Seattle is a foodie paradise. Fresh seafood, abundant local produce and an amazing array of culinary talent leave even the most picky eater wanting for nothing while visiting our beautiful metropolis. Discovering that that the city hosts a food festival every summer should come as no surprise and yet few newcomers are prepared for the actual size of this event. Much like Thanksgiving at grandma's, pacing is essential, but how can you hope to resist the promise of so many mini offerings from over 100 local area wineries, restaurants, bakeries and breweries?
Leave your belts at home and follow along as we give you a tour of the good, the bad, and the tasty at Bite of Seattle - 2015.
First started in 1982, "The Bite" has long outgrown its roots in Green Lake, and now takes place at the hub of all mega events: the Seattle Center. Parking is ample but expectedly pricey, though several garages along 1st Ave have a $15.00 cap on cost for the day, so definitely take into account how long you intend to eat, relax and repeat before choosing a location. Metered street parking is limited throughout Queen Anne, but expect a longer walk in what is expected to be a warmer than average weekend. Public transportation is a prime choice, especially if you're visiting from out of town and chose accommodations near a local stop.
Before we talk food, let's spotlight some of the activities available to give your palate (and feet) a rest.
Almost immediately, you'll be greeted by the sounds of live music. 5 different stages have been set up around the festival, promising an eclectic collection of styles ranging from funk & gypsy to oldies, 80's, dance, rock and even some Pink Floyd for good measure. If you're on the fence regarding which day to attend, the music schedule can be found at: Bite of Seattle music
As expected on the lighter traffic Friday, our band choices were perhaps a bit more limited, but no less energetic. I'm always a fan of festivals that give budding local artists exposure over simply relying on a local radio station's PA system.
If urban style scavenger hunts are your thing, then be sure to stop by the MOViN 92.5 tent and pick up your list for #TheBiteHunt. A number of prizes are being offered for posting and tagging your pictures, including a grand prize of $1000.00. Unfortunately when I stopped by, they did not seem very prepared and did not have the lists on hand, instead instructing passersby to snap a selfie in front of their logo and post it online with the hashtag: #TheBiteHunt
As if music, photo scavenging and food weren't enough to entice you, there is also shopping. With promises of over 100 handcrafted and commercial vendors featuring a rich variety of mediums, including metalwork, woodcraft, clothing, paintings, candles, housewares, I was admittedly rather excited. Of all of the expectations I had for the festival, however, this one fell completely and utterly flat. Having attended my fair share of craft shows and events, both juried and of mixed manufacturing, this one was poor at best. After much searching, we found only two booths that appeared to have actual handcrafted items with the rest being cheap, outsourced goods. In fact, five booths scattered around the festival carried the exact same dresses and textiles on the same displays leaving me to believe there was no standard beyond submitting a check.
If you need to find a little break from the sun, why not take in a cooking demonstration? Located on the terrace above the beer tasting room is a well-appointed kitchen with ample seating. With a new demo or competition starting every hour, you could easily spend the entire day learning new culinary tricks.
And now on to the food!
I was told that my first stop should be to the The Alley where for $10.00 I would be treated to a veritable cornucopia of choice samples from several local restaurants. Chef Jason Wilson, owner of the wood-fire restaurant, Miller's Guild, is the star in a menu that changes with each day of the festival. Though this feature is meant to be a centerpiece event while raising funds and awareness for Food Lifeline, we were not overly impressed. While the menu for Saturday and Sunday did seem much more enticing than the one we tried on Friday, it just wasn't all that great. The portion sizes ranged from generous to downright stingy. Quality was also an issue as my pieces of meat were great while my husband's were rather fatty. The salad from Purple was both ample and delicious.The grilled Niman Ranch beef was fresh off the grill, but the other hot food offerings were warm at best and didn't seem like a good representation of what a top quality restaurant would want to be associated with. All things considered, I would rather have just donated the $10.00 straight to Food Lifeline.
A common complaint over the past few years is the increasing number of food trucks edging out the booths of truly local restaurants with this year appearing to be no exception to the trend. First let me say, I love edgy, experimental food trucks and think they deserve to be part of a food festival. Yet, with so many inventive new mobile meal options in our area, I was sad to find an abundance of items more at home at the county fair than a foodie gathering (Kripsy Kreme cheeseburgers were indeed spotted). I was hoping to discover a number of great new restaurants and mobile trucks but felt much like I did with the shopping experience - anyone with a check and a tent could become a vendor. The fire roasted salmon pictured above, however, was a wonderful exception.
