The History and Flavors of Pike Place Market With Eat Seattle

A new food tour shows off the best of Seattle's famous farmers market.

There is a lot happening at Pike Place Market. Even after more than a decade in Seattle, I still haven’t discovered everything this 108-year-old farmers market contains. Case in point: a lovely patio that is home to the senior center garden, where you can admire gorgeous herbs, lettuces and other vegetables as well as a fantastic view of Elliott Bay and Seattle’s Great Wheel. But we’ll get back to that.

Eat Seattle is the new food tour on the block, giving small groups (they cap their tours at 10 people) an informative and tasty tour of different spots in the market. Chefs lead the tours—Cris Miller headed up this particular tour—which means you get to see a side of the market you might not otherwise get.

There were nine stops on the tour, starting with coffee and ending with chocolate. Each stop had something to try while Cris would discuss backgrounds of the business, the food sample and the market itself.

First stop: Local Color for a sample of Caffe Vita’s coffee. This coffee shop (where the owners were behind the counter) features local artists, and on this day had a great selection of paintings, mixed-media pieces, drawings and jewelry. The group settled into chairs and couches at the back of the shop and enjoyed coffee while Cris spoke about Local Color and about Caffe Vita, which started in Seattle’s Queen Anne neighborhood. Once caffeinated, we moved on, heading just down the street.

 Eat Seattle tour

While you can’t miss Beecher's Cheese if you visit the market, on this tour you get to try samples and learn about their process for making cheese. “Squeaky” cheese, or cheese curds, was passed around, as was a sample of Beecher's famous Flagship cheese and some of their mac and cheese. My favorite new-to-me fact: the milk trucks that deliver the milk to Beecher's use gravity to move the milk from the truck into the storage tanks. If you can’t picture it, it'll become clear during this stop of the tour.

At Frank’s Produce, things were switched up a bit: Cris pulled out an as-yet-unopened cooler, and from it she pulled a hand-held vegetable pocket for each person on the tour, handmade by her. It’s a great touch. See the ingredients, and then eat them in a dish. (She also gave everyone a great tip for saving wilted asparagus, but you’ll have to ask her.)

We’ll call everything up until now the appetizer section of the tour. Next, we moved on to main dishes.

BB Ranch stop on the Eat Seattle tour

First, BB Ranch, a market butcher that still has an original, working scale where farmers would hang carcasses in the early days of the market. Cris spoke about the business, one of the only places around that does dry aging, while everyone munched on a sample of cured meats, candied bacon and bacon chocolate.

From there, a quick stop at Britt’s Pickles, a place that makes pickles the old-fashioned way, with fermentation instead of vinegar. We did shots of pickle juice (really, try it!) and sampled the pickles, kimchee and sauerkraut. My personal favorite is the curry sauerkraut, a staple in my own kitchen.

Next was a quick detour from “main dishes.” We stopped in the aforementioned new-to-me garden patio, which is around the corner from the MarketSpice shop. It was here that Cris talked about both MarketSpice—the go-to spot for spices and tea by chefs and all kinds of locals—and the garden itself while passing around a beautiful mousse pie made with MarketSpice ingredients. If you find yourself on the patio, look closely at the garden beds. You’ll find one for Eat Seattle!

When playing a tourist, a series of protein-dessert-protein-dessert is totally acceptable, so the next stop was Uli’s Famous Sausage, another market staple. Hailing from Germany, Uli Lengenberg is a specially trained and certified Meister. Uli’s makes more than just traditional German sausage, including South African varieties, chorizo and chicken sausage. The samples included a few different types of sausage plus sauerkraut.

From Uli’s we went to Pure Food Fish Market for some of the smoked salmon. Here, Cris offered some seafood tips, and explained the importance of knowing where your seafood is coming from. She also offered this handy tip: Pure Foods Fish Market can ship fresh seafood back to your home, if you’d like to share a bit of your Seattle experience with family (or just extend the feeling of your trip for an extra dinner).

Indi Chocolate

The final food stop of the tour was Indi Chocolate, a bean-to-bar chocolate company I discovered a few months ago. Here, we got to try not just the edible chocolate but also sample the chocolate lotion and the chocolate lip balm. Indi is a great stop for gifts—they also have soap, brand-new chocolate rubs for meat and seafood and other chocolate-lover gifts.

The tour is filled with information about food and the history of the market, of the individual businesses and of the city. And with such a small group, there is plenty of time to ask questions and chat with others in the group. And, added bonus, if you enjoy the chef-made treats along the tour, they can send you the recipe!

Starting in June, Eat Seattle is adding another tour option: Cooking classes! Tour the market with a chef, where the group will also pick up ingredients for a three-course meal. After the tour, the group cooks the meal in the market’s Atrium Kitchen, and then gets to enjoy all their work. Check the website for schedules.

Regular food tours happen at 10 am Thursday-Saturday, but again, check the website for the latest offerings. After the tour, you’ll receive a card that gets you 10-15 percent off at the vendors visited, so don’t worry if you can’t decide between the chocolate mint or the chocolate orange lotion. There’s plenty of time to go back and try ‘em out once more.