In addition to the places we visit on each “Death March”, we traditionally try to have a nice dinner outing the evening beforehand. Like finding a place to have breakfast the day of the March, it’s always a bit of a challenge, since it usually involves finding a spot that can handle a reservation for a large group (usually all of the hikers, plus a few spouses, so it’s usually around 20 people), that’s not terribly crowded, and can handle the ephemeral nature of large groups always needing to adjust their exact arrival time and number in their party. However, a check of the usual online resources had indicated that one place in Seattle was particularly good for this: Orfeo.
Well, sometimes one of my “Death March” hikes goes according to plan. And sometimes, you’ve got to adjust the plan. In the case of Seattle, our initial plan was to hike through the SoDo neighborhood and cross over to Alki Beach, potentially ending at Sunfish. But like a lot of plans (especially those put together by folks not completely familiar with a metropolitan area), a few hitches arose: first, we got behind schedule. Looking at our watches, it was obvious that even if we hustled, we’d probably get to Alki beach right as most places were closing up shop. Second, most of the Marchers were getting tired, enough so that “hustle” wasn’t really in the vocabulary anymore. Third, the SoDo neighborhood, aside from having the rather cool ORB (Old Rainier Brewery) isn’t the most exciting neighbor. So, as we started to thread our way over to the bridge to Alki (which also isn’t the most pedestrian-friendly), a short stop at Burger King to use the restroom turned into more-or-less of an insurrection. A quick check of the map and Yelp indicated that SoDo isn’t exactly a food mecca, either. But then we noticed one place on the list that had a lot of good reviews: Schooner Exact Brewing. And the single mention of “beer” made it official, Schooner Exact, at approximately 21 miles into the route, became our new, official destination.
Starting with one of my trips to Seattle more than 20 years ago, I had noticed that the Seattle area has a distinct love of fish and chips, with the region having more fish and chips joints that I’m accustomed to, even for a fairly large area. Indeed, I’ve remembered more than a few trips out for fish and chips at Spud Fish N’ Chips after having beers with college friends in Kirkland, and even having more than one person in Alki get in an argument over which of the two Alki establishment (another of the Spud locations, or Sunfish just down the way) was the One and True[tm] place for fish and chips. Seeing that our Death March route had us looping around Green Lake in northern Seattle, it seemed almost mandatory that we at least stop by for a quick mid-day snack (at this point, we were right about the nominal halfway point). (And, confession time: we had originally planned to finish at Sunfish for comparison, but we got behind schedule and didn’t make it out there).
One of the challenges of planning one of my “Death March” 20+ mile hikes through is city is figuring out a route of the right length. Some cities (like New York) this is pretty easy, but for the more compact cities (like Boston) this often means taking some interesting loops through the city. In the case of Seattle, I wanted to do a basic “S” curve, starting near the center of Seattle, looping up through University of Washington to Phinney Heights, down through Downtown to Georgetown, and over to Alki Beach (we didn’t quite make it that far…). The map had a nice, fairly intuitive route if I started from Volunteer Park, but looking over the map, Volunteer Park and the surrounding part of Capitol Hill is still strongly residential. But I did notice one place that had fairly consistently good reviews: Volunteer Park Cafe.
One of the things I enjoy about visiting more metropolitan areas than my own is seeing the food fads that show up in particular cities. Like the sudden resurgence in fruit juice in 2013, or 2015’s bone broth craze, or the still-with-us circa 2005 cupcake craze (we’re past Peak Cupcake, but there are still a lot more cupcake places about). In Seattle, one of the 2016 trends was poke: the Hawaiian dish made from cubed, raw, marinated fish served over a bed of rice with a selection of toppings like garlic, the infamous “krab stick”, edamame, ginger, and various seaweed products. It’s actually a dish I rather enjoy (or, more usually, the closely related Japanese-inspired donburi, which is more common out my way). But it was definitely one of the current food trends in Seattle, since during our march we saw no fewer than a dozen places advertising their poke. And there were few better examples of the craze than the 45th Stop N Shop Deli.
Okay, it’s now time for Offbeat Eats to get back Stateside. Last August (yes, yes, I’m behind again), we joined friends of ours from college and TivoCommunity in our annual tradition: a Death March. That’s a 20+ mile hike through an urban area exploring all the food options, and this year we decided to give Seattle a try. There were a few reasons for this: (a) it’s been a perennial top finisher in the polls when we’ve been selecting cities to visit, and (b) my college roommate Steve had just moved there from San Francisco back in 2015. So we rounded up the usual cast of Death Marchers plus a few locals from the Pacific Northwest, and set out on our hike (basically a giant loop starting by Volunteer Park and looping through University of Washington, over to Phinney Ridge, and through downtown, ending up down near Georgetown). One of our first stops was a find by Steve: Mighty O Donuts.
I rather like a good trip to Portland, Maine, especially since Portland has managed to cultivate quite a beer and food scene, with everything from a good Belgian beer bar, to a good regional pizza chain, to potato donuts, to even Asian fare like dumplings. So when we were looking for a nice variation on our usual joints, we decided to try Mi Sen Noodle Bar, a relative newcomer on the Portland scene (opened in 2013).
Manchester, NH is a funky little town. New Hampshire’s Queen City, it has a lot of character in some of its neighborhoods. Downtown is located in what used to be the mill district (indeed, most of the Millyard is still there, being converted into various offices, industrial lofts, and the like), and there are even a few ethnic neighborhoods. One of these is the West Side, where two of the larger neighborhoods (Notre Dame and Rimmon Heights) are actually Quebecois in heritage. The area had some tough years, with “urban renewal” between the 1960s and 1980s actually razing two decent neighborhoods and turning them into dismal strip malls, but the area has generally rebounded, diversified a bit, and, well, even gentrified a bit. But in addition to the notable large French Catholic Churches, the neighborhood still has a lot of Quebecois heritage, especially in the food scene. There’s probably no better place for this than Chez Vachon.
Lest one think from the previous reviews that the Tysons Corner area is entirely mall-related dining, rest assured, there are a few gems hiding in among the malls and box stores. Nestled a few blocks away from Tysons Corner Center in the first floor of an office building is the surprisingly pleasant Nostos, an upscale Greek restaurant. Since I had a free evening, this was also a good opportunity to get together with some of my DC area friends from TCF, so a group of 8 of us descended up Nostos.
A second day hanging around Tysons Corner Center in Northern Virginia sent me out in search of a good breakfast. After a walking loop of the area, I settled upon a spot I had spied the previous evening; across from Earl’s Kitchen + Bar is Barrel & Bushel, the in-hotel restaurant of the Hyatt Regency Tysons Corner. Instead of being the bustling, over-crowded joint that it appears to be from the start of happy hour through closing, at breakfast time it’s actually a fairly pleasant restaurant that is primarily catering to hotel guests. But as a walk-in, I was promptly greeted and settled into a nice window-side table with a nice giant pot of French press coffee.