I’m at that vintage age where I remember cruising Bob’s Big Boy in East Pasadena, California in the 1950s, stopping in for a burger and vanilla coke to show off my three-quarter race, highly customized 1946 Ford convertible with white leather tuck-and-roll upholstery and lots of chrome under the hood. It was the “scene” in 1950’s Southern California and I, with my hot rod and my surfboard, was right in the middle of it. I thought of this in connection with a recent post on the Greater Boston Area Board asking the question: “How do you get to the culinary heart of a city?” Was Bob’s, back in the 1950s, part of the “culinary heart” of Pasadena, or just part of the cultural, but not the culinary, heart?
Does Seattle have a “culinary heart?” We certainly get lots of requests from visitors looking for a unique Seattle culinary experience, and there has been lots of advice given along these lines on this Board. There is a contingent, for example, that pushes Dick’s Drive-In as a special Seattle experience. It is true that Dick’s is locally owned and since its founding in 1954 has been a hang out for teenagers and young folks. But does this make Dick’s part of a unique Seattle experience that is different from local hangouts for teens and young folks anywhere else in the country – the Bob’s Big Boy of my youth, for example?
Perhaps the “culinary heart” of a city doesn’t have to claim uniqueness, in the sense that it doesn’t exist in other cities. The many Italian restaurants in Boston’s Little Italy, for example, aren’t that different from Italian restaurants in other cities, but that doesn’t make them any the less part of the “culinary heart” of Boston. Even so, it’s hard to think of a burger joint as part of the culinary heart of any city, including Seattle. Burgers are just too ubiquitous. So how do you get to the culinary heart of Seattle? Salmon? -- even though most of it comes from Alaska, just like the Alaskan salmon served throughout the USA. Our locavore restaurants? -- even though locavore restaurants are common in other cities. I know that we Seattle Chowhounds periodically struggle with this issue, either explicitly or implicitly, and I have more questions than answers as I think about it. But the phrasing of the question on the Boston Board was particularly elegant, I thought, and brought the issue back to mind in a slightly sharper focus.