Each week, The Stranger is alerted to hundreds of events throughout the greater Seattle area. Some of these events are thrilling, some are negligible, and some are those to which we wouldn't send our worst enemy. Until now.
It was 11:00 a.m. and already hotter than the hinges of Hell. Seattle's weekend forecast called for record-breaking heat, so my editors decided to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Bite of Seattle—the Northwest's "premier food festival"—by ordering me to spend the weekend eating my every meal among the festival's 80 showcased restaurants and food vendors.
Bite of Seattle, hereby known as "the Bite," strives to gather the best of Seattle's culinary offerings and show 'em off to festival crowds, who are encouraged to eat a classy shit-ton for one blissful weekend. There are some great attractions: Restaurants prance out prize-winning favorites, chefs indulge in crowd-pleasing culinary theater by creating their favorite dishes onstage, and Tom Douglas's "Flavors of America" dinner was on hand to raise money to feed the homeless. Still, I'd heard complaints from friends that despite a few gems, the Bite had degenerated from a parade of good cuisine in a festival setting to a craptacular food fair—which was fine with me because I was craving ribs for breakfast. With the brutal heat, my assignment was essentially an experiment in Bikram-style gluttony. I planned on consuming all of my favorite heavy foods for breakfast—that way I'd have the entire day to regret it. Sit. Eat. Sweat. Repeat. That was the game plan.
To get started, I was in the line for Famous Dave's Legendary Pit BBQ, sandwiched between two highly efficient couples that were busy grazing on one meal while waiting in line for the next. Smoke from the grills punished us in unrelenting waves. Once I reached the front of the line, a plate of ribs was shoved at me by the saddest-looking man in the world, slaving away behind a grill. His face appeared to be melting off. I was afraid that staring would affect my appetite, so I jumped into the line at the Dahlia Donut Lounge to eat my ribs. Unfortunately, the meat was dry and stringy. I couldn't tell if I was chewing on cooked meat or my parched tongue.
I soon had a sack of doughnuts and a cold cup of cherry lemonade to wash away the taste of the disappointing ribs. My barbecue breakfast with doughnuts and lemonade blended seamlessly into a light brunch of catfish and hush puppies from Catfish Corner, and then into an afternoon snack of coconut prawns and Thai iced tea from Racha Noodles, after which I cleansed my palate with a frozen chocolate-dipped banana from Hi's Fruit. By this time I had been grazing for two and a half hours straight. My jaw was tired, but overall my time at the Bite was as wonderful as I'd always imagined a nonstop food orgy to be—aside from the excessive swelling, gas, and heart palpitations. After my chocolate banana, I couldn't fit another morsel into my stomach, and I was wearing a dress without pockets, so I decided to go home and sleep off some of the swelling before returning for dinner.
Alas, it turns out you can't just "sleep off" swelling, and I didn't make it back to the Bite on Saturday night. My evening meal consisted of one vitamin E soft gel chased with four rum and Cokes. (This kept me within my assignment parameters, as technically, rum and Coke isn't a food; there was no chewing involved.)
On Sunday morning I returned at 11:00 a.m. After a lap around the festival, I realized the beauty of the Bite. While the event is presented as "fine dining, festival style," really it has taken the festival template—bands, crafts, spectacle, food, crowds, etc.—and pared it down to everyone's favorite denominator: festival food. Fuck that other stuff, says Bite of Seattle. Only lazy eaters allow the scattered stages and cover bands to distract them from elephant ears and corn on the cob. What everyone is craving, even on the hottest day in history (or at least recent memory), is not art or music, but deep-fried alligator on a stick.
For breakfast, I decided to dine on crab cakes and the aforementioned alligator from the New Orleans Cookery. Sadly, the gator was fried, chewy nubs of tasteless meat, and the crab cakes were a lie—hush puppies with meager flecks of crab in them, instead of delicious cakes of flaked crab meat as the name implied. The only thing that could salvage breakfast was a milk-chocolate Shishkaberry (chocolate-covered strawberries, also on a stick), and perhaps some "Macho Nacho BBQ Nachos" (AM/PM–quality nachos with meat barbecue sauce) from Artie B's.
I ate these items while in line for a Berry Bouffant at Dish D'Lish. A Berry Bouffant is a cup of bite-sized brownies topped with assorted fresh berries, smothered in berry-flavored whipped cream, and crowned with a pile of cotton candy.
The Berry Bouffant knocked me on my ass. Then it picked me up by the ears, stuck its candy-coated tongue in my mouth, and wiggled it around. The only improvement that could be made to this delight would be if it were packaged in a tubular, squeezable container, like Yoplait Go-gurt. There was nothing to do but buy another one.
I enjoyed my second Berry Bouffant at the International Fountain. Below me, children frolicked in the water. Large men with soft, pillowy breasts lumbered around suckling lemonades and Thai iced teas. It's true: The Bite has drifted from haute (or at least moyenne) cuisine for the masses to become more like Bumbershoot with alligator on a stick in place of art. But few among the roving hordes seemed to mind.
After my double dose of Berry Bouffant, I felt dizzy and sick, so I decided to return home and sleep off the shakes. I skipped dinner once again, and treated myself to two Tums after midnight.