Food & Culture

MOHAI’s ‘Edible City’-Inspired Food and Wine Pairings

MOHAI’s new exhibit traces the city’s food journey. To celebrate, curator and Seattle food writer Rebekah Denn’s expanded excerpt from the exhibit presents some iconic—but not fancy—food pairings with Washington wines, beers and spirits

By Rebekah Denn February 20, 2017


This article originally appeared in the February 2017 issue of Seattle Magazine.

No matter how much you think you know about Seattle’s food scene, there’s always more to sniff out and drink in. 

That was my biggest lesson curating Edible City, an exhibit on Seattle’s food history on display through September at the Museum of History & Industry (MOHAI). Delving through MOHAI’s archives and local collections, common threads came through, along with plenty of surprises. In Seattle, as it turned out, 1890s oyster houses listed different species as carefully as any trendy modern spot. We’re home of the Cinnabon (developed by Edmonds baker Jerilyn Brusseau for Restaurants Unlimited Inc.), the Dutch Baby pancake (trademarked by Manca’s Café, a downtown staple from 1899 to 1954), not to mention one of America’s first pesto recipes (written by the late University of Washington English professor Angelo Pellegrini). 

We found that you could have asked Seattleites even a century ago about that famous coffee shop at Pike Place Market—and they would have pointed you to Manning’s, the Starbucks of its day, with a Market roastery and a chain of West Coast cafés. Along the same lines, we found that every era had a restaurateur who seemed to define the city—names such as Chauncey Wright (his namesake eatery was in Pioneer Square) and Walter Clark (Twin Teepees and others), were as well known decades ago as Tom Douglas is now.

And we saw that a lot of what we think of as modern concerns have their roots in the past, as with a 1920s letter from Pike Place Market berating a vendor for selling California spinach instead of locally grown greens.

The question of “What is a Seattle food?” proved to have a variety of answers, from Native American salmon bakes to a Dick’s Drive-In burger. We found that our signature foods are reflective of the city’s geography; with our proximity to water and mountains and irrigated orchards, to rail lines and ports. And yet our definition of a Seattle food went so far beyond that: It involved Seattle’s people, always collaborative, diverse and innovative.  

Washington wines are similarly defined. That our wines have been judged among the best in the country, even the world, would have stunned sommeliers 50 years ago, when most people thought our region’s climate couldn’t support quality vintages. Of course, even the breadth of knowledge among Seattle’s modern sommeliers, who study long hours to achieve Master Sommelier certifications, would have stunned those long-ago experts.

Knowing our local sommeliers’ skill levels when it comes to pairing wines with food, we challenged some of them to match their favorite Seattle drinks with Seattle’s most classic foods. (We didn’t limit them to wines, though most pairings wound up as such.) Their recommendations are inspired.

Tim’s Cascade Chips and…
Treveri Cellars NV Blanc de Blancs sparkling wine, Yakima Valley: Salty goodness paired with sparkling wine is hard to beat.—Erik Liedholm, company wine director at John Howie Restaurants, and April Pogue, general manager at Loulay

Salmon and…
Chateau Ste. Michelle 2014 Eroica Riesling: I love how the weight of the wine mirrors the richness of our local salmon prepared with Tom Douglas’ Salmon Rub, and the off-dry character of the wine balances beautifully with the smoky sweetness of the rub. —Dawn Smith, wine director at Stoneburner 

Dick’s burgers and…
W.T. Vintners 2013 Red Blend, Walla Walla Valley: This wine was made to play along well with others, as was a Dick’s burger. It has enough smokiness and structure to bring home all the complex flavors that has made these burgers iconic. —April Pogue, general manager at Loulay, and Erik Liedholm, company wine director at John Howie Restaurants

Rainier tallboy beer in a paper bag while sitting on curb in front of Dick’s on Broadway after last call. —Jeff Lindsay-Thorsen, RN74 wine director

Teriyaki and…
W.T. Vintners Grüner Veltliner: I like my teriyaki with a little spice and not too sweet. The bright acid and classic white pepper spice of the wine bring a wonderful balance to richly sauced, slightly salty, grilled meat. —Dawn Smith

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