Eating out on the town back in the day

Eating out on the town back in the day

Eating out on the town back in the day

Growing up in Riverton Heights was all country, and people were mostly on the poor side. It was the tail end of the Depression and World War II loomed ahead. On hot summer days the youngsters ran around barefoot in bib overalls. Going out to eat was a real thrill, but it meant donning proper attire.

Dad, Mom and I headed way north on Highway 99 just beyond what is now Pier 70 to a small house on the water’s edge. It was once the family home but now was called Lil’ Ocean House. They served all kinds of seafood, catering to the hard-working blue-collar folks. 

We waited on a covered porch to be seated indoors in the front room.  So many delights to choose from but what stood out were the scallops deep-fried in a light batter to a golden brown—what a taste! I believe Ivar’s prepared them that way in the ‘50S, but I haven’t seen any since. Pan-fried is palatable but deep-fried is far superior. 

When war broke school kids were kept up to date with the “Weekly Reader” probably the first “Fake News.” It was mostly fluff saying the world was fine and life was good—no real war news—to protect our innocence. To further placate, mom and dad took me to the Triple X drive-in. A waitress would bring delectable food to the car, like a big Triple X root beer in a frozen mug, a burger half wrapped in wax paper to control the dripping and French fries with remnants of the peeling.

Meat and poultry shortages were becoming common, but seafood was plentiful just about everywhere.

Since meat was rationed it was always savored. Of course, there was Spam, which we tolerated. During WWII the Public Market sold meat that was rumored may have come from a questionable source: Long Acres.

Rarely was food left on anyone’s plate. Seattle residents were members of “The Clean Plate Club.” It was frowned upon to leave food on the plate while tables were being cleared — people would stare.

At home I was pretty good at eating everything on the plate except for parsnips or other such vegetables. A typical refrain from me was, “Mom, I am full and don’t have room for (whatever vegetable I could not abide)” to which she replied, “You just sit there until you do have room!” What kind of logic was this?

Before long a friend would stop by on his bike and yell, “Hurry, Dick! You’re second base!” The undesirable items on my plate were now cold and even less appetizing than before. After a bit of thought, I took one for the team and finished it off. 

Cauliflower, rutabagas, parsnips, etc., I can eat now no problem as long as there is a juicy T-bone pan-fried in an iron skillet with a sprinkling of garlic salt next to them.

Soon restaurants became more plentiful and improvements on service were noticed as well. I shared a houseboat on Lake Union with four roommates. Next door were two elderly ladies who were great neighbors and held many parties. One owned a steakhouse on Fairview, which was one of the first to offer an all-you-can-eat salad bar. She’d say, “When you start the salad bar I’ll put your steak on!” This became a time-saver for the waiting customers in the early ‘50s.

The Flame Restaurant in Kirkland followed suit and showed the various cuts of meat on platters and, after choosing one, they’d say basically the same thing, “When you start the salad bar, we’ll put your steak on!” A similar restaurant popped up near Northgate and later the Hindquarter in Leschi (now Blu Water Bistro) got in on the act. Metropolitan Grill is still a winner, displaying their cuts of meat in a glass case, offering a decent assortment of drinks and eats from 3-6 p.m.

The best invention ever was the happy hour. Downtown Seattle near Seventh and Union was the French Quarter, later named Embers by Stuart Anderson of Black Angus fame. Embers served great food with a quiet atmosphere, but from 4-8 on Friday nights the first TGIF Club formed in the rear behind smoky one-way mirrors. At the same time Stuart introduced the upscale Gold Coast on Second and Stewart.

Once inside the various establishments, there were friends from all over, including Madison Park. It was a great way to end the work week. Well drinks were 50 cents. The Maverick’s Club charged $2, which allowed admission to many bars with happy hours. Many will remember Rossellini’s Four-10 started in 1956 by Victor Rossellini, cousin to Albert Rossellini, who was governor at the time. 

Rosellini brought the first lounge act to town, and he was the first restaurateur of note to see potential in the sketchy latitudes now known as Belltown (where he relocated the Four-10 when its original Fourth and University building was demolished to make way for the Rainier Tower).

Single and married folks met on Friday nights in search of a fairly priced cocktail and perhaps a friendship or two. Business cards belonging to those “on their way up” flashed along with the well-rehearsed pickup line. 

There was a new guy who joined my particular group of friends, dressed up like the rest of us in a suit and tie. He said he was a sanitary engineer, which sounded cool. He was on his second week of apprenticeship as a garbage collector, and his route hours were 11 a.m. to early the next morning. We saw him on the job a couple of times after leaving El Gaucho on Seventh and Union around 1 a.m. ,where we totally gorged on the “Hunter’s Breakfast.” He recognized us and waved. 

Turn off that TV! Forget the news!  So much to discover! Walk around our great neighborhood or hop a bus and see what’s new downtown!