hungrier for the comforts of down-home cooking? That’s our theory on why the fried chicken, meatloaf sandwiches and biscuits—oh, heaven-scented buttermilk biscuits—have folks lined up at new diners all around the city. Of course, we’ve adored the Varsity Inn, Glo’s and Geraldine’s Counter for years now, but there’s a new batch ready to take your order.

The Lucky Diner in Belltown caters to the breakfast crowd with biscuits and gravy, lots of omelets and flapjacks, and early hours (open at 7 a.m. daily)—and even earlier hours on Fridays and Saturdays (open all night). In West Seattle, Meander’s Kitchen serves up home-style cooking with a big, friendly welcome in the teeny-tiny space that used to house the Jade West Café (and still wears its sign; Meanders can be tricky to find). Gut busters like the Decadence (eggs Benedict on French toast) and the Red Eye, with ham, gravy, cheesy grits, eggs and a biscuit, are what’s for breakfast, and everything—even the ketchup!—is made in house by chef/owner Miranda Krone.

But Skillet, in all its pistachio-ice-cream-hued glory, is the Diner of the Year. Try to resist the Belgian waffle with pork belly, the massive Skillet burger awash in bacon jam, the delicious grilled cheese sandwich. Morning, noon and night, Skillet’s got our number.

Capitol Hill, 1400 E Union St.; 206.420.7297; skilletstreetfood.com

Best Place to Wave Your Vege-Locavorism Flag
Sitka & Spruce

If we may be so bold, we think it’s time to lay the term “Northwest cuisine” to rest. After all, historically, it's been used synonymously with Pan-Asian cuisine—the tuna tartars and salmon ceviches so popular on ’90s menus. But Seattle’s restaurant scene has moved on; Pan-Asian cuisine feels a bit dated now.

So we’ve come up with our own descriptor of Northwest Cuisine 2.0: vege-locavorism. (It’s just a bonus that it rolls so easily off the tongue.) Vege-locavorism gets to the heart of a trend we’re tasting all around town: a full embrace of seasonal vegetables and ancient grains, simply prepared and placed center stage, especially on small-plates menus like the ones at The Walrus and the Carpenter, where the garden section of the menu is nearly twice as long as the meat section; and at the Madison Park Conservatory, where a farro dish was the highlight of an entire meal.

But we especially like it at Sitka & Spruce, where oily fish is often used minimally to flavor roasted vegetables. Don’t get us wrong: This isn’t a shift toward strict vegetarianism. (Foodies sure like their pork! And anchovies! And, all of a sudden, beef tongue!) But there’s a strong less-meat, more-veggies approach catching on across Seattle and around the country. Granted, the term is not perfect, but we’re pretty sure it beats “metro-natural.”

Capitol Hill, 1531 Melrose Ave. Suite 6; 206.324.0662; sitkaandspruce.com

Best Fusion Bakery
Fuji

Frapanese? Japench? It was the year of the Japanese-French fusion bakery, most notably the year when everyone who tasted anything at Fuji Bakery went absolutely nuts about the place, telling their friends and their friends’ friends.

Pillowy curried beef pockets and square smoked-salmon brioche cubes, green tea cookie breads and petite but delicious sandwiches the length of a child’s hand. Not to mention exquisite cakes, as gorgeous as they come and singing of mango or coconut; brioche; croissants; and chocolate decadence.

But Fuji isn’t the only one of its kind: Hiroki has long been fusing French techniques with Japanese flavors in Tangletown, and the Cafe de Lion on Queen Anne was such a success, it spurred a second bakery in Tokyo.

International District, 526 S King St.; 206.623.4050; fujibakeryinc.com

Best Nanobrew
Epic Ales’ Beatrice

It takes a little effort to wrap your hand around an Epic Ales brew. After all, like most nanobreweries’ potables, Epic's ales are produced in small batches, and are only available at the brewery and at select bottle shops. But make the effort for Epic’s Beatrice and you’ll be rewarded with a rare and wild brew—made with Szechuan peppercorns and cinnamon. Ever-daring brewer Cody Morris is known for using unexpected ingredients in his beers—mushrooms, for instance—and will soon offer food and beer pairings in his SoDo tasting room.

3201 First Ave. S, Suite 104; epicales.com

Best New Foodie Neighborhood
14th Avenue and Union Street on Capitol Hill

Seattle’s Capitol Hill is home to many blocklong food havens (10th Ave. and Pike St., 12th Ave. and Pike St., and Broadway Ave. and Roy St. quickly come to mind). But restaurant watchers know the hottest corner right now is at 14th Ave. and Union St. Already home to our Best Diner of the Year, Skillet, Oola Distillery and Marjorie, the block will soon include Scott Staples’ (Quinn’s, Uneeda Burger) reimagined Restaurant Zoë (relocated from Belltown) and Lucky 8 Chinese restaurant, which will offer delivery service, too!

Best Cocktail Trend of the Year
Infused-water Cocktails

Riding high in tandem with the other cocktail trend of the year, unusual brown liquors (were we the only ones who noticed artichoke liqueur Cynar on bar menus everywhere?), was the polar opposite: light, refreshing cocktails created using water infused with cucumbers, berries or herbs. Local culinary consultant and chef Kathy Casey kicked off the trend with the “H20 Cocktails” she developed for Sweden’s Purity Vodka. Then a summer drink mixed by former Poppy bartender Veronika Groth (now at Chino’s, the new Taiwanese/Mexican restaurant on Capitol Hill; at press time, set to open in mid-November) using water from a cucumber made us believers (and thankful there are options for non-brown-liquor drinkers).

Groth’s (shown above) new bar menu will feature drinks made with hand-crafted “hydrosols”—water infused with ingredients such as thyme, lavender and douglas fir—for what promises to be an olfactory cocktail experience.

Chino's, Capitol hill, 1024 E Pike St.; 206.860.4238; chinosseattle.com

Best Ice Cream and Cookies Fix
Bluebird’s Snickerdoodle Ice Cream

When we first tasted this spot-on creamy iced incarnation of the cookie classic last spring at Bluebird Homemade Ice Cream and Tea Room, our first thought was of November—and how well this ice cream would pair with pumpkin pie. But we’ll also take it all on its own, any time.

Capitol Hill, 1205 E Pike St., Suite 1A; and greenwood, 7400 Greenwood Ave. N; bluebirdseattle.blogspot.com

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