Historically, eating at Bumbershoot hasn't exactly been the most premium experience. In the past, it was very much a cotton candy and cheap pizza affair. To be fair, there have always been plenty of more adventurous options, and I don't mean to knock the noble vendors of cheap Thai food and barbecue, but there hasn't been anything I would describe as noteworthy.
Last year, however, Dan Bugge, of Matt's in the Market fame, launched the B-EATS project, a curated fancy food court of sorts.
"Originally, I was approached by my friends at Bumbershoot to create an elevated culinary experience for guests," he says. "So the program really found me. I, of course, agreed to the request. In part as a favor to them and in part because I am crazy and my brain never turns off. Getting the opportunity to bring a new experience to such a long-standing tradition as Bumbershoot got me super-excited."
Indeed, the list of participants includes plenty of places worthy of the word "elevated." Shota Nakajima's Adana and Jonathan Sundstrom's Southpaw Pizza, for example. While Bugge says the goal is absolutely to fancy up the festival-food experience, he isn't trying to put any strawberry shortcake vendors out of business. Finer dining options, he says, just reflect how massive Bumbershoot has become and how broad the crowd is.
"There is such an eclectic group of bands and people that attend the festival," he says. "There are the bands that draw a crowd that absolutely wants to have something other than cotton candy and funnel cake. The way food has elevated over the last 10 to 15 years, people expect more and better options at just about every event they attend. But there are still the bands that draw the late-night corn dog craving and the $5 cheap eats. For now, it's good to have them both."
Bugge is, however, unabashed about his goal for the food.
"Other festivals around the country do food events, and Seattle needs to stay above the trend," he posits, adding that he hopes people who visit B-EATS will remember the food as much as the music.
Also, he says, "I want to kick the shit out of other food events around the country."
Given the lineup he's compiled, he just might. Here's the skinny on who's cooking. Everything is available for preorder at bumbershoot.com/b-eats, by the way, so you can waltz right up with your ID when you're ready to dine.
Adana is the slightly less fancy rebranding of erstwhile Iron Chef contender Shota Nakajima's bastion of haute Japanese cuisine, Naka Kaiseki. Though his first venture proved to be a bit ahead of its time, the 27-year-old chef is definitely making waves with his food, and you are pretty much guaranteed to love Adana's offerings here: a katsu pork sandwich and a sautéed shishito pepper dish.
Bok A Bok Fried Chicken & Biscuits
Bok A Bok makes Korean fried chicken so good that people go all the way to White Center for it. That doesn't sound too outlandish to me, as I live just down the hill in South Park, but for the rest of the city, White Center might as well be Siberia. It's good stuff. For Bumbershoot, they're doing their chicken wings with ginger cabbage slaw and baby biscuits, as well as kimchi mac 'n' cheese.
Gracia is Matt's in the Market alum Chester Gerl's homage to traditional Mexican food. Like, the kind with roots in actual Mexico, not the kind you eat for "fourthmeal." To that end, he's doing an octopus tostada with cucumber, avocado, tomatoes, and cilantro, as well as chicken mole with escabeche and a pork tamale with crema, cotija cheese, and smoked chili sauce.
Chef Bryan Jarr opened his tiny Pike Place homage to preserved fish after getting stoked on the genre while traveling through Portugal and Northern Spain. His bar is one of the few places I don't mind paying a lot for someone to open tins and arrange things on plates, because it's all so damnably tasty. This time, however, it sounds like he's doing more than just popping boquerones out of jars for you—there's a fried Pacific oyster roll with tzatziki, ras el hanout, and pickled red onion that sounds amazing. Also clam dip with chips and an albacore niçoise salad.
Capitol Hill's Thai food darling moved quickly from its hole-in-the-wall window on Madison Street to a brick and mortar in Pioneer Square to a stately, full-size space near its original spot, and for good reason. The chef couple who own it, Poncharee Kounpungchart and Wiley Frank, won over Seattleites with their lovely noodle and rice dishes. For B-EATS, you can snag khao mun gai—poached chicken over garlic and chicken fat rice—or beef jerky sticky rice in a banana leaf. There's also dessert, in the form of black sticky rice pudding.
Matt's in the Market
Matt's is "quintessential Seattle seafood" from Mr. Bugge himself. The business is as old as dirt at this point—it recently turned 21, which is several lifetimes in restaurant years—but somehow still manages to stay current. Its B-EATS melon gazpacho with Dungeness crab is proof enough that Matt's is on trend, as gazpacho is on pretty much every menu this summer. They're also doing a smoked pimento cheese roll with shaved veggies and spicy greens.
Pike Place Fish Guys
The Fish Guys are perhaps the least fine dining of all the B-EATS vendors, but by no means one to be slept on. It's one of Pike Place's famous fish stalls, so it's up close and personal with its fish and definitely has the freshest product on the block. Sustainably sourced, too! Fun fact: Bugge worked for them as a fishmonger before buying Matt's in the Market. As a market stall, Pike Place Fish Guys' offerings are things best served cold, which in this case is ahi poke and lox with capers.
One of Bugge's first side ventures, Radiator Whiskey is a classy bar in the upstairs of Pike Place's Sanitary Market building—so named because it used to be the only place in the market where you couldn't bring your horse—and is all about meat and, obviously, whiskey. Radiator Whiskey famously serves an entire pig head on a board, but for this event they're offering Louisiana-style pulled pork sandwiches. Probably easier to eat at a festival, anyway.
Jonathan Sundstrom, who won a James Beard Award for his whimsical, wonderful Northwest Contemporary cuisine at Lark, has turned his attention to the eminently accessible realm of pizza. Everyone likes pizza, and you will definitely like Sundstrom's pizza. In keeping with the pugilist theme, he's offering the Uppercut—with pepperoni and Italian sausage—and the Featherweight, which is as light as its name, with mozzarella, basil, and squash blossom.
The White Swan Public House
White Swan is Bugge's recently opened ode to dockside dining, being perched among the piers where Eastlake meets South Lake Union. The food reflects that vibe, with oysters and a mix of upscale seafood stuff. I have to admit, I was very skeptical of White Swan's edgy clam chowder poutine at first. However, the dish made a convert out of me, and I can now enthusiastically report that they're serving it here.
The 100 Pound Clam
The 100 Pound Clam is a little shack right next to White Swan, and actually predates it. They serve humbler fare, which leans toward the type of things you would grab from an unfussy little shack on a pier: sandwiches, fish and chips, stuff like that. It's all of the same quality, and I've been dying to try 100 Pound Clam's fishwich BLT. For Bumbershoot, they're doing oysters on the half shell and fried corn.