STROLLING THE QUEEN ANNE Farmers Market one rainy Thursday, trying to funnel all the peppers and pickles and breaded shrimp of a madly overstuffed, complexly feisty Where Ya at Matt New Orleans shrimp po’boy into my mouth instead of down my shirt while getting drenched from above—well, let’s just say I was thinking about overhead.
The kind of overhead mobile food carts aren’t much burdened by, thus allowing them to build a solid business off Twitter feeds and GPS signals. And the kind I would have killed for right then.
For the past year Seattle has perched at the cusp of a mobile food truck explosion, awaiting city approval for a relaxation of the strict regulations that could free us to become a kind of Portland North. (Portland famously has close to 600; Seattle has 300-and-some, most of them wiener carts.)
Skillet Street Food kicked off the nascent Seattle boom three years ago—building a solid following for burgers and poutine via its potent one-two punch of location tweets and bacon jam. That was soon followed by trucks like the Korean-Mexican-Hawaiian fusion Marination Mobile, and the Beecher’s cheese folks’ Maximus/Minimus —the pig-shaped truck that also parks at the Queen Anne Farmers Market on some Thursdays.
Is a restaurant still a restaurant if it doesn’t have tables? I asked myself philosophically, balancing my half-eaten po’boy with a terrific Minimus grilled chicken sandwich with pesto mayo.
Further: Is a restaurant still a restaurant if it doesn’t have an address? In addition to the wandering food trucks Seattle’s been flirting ardently with pop-ups; ephemeral restaurants that flower brightly in the off-nights of coffeehouses or other restaurants, then fade quick as they came.
Dojo Dumplings set up temporary shop last year in a space leased to a bank on Capitol Hill. Seth Caswell “opened” Emmer and Rye before he got a space for it on the off-nights at his pal Dustin Ronspies’s Art of the Table. Skillet Street Food played “real restaurant” for a few days last September, in the Mount Baker Community Club.
Like the unlicensed “underground restaurants” Seattle had a breathless cloak-and-dagger dalliance with a few years back—operations like Gypsy and One Pot that flew under Health Department radar, and you had to be on “the list” to even get word of—pop-ups feel clubby and insiderish, and in a very Seattle way train the gaze of both restaurant and diner strictly upon the food. And food, after all, is what foodies are all about.
But is food all restaurants are about? Suddenly I spied Veraci ’s cute mobile pizza-oven-on-wheels roaring hotly at the farmers market, downpour be damned. As I trundled over to grab one more piece for my smorgasbord, a charred and bubbly slice of Veraci’s herby cheese pie, I thought about Skillet’s determined progress toward bricks and mortar—progress that stalled out in Pioneer Square and Georgetown, but might really go this time on Capitol Hill.
Skillet with a roof over its head? Yes, roving restaurants are the darlings du jour—cheap and spry and more attractive for their maddening scarcity in this town. Fist food is just plain fun.
But there’s a lot to be said for permanence, I thought, surveying the soggy line for the outdoor oven and tightening up the hood of my raincoat. And I got in my car and drove to Veraci’s Ballard storefront.
NEXT: THE UNFUSSY FRENCH