Seattle Underground Market: Brunch Edition
Ben and I volunteered at the first-ever brunch-style Seattle Underground Market this past Sunday. It was great; we were given a lot of fun work to do and we tried a lot of interesting and delicious food. When we first showed up, we hung up posters for a vendor who was running behind schedule. The pictures were beautiful and reminded me of hanging up posters with Ben in the apartment. I can never tell if a picture is straight, though I actually did a pretty good job this time. We took tickets and got to see everyone who was coming into the market, then were able to walk around ourselves and get food.
I went straight for the egg skewers I read about in the market email and chose a caprese egg skewer with mozzarella, tomato, basil and apple balsamic oil. EggCart also had a smoked salmon skewer with goat cheese and cucumber and a prosciutto and egg skewer with gouda, avocado and cherry tomato.
I loved the idea, but it was hard to eat. And dry. The balsamic was delicious, rich and necessary. For the egg, I would’ve preferred the flavor and moisture of a deviled egg to a regular hard boiled egg, but would a deviled egg stay on a skewer?
I wanted a bite of everything at once, but was hesitant to nibble too much off the sides in case the whole thing fell apart. I ended up biting things off the skewer piece by piece. Though I was hesitant to chomp on such a big chunk of basil, it was heavenly.
Next up, cheese grits with okra gravy. I have tantalizing memories of grits and tasso gravy from a place where I used to work, and Ben loves grits of any kind.
These ones were delicious. The grits themselves were smooth and buttery, and the okra gravy turned the whole thing into a creamy soup. The big pieces of okra were a tasty addition that gave the dish some texture.
Ben and I actually were huge fans of several things from Tot’s Low Country. At the last Seattle Underground Market, I was impressed by their Lumbee Indian Collard Sandwiches with collard greens, hickory smoked bacon, lacy corn bread and a bourbon peach apricot sauce. This time, Ben had to try both of their drinks–a citrus blend of orange, lime, grapefruit, tangerine and lemon, and a bloody okra with tomato juice, low country spices, hot sauce and pickled okra spears.
We loved both drinks. Well, I didn’t try the bloody okra because I hate bloody marys, but Ben loves them and liked this as well. He said it was peppery, spicy and had a strong pickle flavor. The citrus blend was so bright and refreshing that Ben ended up buying two of them.
We enjoyed the grits and the first citrus blend while waiting in line at Drummin’ Up Wontons. They always seem to have the longest line at the market, though it died down after noon at this one. They offered five flavors and a deal of four for $3 so we decided upon spinach artichoke, OG (beef veggie), pumpkin cheesecake and apple delight. No crab rangoon for us.
First we tried the spinach artichoke. I thought it was a little too cheesy or creamy, and Ben was generally unimpressed. It seemed to have more cheese than spinach or artichoke. Next up, OG. From the market blog, “Grandma’s original, the wonton that started it all – Beef, Veggie, Asian themed.” We were sharing and Ben got the first bite, which ended up being most of the little meatball stuffed in the middle. We both strongly remember the texture–juicy, moist, and firm. There was definitely more beef than veggie in that wonton, but that beef was well-flavored and satisfying.
Good as that OG was, Ben and I both definitely preferred the dessert wontons. My favorite was the apple surprise. It tasted like the best apple pie filling, cinnamony and warm, and the thin wonton skin made it into a crisp, flavor-bursting bite. Ben’s favorite was the pumpkin cheesecake. The pumpkin flavor was light but still present, the cheese was comforting but not overpowering, and a handful of spices tied the whole thing together. The mouth feel was also perfect and so satisfying.
When I went back to collect tickets at the door, Ben walked around and surprised me with a Bengali crepe with saffron creme. Inside was mascarpone cheese with just a few crushed almonds. It was softly sweet and comforting. I loved the crunch of the almonds and I loved the saffron creme. I drink saffron tea every day and would love to see it in more of my food.
This crepe was from the Bengali Gourmet, the woman we were hanging up pictures for earlier. Her blog has a lot of recipes I would love to try. Could I cook Bengali food? We’ll see!
