Neon lights, new city

by Heather Vandenengel

MAURY ISLAND, VASHON, WA — Neon lights will always feel Western to me. Back East, at least in Boston, neon is reserved for liquor stores and bars. Out West, neon is for everything: bars, coffee shops, grocery stores, churches.

It feels good to be out here, different. The time difference is really throwing me off, but I’m trying to find the advantages of being three hours behind everyone (where everyone = East).

I started in Seattle because I’m WWOOFing on a farm on Vashon Island, just a 20-minute ferry ride from the city. My schedule coincided with when my good friend Courtney was going to be home so I stayed with her and her parents and had a sunny first weekend.

I was 16 the last and only time I was here so it’s always nice to come back to a city once you can enjoy all its booze. I had fresh hop ales at Elysian and Stoup Brewing, a Cider Weisse from 10 Barrel at The Pine Box (a funeral home-turned bar) and a nice smattering of tasters at Reuben’s Brews (the Crikey IPA was my favorite).

A quick note about that: The last time I was on the West Coast was for a trip up California with two good friends. It was about a year after I started getting seriously into craft beer and I tried to visit as many bars and breweries as I could, to the degree that it might have been a bit stressful. I don’t regret doing that, but I’ve relaxed a bit since then and so this trip is not all about visiting breweries and seeking out bars. It will certainly be an element of it, but I have other interests besides beer.

Food, for example, is good and the nice thing about Seattle is that there is not really a distinctive regional food, except fish, and therefore no touristy “must-eat” places. The sandwiches are top notch, however. I had hot sopressata at Salumi in Pioneer Square and the Caribbean Roast, with aioli, pulled pork, lettuce, cilantro, pickled jalapenos and fat grilled onions on the most amazing crunchy bread from Paseo, a pink roadside shack we drove past with a long line out front.

The latter falls under one of my top five sandwiches of all time and it inspired a lengthy technical discussion on what makes a sandwich great: is it greater than the sum of its parts? Or should the quality of each ingredient stand alone? In this case, it’s both. Courtney’s friend Jordan doesn’t like jalapenos, but he likes them on here; Courtney doesn’t like cilantro, but she loved it this time. I like all of the things individually on this sandwich, and even more so all together. Really where I set the bar for a sandwich is satisfaction, in flavor and heartiness, and this one did it.

Other good things I ate: snickerdoodle ice cream affogato, a Hot Cake, Rachel’s Ginger Beer, sushi.

I have more thoughts about Seattle as a city and much more to see, but all in all, I like its vibes. I like the proximity to water, forests and mountains, the numerous book stores and record shops, the laid-back people. The cashier at the ice cream shop told me the one thing I need to do in Seattle is go dancing, which I appreciated, and another barista spent a few minutes telling us about the kinda eclipse and the stars he saw driving in that morning. Both asked how I was doing like it was a real question and genuinely listened to the answer. I do believe that if I stayed out West, I’d be more chilled out and maybe even a nicer person, but that’s probably just wishful thinking.