The Groupon Bite of Seattle is Seattle’s largest food festival (free admission), attracting attendees on a scale similar to Seattle’s other huge annual events Northwest Folklife Festival and Pride. Hundreds of thousands descend upon the Seattle Center grounds without any purpose besides finding something new to eat. Obviously, I’m one of these people.
The best part of the Bite of Seattle each year is The Alley. The Alley is a row of booths all serving one thing from 6 of the Seattle area’s best restaurants. Portions are tasting-menu size and cover all the courses. A plate is $12 and there is a different menu each day, making The Alley an unparalleled opportunity to try lots of things from Seattle’s culinary scene.
All Alley proceeds benefit Food Lifeline, a nonprofit dedicated to feeding the hungry in Western Washington. For every $1 donated, Food Lifeline can provide 5 meals for those in need.
This year, I was glad to see the Alley had been moved from its old location, which was slightly out-of-the-way, to a very prominent one on top of a highly-trafficked pavilion. People have definitely fallen in love with the concept and flocked to the Alley, but lines moved quickly as always.
I went to the Bite of Seattle last Saturday, July 16. The Alley’s menu was:
“Husky Wilbur” – Root Beer Braised Pork with Spicy Mustard Aioli on Potato roll (Skillet Diner)
Vegetable & Pork Wonton with Spicy Sauce (Din Tai Fung)
Goat Cheese Stuffed Date wrapped with Bacon & Fig Balsamic Jam (Levitate Gastropub)
Seafood Ceviche (Salty’s on alki)
Papaya Salad (Noi Thai)
New Orleans Style Fried Boudin with Red Pepper Jelly (Sazerac)
It’s always an awesome surprise to try the large variety of dishes available in the Alley. My favorites this time around were Skillet Diner’s pork slider and Levitate Gastropub’s bacon-wrapped date, on my fork in the picture above. That was an insane symphony of components just meant to be with each other – slick fig glaze, crisp, non-fatty bacon, a chewy date and creamy goat cheese.
The pork was moist and tender but not greasy, and the fried onions made for a good textural contrast between the soft meat and bun. I didn’t taste mustard in the Aioli, just pepper, but it went together wonderfully.
Din Tai Fung’s dumpling was good as always, especially the glossy, al dente skin. I might have been more interested in the adorable mascots.
Salty’s ceviche was light and refreshing like Noi Thai’s shredded green papaya salad (left), balancing out the richness of the other components. The only thing I didn’t like was the fried boudin ball. It was mushy inside and had the texture of something undercooked, although the color wasn’t undercooked at all. This was the first time I’d tried boudin so I can’t judge reliably but I would never order this on my own.
And that’s just Saturday! Friday and Sunday’s menus are drool-worthy as well.
Besides the Alley, Bite of Seattle is filled with hundreds of other booths run commercially. Most of these simply sell food like any other food vendor at any other open-air gathering, but many large national brands give out free samples all weekend long so people can discover their products and become new customers. I became a fan of Müller and Brown Cow yogurt through trying their product at previous Bite of Seattle festivals. I’m not a huge yogurt fan so I was happy to find yogurt that didn’t gross me out because it was just sweet goop.
This weekend, I tried a bunch of Mountain Dew Kickstart. It’s marketed as Dew, juice, and caffeine. I’m guessing the juice part is supposed to suggest natural flavoring but there’s nothing natural about Mountain Dew Kickstart Midnight Grape, Watermelon, Blueberry Pomegranate, or Blood Orange. It’s so brazenly processed with its flavors and its colors that seem to glow in the daytime – and I loved it. Yeah, it’s super fake, bordering on cough syrup for the (somehow still refreshing) “watermelon,” but drinking Mountain Dew expecting some sort of fresh, healthy elixir with vitamins and plant matter is something nobody does. When you’re just craving that hit of sweet, tangy, chemical gamerfuel, Kickstart is a big step up from traditional Dew in flavor and variety. This would be perfect for my next all-nighter spent raiding in World of Warcraft with my level 90 Night elf while one-shotting n00bs…if I played online games. I don’t. But I’ll still pick up some Kickstart if I see a diet version.
I also tried some good vegetarian products. Although I’m not a vegetarian and will never be one, I eat vegetarian alternative products (think fake meat made from soy, seitan, textured vegetable protein, gluten, etc.) because I genuinely enjoy the taste and will almost always pick the fake meat over the real stuff and am familiar with all the national brands through years of attending Vegfest. What’s important to remember for people looking to make a switch to plant-based eating, whether for ethical or health reasons, is that going veg does not mean going without. The first time I realized this was when I sampled MorningStar Farms Grillers Crumbles at Costco. This was the best ground beef I had ever had so I went and bought a bag. Then I saw that the bag said vegetarian. Stunned and happy that food science had accomplished this, I became a loyal MorningStar Farms fan. I would regularly eat 2000 calories of Grillers Crumbles at once (I know, because that was roughly the amount in one huge Costco-sized bag and I’d go through a bag in a day, eating it plain and sometimes cold…haha).
Daiya is a dairy alternative food company that makes delicious fake cheese. I’ve had their cheese slices in grilled cheese many times but hadn’t tried their cream cheese. At Bite of Seattle, Daiya was testing cheesecake recipes made with the cream cheese. Both flavors (egg nog and pumpkin spice) were wonderful and I don’t think anyone could tell they were vegan.
After this, I tried Quorn’s version of chicken salad. It looks like any standard white meat + cranberry + celery + mayo chicken salad but no animal died for this “chicken.” Although I could tell this was fake, because it was bouncier and more gelatinous than real chicken breast, my best friend, who is vegetarian, was confused by how well the texture of real chicken (with the slightly tough stringiness when it’s pulled apart) was replicated. Good job Quorn for this product that omnivores transitioning to vegetarianism can enjoy!
I had a great time at the 2016 Groupon Bite of Seattle. Now it’s time to go grind murlocs in Azeroth for their fins. The World of Warcraft wiki tells me they make good broth.