The next thing we tried was a pork arepa from Chica Arepa. An arepa is a Venezuelan corn cake. The pork was juicy and succulent, and the corn cake had a great flavor and a satisfying crunch to the edges. It was definitely a hearty and comforting dish.
Wanting to go in the same direction, we grabbed a chorizo con papas taco and a horchata from Cultura. The taco was flavorful and a bit spicy, but not as juicy as the pork in the arepa. This is the first time we’ve tried horchata, but we’ve been thinking about it since seeing it at a food truck a few months ago. It’s a drink made of rice, milk, vanilla and cinnamon, and it tastes like the milk left over after a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch. I couldn’t drink a whole glass myself, but I loved it.
After a stint of work, we ventured out yet again and picked up some dumplings, manty, from Kyrgyzstanian. We tried three: pork with onion and spices, potato with wasabi, shallots and garlic, and squash with onions and ground pepper. We were honestly wholly unimpressed by everything. The manty skin was tough and chewy and none of the fillings seemed to have any flavor. Just a ball of ground pork, a ball of mashed potatoes, a ball of cooked squash. Where were the spices, the onion, the wasabi?
We brightened things up with some pickled vegetables from a booth we helped set up after they showed up late, then (at Ben’s prodding) moved on to dessert. Or half-dessert: a bacon buttermilk cupcake with maple buttercream from Jessie’s Haute Cakes. I’m always hesitant to try those bacon desserts, but it was amazing. The bacon flavor came out just enough in the cupcake, the buttercream was well hardened with a strong amount of maple, and a sprinkling of bacon over the top gave an added salt and crunch that made this cupcake perfect. I’m so glad Ben pushed me toward this cupcake.
The last thing I ate was a tres leches cake from Almibar. I love tres leches and think the last one I had was at Viva, a long long time ago. This one was served in a clear plastic cup so you could see all the layers, and had a beautiful toasted meringue top.
It was so sweet, so milky smooth, so amazing. We were obviously very full at this point so we couldn’t eat much. Ben only had a bite, and I ate about half. I’m so glad I got to enjoy this baby sweetness at the end of my meal.
Later that day, we finally got to snacking on the macarons we picked up from Jenni’s Sugar Shop. The Mexican chocolate was wonderfully rich with all the right spices. The chocolate was flavorful but maybe a little dense for a macaron. The caramel apple was strong and crisp with that amazing dollop of Butterfinger on the top. We actually grabbed two of those because Ben and I each wanted one of our one! I’m always so happy to be snacking on macarons and still have a gingerbread and a peppermint bark that I’m saving for later.
UPDATE: Just ate the gingerbread and the peppermint bark. Oh my god amazing. The peppermint macaron had one peppermint cookie and one chocolate, with chocolate creme in the middle and crushed candy cane on top. It collapsed beautifully after my bite and tasted of a perfect marriage between mint and chocolate. The candy cane on top provided a great change in texture. Eating this macaron was a delight.
The gingerbread was delicious too. Spicy cookies (are they called cookies? what are the names for the individual components of a macaron?), thick cream cheese filling, and a hidden lemon curd center. Yum.
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There were a lot of amazing sounding and looking things that I didn’t even try at this market! You can only eat so much, and Ben and I tried to pick things we both liked so we could share. I also would have loved to try some of the duck confit and eggs benedict that were floating around. We didn’t really eat much breakfast food at all!
I think my overall winner would be Tot’s Low Country. We were impressed by their grits and okra gravy and both of their drinks. I hope they are at the next underground market so I can try more of their creations.
My favorite food of this market was the pork arepa from Chica Arepa. The pork and the arepa worked so well together and had such great flavor, juiciness, and texture. This time Ben and I shared a mini, and next time I would love to try their three minis for $7 deal to sample more of their flavors.
If you live in Seattle and don’t come to the Seattle Underground Market, why not? Do you like food? Are you generally available on Saturday nights? You do have to get yourself to a mystery location (easier with a car I’m sure, but I take the bus and I’m fine) and pay some money (I paid about $40 total when I went alone and brought food home, and Ben and I paid $25-30 together when we were both volunteering and sharing and brought food home). But you get to experience yummy and inventive food in a fun atmosphere! Check it out.