I would have to say that my favorite attraction was the beer tasting.
For $20.00, you receive 5 tastings and a souvenir glass, which really had the chance to be an overpriced disaster. I'm a cider, stout and porter type of gal, which is not often represented during a tasting of this size. Surprisingly, I managed to find five amazing new brews, each of which I would order again. (In fact, I picked up a 6-pack of the Spire cider on the way home). For the record, my five tastings were:
-Samuel Smith's Cider - Organic, smooth, just sweet enough. Definitely a keeper!
-Schofferhofer Grapefruit - A Hefeweizen with what was described as a sort of grapefruit lemonade. Intrigued, I gave it a go and was not disappointed. This would be incredible for a summer cookout or just a cool summer evening on the patio with friends.
Spire Dark & Dry Apple - If you like a refreshing, tasty cider with a little sweetness, this one nails it. While I would easily grab a 6 pack of all 5 samples I had today, this one was on sale on the way home. /thrifty
I knew of Diamond Knot, but had yet to settle down to a pint since their Possession Porter was just never on tap. Well, it was worth the wait. Nice, deep, rich porter - I'm a new Diamond Knot fan.
Black Raven was another local brewery that I really wanted to try, but could never find the right brew on tap. Today they were showcasing their Scotch Ale, and I figured it was close enough. Let's just say that it was so good that I can't imagine the weekend will pass by before I hunt down whatever Stout or Porter they might have available.
While I didn't get to sample Sockeye's porter at this event, their staff get's the fun and friendly award. In fact, everyone I spoke to at the tasting was passionate about the brews they represented and just all around amazing. Definitely the high point of the afternoon.
If wine or spirits is more your speed, there are also separate tasting areas for both. While I suspect that I would have enjoyed these as well, my beer tasting made me feel like a bit of a cheap date in need of some solid food.
Free Rambutan at the Thailand tent, how could I resist?
After taking in the festival for a few hours, here were my impressions:
Best food sampled: Pel Meni Dumpling Tzar from Fremont. The combo potato and beef plate with traditional topping was tasty, local and exactly what I would hope to find at a food festival. If every booth offered something as unique and tasty, I would have to spend the rest of the weekend hiking to burn those extra calories. Next time I'm in Fremont, I'll stop by to check out the rest of their menu.
Best event: the beer tasting, by far. While there, I felt like I was truly at a festival of local offerings from the Pacific NW. While I suspect that the wine and spirits tastings had a similar 'from my neighborhood' feeling, I can't swear to it as I did not indulge from their areas. If the entire festival was like this, I quite possible might find myself visiting on more than one day.
Overall: If you live in Seattle and can get to the event via public transportation or your own two feet, then it was worth a visit. Food wise, there was absolutely something there for everyone, whether you want BBQ, fire-roasted salmon, elk sandwiches, frog legs, dumplings and yes, even a burger between two glazed doughnuts. If over 21 years of age, the tastings were a nice way to find new brewers and styles that you might not have tried as a pint at your local alehouse, but certainly will now. The entertainment options are a nice bonus with the live music giving the festival a lively feel.
If you have to drive through a bunch of traffic and pay $15.00 for parking, however, the balance of good vs. bad shifts rather dramatically. You might notice that the promised booths full of crafted goods don't actually exist. The vast commercialization of a festival originally intended to showcase local restaurants might even make you a bit frustrated. After you realize that for every eight to nine booths you find a giant corporation with flashy giveaways, you might begin to stop and ponder exactly why your sports drinks, insurance and other services cost as much as they do. A festival that claims to celebrate the best of Seattle should, in fact, prioritize and attract the local talent rather than settling just to sell spots. After having attended this festival, I have to agree with the complaints I read online. This is indeed a Bite of Seattle but also a mouthful of filler that detracts greatly from the original spirit of the event. Weighing the great alongside the awful, I can still say I had a nice afternoon under the shadow of the Space Needle but will not go out of my way to attend in the future unless the organizers refocus on making this the celebration of local talent it once was.
Did you agree with my opinions on Bite of Seattle? Want me to review another upcoming event? Post your comments and suggests below!