Repeatable: Maybe. Visits: 1
Most Seattleites eventually make it to the Pike Place Market at some point during the year, usually with kids and visitors in tow. During these rare visits, you don’t want to wait forever for a seat at Matt’s in the Market and you don’t really want to walk in the street dripping take-out down the front of your shirt either.
So you go to Steelhead Diner, a large, well-lit space next to the northern entrance to Pike Alley that’s been open for almost two years. The adorable owners, Kevin and Terresa Davis, have spent considerable amounts of time in the same places I’ve spent considerable amounts of time, so maybe that’s why diving into the deep menu felt like plunging into a pool of nostalgia.
Taste of New Orleans: Chef Kevin survived his start in the kitchens of the legendary Arnaud’s, one of the Crescent City’s most storied restaurants (he would fall back on that experience when he opened Sazerac in Seattle). Thankfully, none of Arnaud’s high-falutin’ Creole cooking is found here–just the down-home easy-going goodness of Cajun classics like chicken gumbo ($6.95, real and real good), rice and beans ($4.95, oh, my! properly cooked beans! without cumin! heaven!), and “dressed” po-boy styled sandwiches (means with all the fixin’s, like shredded lettuce, ketchup, mayo, etc.). There’s even junk food, a la “poutine,” french fries with gravy and cheese curds ($7.95). All this stuff really, really made me miss N’awlins.
Fish with Flair: The kitchen’s deft hand with seafood is most likely the result of the chef’s 5-year stint at the helm of Oceanaire, one of Seattle’s most reliable seafood restaurants, despite (or maybe because of) the fact that it’s part of a boutique chain. The jumbo lump Dungeness crab cake ($14.95) was a lightly formed patty of crab meat, with a piquant bit of sauce Louis (another Nawlins import; think mayo kicked up a notch). Delicious. The Totten Inlet mussels in Purgatory ($12.95) were definitely hellish–with salt. The spices and flavors of chorizo, garlic, serrano, basil, and orange zest were tantalizingly promising–but someone had clearly made a mistake and dumped an extra teaspoon of salt into the batch and almost ruined it. I say almost because I still finished it, even though I needed to suck down most of my beer doing so.
California Dreamin': The couple’s time in Napa–he in the fabulous kitchen of Tra Vigne–is evident in dishes like the crispy pork shank carnitas ($9.95), two tender legs served with a plate of corn tortillas. I think I would have enjoyed this dish a lot more if I hadn’t gorged on rice and beans and gumbo first. In an attempt to inject lightness into the meal, I got a plate of organic lettuce slalad with Chukar cherries, goat cheese, spiced walnuts, and white balsamic vinaigrette ($7.95). Alas, it was overly dressed, so I didn’t get any respite from all the bold flavors at the table. The plate of pan-roasted brussel sprouts, however, were superb ($7.95).
One of the kids at our table got the so-ubiquitous-it-might-as-well-be-diner-fare kasu black cod ($19.95 for a half-portion), which was flaky, moist, well-flavored, and perfect. The real kid’s meals were impressive: a hand-shaped hamburger on french roll and grilled cheese on thick slices of herbed bread. Beecher’s mac ‘n’ cheese was also an option for the wee ones, but I know from experience that my kids won’t touch it–it’s “too cheesy” for their tastes.
So would I repeat the experience? I think so. I’ve barely skimmed the menu, and I haven’t tried any of the po-boys yet. Be forewarned that despite the moniker, this high-end grub ain’t exactly diner fare. And like all restaurants in the Market, prices here aren’t exactly a bargain. On the other hand, the place is open 11am-10pm ALL DAY every day, in true diner fashion. I just love knowing I can pop in and get a bowl of gumbo at 2pm if I want to.