Eating out. Matt's in the Market.
I first heard about Matt's in the Market from my uncle, several years ago. He would tell me about a tiny little restaurant above the Pike Place Market that had a few stools along a bar and no proper kitchen. The chef cooked up his soups and sandwiches on two camp stoves or something like that, and people lined up for ages.Everything came from the market downstairs, fresh produce and meats and seafoods and breads. Later A. would tell me that it was the best place to eat in the market, and I would nod my head and mentally file the idea away. Then the chef/owner expanded his tiny hole-in-the-wall into a light-filled space with about fifteen tables, a counter that overlooked an actual kitchen, and a bar with seven or eight stools. It was time to head out there and try it.
I'm early, having underestimated my own ground speed. The hostess directs me towards the bar, and I scramble up onto one of those bar stools, only to be immediately carded by the bartender. Apparently I look younger than I am. Maybe when I've eaten here a few times I won't need to rummage around in the depths of my bag for ID as soon as I sit down. The two other guys at the bar - one of whom looks barely old enough to drink - seem like regulars, or at least well-known to the bartender, who offers them Bloody Marys. They come "with a snit," a small glass of beer served on the side. I am not sure of the origin of this custom, but it seems to be a Midwestern one. They sit and drink their Bloody Marys and chat with the bartender, who is veering towards middle-age, barrel-chested and bespectacled (in owlish dark rims). I order the sautéed prawns and settle in with my book.
Diners begin to trickle in, and the tables around me fill up. My lunch arrives, three huge shrimp nestled on a bed of vegetables. There are fingerling potatoes and Brussels sprouts and some kind of squash that has caramelized to a crisp sweetness around the edges. Against the warm sweetness of the vegetables comes the cool sharpness of capers mixed with finely diced roasted red peppers. There is bread on the side, with a small dish of olive oil. Conversations flow around me and I listen in as I eat my meal. This is what I like about eating alone; I can concentrate on my own food, I can engage with other people, I can people-watch, I can stay in my own world or emerge out into the present.
Was it half as good as it looked? asks the bartender as he clears my now-empty plate. Better! I tell him. He hands me the dessert menu. I think of the long walk down to the market (just over a mile) and the even longer walk back (because it will be uphill the entire way) and order the bread pudding, heady with whiskey (or perhaps it is bourbon, I can't remember) and thick with golden raisins. It is a long wait for the bread pudding, for which the bartender apologizes, but it gives me time to eavesdrop some more, to sit and look at all the bottles of scotch and whiskey and bourbon and various liqueurs behind the bar, to look at the rain-streaked windows and down at the market below. I have never seen the market from this height, from the third floor in this building that holds layers of histories in all its shops and cafés and stalls; I can see the sign next to the neon Public Market sign that somehow I've never seen before.
The bread pudding is warm and crunchy around the edges and soft in the middle, with a scoop of ice cream melting on the side. To my right I can see the gleaming new tower that houses the remodeled and expanded Seattle Art Museum, a few blocks away. I'll go there another day. Right now I have my dessert to finish, which seems to take only a moment. I pay my bill and slip out the door, down the stairs and through the market. I see A., who cooked dinner for J.'s surprise birthday party last week, at the seafood stall where he works; I run into the woman who was my server at Lark the last time I ate dinner there, walking swiftly in the other direction. Another day at the market.