Finding France is what I do; finding France is what I enjoy, wherever I happen to be. In France, even in touristy areas like Paris or Nice, I look for my France, and I find her if I am lucky: I remember feelings or experiences I once knew before relocating to the United States so many years ago. I catch fleeting moments when I recognize a sound, a smell, or spot a scene I used to take for granted when I walked French streets on my way to school, to work, or while running errands. In the United States, where I live, finding France can be a lot of fun, especially when I travel to another city, or another state. This does not mean I don’t enjoy new locales for what they are, of course, and I love researching, learning and exploring. Still, I manage a community of francophiles in social media, and I have this blog, where many expect to read about France and all things French: Finding France is what I do, including in the city I live in, Seattle.
Pike Place Market: My favorite corner in Seattle
One of the oldest Farmers’ markets in the United States, Pike Place Market opened in 1907, thrived through the first half of the 20th century, then almost disappeared in the 1960s until it got rescued by the city and her people. Today, the market appeals to locals and visitors alike. During the summer months, when cruise ships heading to Alaska dock along the waterfront, wise ones stop by early in the day, or stay away altogether on weekend afternoons to avoid crowds. As a French native, I enjoy visiting Pike Place Market because it reminds me, un peu, of Europe. Like many North American markets, however, it is different from its European counterparts: Half of the stalls sell food, fresh produce, and flowers; the other half specializes in local crafts and other items popular with tourists. One thing is for certain: The market’s neighborhood changes throughout the day, the week, and the seasons. It is a wonderful place to people-watch, as illustrated in this article I published a few years ago. If you have never been there, voilà a few iconic sights:
In the belly of Pike Place Market
My favorite section in the old market is underground. It’s a great spot to beat tourist crowds that tend to congregate in the upper level where fresh produce and flowers are displayed. At Pike Place Market, (and in many other places,) it pays to venture below the surface, to scratch the attractive, colorful veneer of the stalls at street level, and go deep in the belly of the beast. There, time has stopped. Gentrification and globalization have not yet taken hold. The old wooden stairs have seen it all, and whether approaching the visit from below (going upstairs from Western avenue,) or from above, off 1st avenue, many surprises await.
There are stores down below that may have been around at the turn of the 20th century after Pike Place Market opened. The Market’s belly is one of these places where you think: “If these walls could talk...” There are intriguing smells. The old wooden floors creak at times, as the sound of footsteps echoes along the long corridors early in the morning. Checking out window displays – we, French, love our lèche-vitrine – offers a chance to travel back in time.
Pike Place Market: A French hub
In this neighborhood, finding France is easy. There are at least two French bakeries and four French restaurants at, or near, the Market. If you follow the French Girl in Seattle Instagram feed, you have seen photos of delicious treats I buy for myself or co-workers (one of my two offices is within five minutes of the Market,) at Le Panier, one of the oldest French bakeries in Seattle. I recently started working downtown part of the week, and have been known to pick up a handful of chouquettes on my way to a staff meeting. Recently, I discovered another small pastry shop specializing in éclairs. Choukette, owned by a French couple, is a cute boutique sitting right below Pike Place Market. The selection is seasonal, and limited. Their designer éclairs are as pretty as they are delicious. Did I mention they also serve coffee… and chouquettes? Prices aren’t cheap; but what is in Seattle these days? (April 2018 update: We are sorry to report Choukette is now closed. Other French bakeries within walking distance of Pike Place Market area include le Panier and la Parisienne. Both offer an excellent selection of French pâtisseries including éclairs.)
Those among you who do not have a sweet tooth can walk less than a block down Western avenue from Choukette, to find the Paris-Madrid grocery store. I have visited the place for many years. In the old days, there were two different boutiques, the Paris Grocery and the Spanish Table. Being a big fan of Spain where I spent some of my best summer vacation as a child with my family, I love visiting the store. It’s like traveling back to the Mediterranean region where we hail from.
Since we are focusing on finding France today, check out part of the selection at the Paris-Madrid grocery store. As you can tell, they cover all the essentials, (with an emphasis on French and Spanish wines,) with a few interesting twists along the way, caught by this French native’s eye.
Our story is coming to an end. All good stories, like an Asterix and Obelix adventure, end around a table, with a good meal, good wine, and good friends. There are quite a few French restaurants to choose from within walking distance of Pike Place Market, yet my favorite remains cozy and welcoming Café Campagne. Whether I go alone, or with old or new friends, I always have a great time there. It’s not quite Paris, but as French bistros go in the United States, it’s pretty close.
The Chef-owner has recently renovated the kitchen. The food, bistro fare, is consistently good. My favorite dish? Les oeufs en meurette, a specialty from Burgundy; but I have been known to stray away from this great brunch dish to order a quiche du jour, moules marinières, or un steak frites (I recommend Campagne’s Freedom Fries. They are to die for, and should be renamed “Fantastic Frites.”)
There are many reliable options in Seattle for diehard francophiles to indulge in their passion: finding France. Over the next few months, in anticipation of the new French Girl in Seattle website to be launched this spring, I plan to check out a few new places, and update stories I wrote over the last few years about local French-themed businesses. This will give some of you a chance to capture that elusive French magic when you visit the Emerald City next. For now, a heartfelt Merci for all your creative and enthusiastic contributions to help me find this blog’s future tagline. I will be announcing the winner(s) of our Giveaway over the next few weeks.
All photos by French Girl in Seattle. Please do not use text or images without permission.