Take me out to the ballgame.
But first, buy me a decent meal. Those peanuts and Crackerjacks just aren’t going to sustain me through nine innings-plus in the Kingdome.
When I go to Seattle for a Mariners game with my true-blue M’s fanatic hubby, we make a whole day of it. We even go early enough to catch batting practice (as close as my main squeeze will ever get to fulfilling his fantasy of shagging fly balls for the likes of Jay Buhner and Edgar Martinez).
Once, I arrived so darned early, players were just driving up in their fancy cars and on their way in to suit up, stopping to autograph balls for a bunch of kids. Game time, still four hours and counting.
My only requirement for this endurance test is that we get fed before entering that concrete jungle and find ourselves at the mercy of the over-priced vendors peddling their underwhelming chow.
Finding a good meal might involve a 10- or 15-minute hike, but there are lots of places to score some pre-game grub.
Here’s my scouting report:
F.X. McRory’s is Mariner’s central.
Just down the block from the dome, this popular watering hole is like one big fan clubhouse before a game. The air is thick with sports talk and ball caps and people sipping microbrews.
Despite the happy chaos, the staff seems to be right on top of things. I was impressed when I saw a server dash out the front door to reunite a patron with some binoculars he left behind.
Unfortunately, I have long found the food secondary at McRory’s. The menu is mostly meat and potatoes, with lots of bar food such as monster-size onion rings or peel-and-eat shrimp.
A recent visit confirmed earlier experiences. Meals are straightforward and rather dull - my $14 overcooked prime rib dinner came unadorned on a plate with bland “garlic” mashed potatoes. It was fine, but more of a bloop single than a grand salami.
The fish and chips were an improvement. For $8, there were three thick fish filets with a crunchy coating and hand-cut fries. The side of tart slaw, dressed in a slightly sweet vinaigrette, was a refreshing break from the creamy stuff.
On game days, the offerings are abbreviated, but if you have a favorite from the regular menu - the Northwest bouillabaisse or the Boston butt pork chop - call ahead and they will accommodate.
As far as I can taste, the best bet at McRory’s were the oysters - super fresh, mildly briny bivalves from Penn Cove. Usually, you can choose from a half-dozen different varieties and order as many of them as you like because they’re priced at a little more than $1 apiece. A half-dozen made a nifty starter, a dozen could tide you over for a meal.
I’ll go back to McRory’s, but next time, for the oysters and to tap into that infectious pre-game buzz.
Wander down closer to the Kingdome and you’ll find a restaurant with the goofiest seating arrangement I’ve ever seen. Banquette benches line the wall facing the bar and 36 TVs in the long, thin dining room/bar that’s now called Chippers. (It was formerly Sneakers and is now owned by the same company that operates McRory’s.)
The place has cleaned up nicely after getting rather rundown under previous management. The menu runs the burger, sandwiches and salad gauntlet with prices that range from $6 for a cheeseburger to $10.95 for a sirloin steak.
Chippers also runs daily dinner specials starting with roast turkey on Monday for $9.95 and winding up the week with prime rib on Friday, Saturday and Sunday for $10.95.
Like all places close to the action, come early or expect to wait for a table.
For food with a lot more personality (that means you better pack some Tums), head over to Mac’s Smokehouse, just behind the row of brick buildings where spendy souvenirs are sold.
You can usually tell a good barbecue joint by its smell and this place positively reeks of fragrant applewood and sizzling meat.
The sandwiches - brisket, turkey, pork butt, hot link, smoked salmon and shredded pork - are wonderfully messy. Grab lots of napkins. The dark, thick barbecue sauce strikes a perfect balance of of sweet and spicy.
Order a side of slaw ($1.25), a big plate full of creamy shredded cabbage mixed with bell peppers. Another savory side dish is the Louisiana-style red beans and rice for a mere $1.95.
The only disappointment I suffered at this no-frills restaurant was that I was too stuffed to order the sweet potato pie - a steal at $1.50.
Low prices are a real draw.
Sandwiches are all under $6 and full dinners start at $7.95 for ribs or chicken.
For spiffier surroundings, hoof it down to Pyramid Ale House, also on First Avenue. This pub is all gleaming brass and wood where suds brew in stainless tanks behind glass near the open kitchen.
Fittingly, food here is pub grub plus. Stuff like barbecue chicken pizza, sausage sampler plate, baby back ribs, a salmon filet sandwich and seafood gumbo make a great match for hand-crafted brews that include the Summertime Ale and Espresso Stout. Three cheers for everything on the menu at Pyramid Ale House ringing in at under $10.
This place is usually jammed before (and after) a game, and they do not take reservations, so the best strategy might be to squeeze in at the bar and eat standing up. There are a few tables outside, also, where you can gaze at the construction site for the new stadium.
Back in the slightly shabby Pioneer Square area, there are a few places to grab a quick bite (Taco del Mar and Elliott Bay Bookstore’s cozy cafe, for instance) or, you could relax over an elegant meal. The question that comes up with the latter option is whether you feel comfortable wearing your “I Love A. Rod” T-shirt in the tony dining room at Il Terrazzo Carmine or Al Bocalino? At those two spots, the Italian cuisine is downright dreamy (and expensive, too) and the atmosphere is rather formal. But I’ve gone early enough to miss the dinner crowd and enjoy a glass of pinot grigio with some lovely garlic prawns at Il Terrazzo.
