Few things are more quintessentially Seattle than Matt’s in the Market. Except maybe a Nirvana T-shirt.

Image: Lauren Colton

Chef Matt Fortner gets some variation of the question all the time. “Are you Matt?” “Is this your restaurant?” Sometimes, he allows, when he’s head down running the ever-busy lunch hour, or one of the town’s most symbolic dinner services—set against a backdrop of Pike Place Market’s neon sign—it’s easier to just say yes. “Sorry, Bugge,” the chef jokes in reference to his boss, actual Matt’s in the Market owner Dan Bugge—himself a guy who’s parried his fair share of the “So, are you Matt?” questions.

Admittedly, the moniker of this deeply loved restaurant, a rare crossroads of tourists and fiercely devoted locals, has abundant backstory: In 1996, chef Matt Janke opened a minuscule spot on the second floor of the Corner Market Building. Eventually Bugge, formerly a fishmonger downstairs, bought the restaurant. Somehow, he preserved the singularity of Matt’s, even after Janke departed in 2008. Even after it doubled in size and added a proper kitchen that doesn’t rely on butane burners.

A big part of that is installing talent like Fortner in the kitchen. The chef was a longtime Matt’s fan, and his particular background—at Marjorie, then Tavolàta and How to Cook a Wolf, then Cuoco and Lola—proved apt preparation to do right by beautiful Northwest ingredients in the face of nonstop volume. Some dishes, says Fortner, are inviolable (ahem, fried catfish sandwich), but this fall the dinner menu takes on more of his identity in the form of Italian influences and housemade pasta. The name synergy was just a perk, but this Matt clearly fits in the Market.

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