I love a culinary gimmick. Pizza crust stuffed with hot dogs? Fried chicken cutlets in place of hamburger buns? I'll just be over here with the meat sweats, clapping my hands with glee. Of course, I don't want to actually eat these greasy, fast-food Frankenstein's monsters on a regular basis. But as an American, I admire the innovation and the overindulgence.
There's something oddly thrilling about seeking out the absurd, the grotesque, the ridiculous—a combination of flavors and textures so bizarre, we will gladly wait in line to try it. Luckily, there are plenty of whimsical hybrid foods out there that don't require you to pull up to the drive-through window. Most served with a healthy dose of wordplay.
The Cronut, arguably the world's most coveted edible portmanteau, took 2013 by storm. New York City pastry chef Dominique Ansel's croissant-doughnut love child sold out so quickly that a "Cronut black market" emerged: Scalpers woke up early to stand in line and purchase the maximum half a dozen Cronuts per customer, charging 700 percent more than the going rate and keeping the sixth pastry for themselves, as a surcharge. They made out like bandits.
Seattle may be Cronut-free, but we certainly have our own roster of playful food fusions that should keep your adrenaline pumping for a while.
The Ramen Burger
As elusive as a Sasquatch, ramen burgers can be observed all over the internet, but are nearly impossible to find on a restaurant menu. In Seattle, there is only one place to order one: Rain Cafe, a casual Japanese cafe in a big-box shopping center at 132nd and Aurora, next door to the excellent and well stocked Asian Food Center. For the uninitiated, it's the burger's buns that are made of ramen. Instant ramen noodles are cooked and cooled, mixed with beaten egg, pressed into ramekins and crisped in a hot pan until they retain their hockey-puck shape. At Rain Cafe, the noodle buns sandwich a burger patty steeped with salty umami notes, seasoned with secret ingredients the chef would not reveal over the phone. There's a slice of melted American cheese, a leaf of lettuce, and an oozy fried egg. Smaller than the average American burger, the eating experience will be over before you've finished exploring the lovely noodley texture that a soft bready bun lacks. But the burger is begging for a dollop of sauce (mayo mixed with a packet of instant ramen seasoning powder would do the trick). It's good, but it's not great—a creamy condiment would tie it all together. But it was fun to order and eat, a sign of a truly successful gimmick. And for burger-loving thrill seekers of the gluten-free variety, Rain Cafe also makes a rice burger, featuring crisped rice patties as buns.
Just reading the word "Sushirrito" quickens my pulse. Burrito + sushi = two of life's greatest pleasures combined into the world's best food! Right? Not so much. Rain Cafe's second attempt at novelty is a bit deceptive. In reality, the Sushirrito is just a fat log of rolled sushi that hasn't been cut into slices. There are no beans or rice or sour cream, no burrito elements whatsoever, only a clever bit of wordsmithery. But if you're looking for a perfectly acceptable, inexpensive, western-style sushi roll, you can choose to have your Sushirrito stuffed with broiled eel, salmon, or gyudon-style beef and onions.
The early bird gets the cretzel at Coyle's Bakeshop in Greenwood, where folks line up for Rachael Coyle's croissant-pretzel mash-up, guaranteed to be gone by mid-morning. Missing out isn't the worst fate; there are still five other types of buttery croissant to choose from, including a seasonal open-faced cream-cheese-topped croissant with brushstrokes of rosy rhubarb slices. But for those of us who gravitate toward the salty and savory, the cretzel is where it's at. Coyle says she was looking to add another savory pastry to the case, and she'd just learned how to make soft Bavarian-style pretzels. So she twisted laminated croissant dough into pretzel shapes, painted them with lye (aka magic pretzel serum), sprinkled on flakes of sea salt, and voilà! A croissant with the unmistakable tang of pretzel. The cretzel's twists and folds create more crunch per square inch, like the best corner slice of lasagna in a casserole dish. Enjoy with morning coffee, or take it home and pair with a dab of spicy-sweet mustard and a late afternoon beer.
Pho'rench Dip and Eggs Bao'nedict
The Pho'rench Dip and Eggs Bao'nedict are like a pair of ligers lurking beneath the tall, otherwise pun-free grasses of the Stateside brunch menu—a couple of sassy portmanteaus just trying to blend in among the coconut yogurt parfait and avocado toast. The Pho'rench Dip is a "Duh! Why didn't I think of that?" combination of banh mi and pho broth. Dip the pulled beef and pickled vegetable stuffed baguette into the broth, like you would an au jus, and the bread will go soggy with warm, aromatic liquid. Perhaps a little too soggy, since the meat is already quite soft. But the pho is rich and herbaceous, and you have my permission to slurp it straight from the bowl after you're done dipping.
Those who immediately narrow in on the Benedict section of a breakfast menu will find their hollandaise fix in the Eggs Bao'nedict. A soft, warm, steamed bao bun is stuffed with Canadian bacon, rather than the electric-red barbecued pork commonly found in some bao. Much less of a nap-inducing gut bomb than your average Benedict, the bao is topped with poached egg, sprinkled with pork floss, and given a very light drizzle of hollandaise. Far too light in flavor, richness, and volume, according to my dining partner, who fancies herself a hollandaise aficionado. I couldn't help but agree.
It's Hanukkah year-round at Napkin Friends, a Seattle food truck serving sandwiches on two crisp, gluten-free potato latkes instead of bread. Latkes are fried potato pancakes, traditionally topped with sour cream and applesauce and eaten at Hanukkah parties. But in the land of novelty, Napkin Friends uses them to build sloppy sandwiches, like the Classic Combo: slices of Honeycrisp apple, caramelized onion, spinach, Brie, and thyme. The B.L.T.G.A., featuring bacon and Gouda, will have your bubbe rolling in her grave. (Bacon? On a LATKE? For shame!) But isn't that what ridiculous, gluttonous, absurdly gimmicky foods are supposed to do?