For die-hard, hot-dog gobbling baseball fans, eating this kind of high-brow food before a game is surely considered blasphemy, but, for me, it gives the game a new (softer) focus. I’m less likely to scream and holler when Lou brings in Norm Charlton.
I wandered farther afield recently and found a new haunt that has a gorgeous piano played artfully during its happy hour.
At Emerson’s, there’s not a bad seat in the house when it comes to listening to a dazzling selection of old standards and catchy show tunes played until 7:30 on weeknights.
The mostly Italian menu includes a selection of tasty pizzas that are perfect to split between two as a light dinner. The Pizza Parma ($8.95) was loaded with prosciutto, roasted red peppers, smoked mozzarella and bits of fresh sage. Or, try the ever-changing antipasto plate.
I loved the zippy white bean puree they bring with the crusty rolls, too.
For a real culinary adventure, head over to the International District (the “ID” as savvy Seattle folk call it) to sup on exotic fare with explosive flavors.
There are so many great choices packed in to this compact neighborhood, it’s tough to be decisive.
Many of the best places proudly display their glowing reviews on their front doors. And no restaurant rightfully sports more critical raves than The Shanghai Garden II (another Garden has cropped up in Bellevue.)
The Shanghai Garden menu is long and packed with classic dishes from the best known culinary regions of China. Be brave and skip the familiar mu shu pork in favor of one of the house specialties - hand-shaven noodles. This butter-tender pasta can be stir-fried with veggies and meat or served in a light soup.
I was smitten with the barley noodles (they’re green and the menu says they’re good for you), stir-fried with seafood in a light sauce. The dish had a fine, delicate quality.
The crispy shrimp in slightly sweet chili sauce was a pretty presentation with steamed broccoli piled on both ends of the plate. And, it tasted as good as it looked.
I was leaning toward the excellent potstickers, but opted instead for another featured dish - the happy rolls. These filling goodies were thin bean curd crepes stuffed with minced chicken, water chestnuts and bamboo shoots. They are served in a hot pot swimming in a savory mixture seasoned with soy sauce, sesame and a potent dose of garlic.
Other delicious possibilities around the ID are The Sea Garden (try the incredibly fresh crab pulled from the tank in the front entry, stir-fried with black bean sauce), the understated Cantonese cuisine at longtime favorite Four Seas (where an excellent selection of dim sum is served daily from 10:30 a.m. until 3 p.m.), the noodle shop off the enormous Ocean City (the divine duck soup is just $4), Thai food at the pleasant Bangkok House, first-rate potstickers at the funky Szechan Noodle Bowl and Pho Hoa, where Vietnamese-style soups make a meal for under $5 in a congenial cafeteria setting.
Hing Loon is another favorite with local restaurant critics who appreciate the friendly service and the 200-item menu. The menu emphasizes seafood with gems such as fresh clams in black bean sauce, oysters with ginger and green onion and all sorts of shrimp and scallop dishes.
The newly remodeled Mikado is considered one of the best Japanese restaurants in the city, with an excellent sushi bar. But you can easily pick up some sushi to-go at Uwajimaya, a huge Asian supermarket in the heart of the International District. I love visiting that store to check out all the exotic foodstuff and produce. In the seafood department, there’s a great selection of beautifully prepared sashimi. Over in the cafe, there are any number of pre-packaged entrees, but the sushi travels best.
Bring a California roll into the game and watch the reaction of your seatmates. You’re sure to be a hit. Then again, you might get a Bobby Ayala-size boo.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Photos
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Kingdome fare F.X. McRory’s, 419 Occidental Ave. S., (206) 623-4800 Chipper’s, 567 Occidental Ave. S., (206) 654-8070 Mac’s Smokehouse, 1006 First Ave. S., (206) 628-0880 Pyramid Ale House, 91 S. Royal Brougham Way, (206) 682-3377 Taco del Mar, 90 Yesler Way, (206) 467-5940 Elliott Bay Bookstore Cafe, First Avenue South and Main, (206) 682-6664 Il Terrazzo Carmine, 411 First Ave. S., (206) 467-7797 Emerson’s, 1010 Western Ave., (206) 682-1918 Shanghai Garden II, 524 6th Ave., (206) 625-1689 Sea Garden, 509 Seventh Ave. S., (206) 623-2100 Four Seas, 714 S. King St., (206) 682-4900 Ocean City, 609 S. Weller, (206) 623-2333 Bangkok House, 606 S. Weller, (206) 382-9888 Pho Hoa, 618 S. Weller, (206) 624-7189 Szechan Noodle House, 420 Eighth Ave. S., (206) 623-4198 Hing Loon, 628 S. Weller St., (206) 682-2828 The New Mikado, 514 S. Jackson, (206) 622-5206 Uwajimaya, 519 Sixth Ave. S., (206) 624-6248