Say hello to: Anthony Polizzi, chef de cuisine at Pike Place Market’s Steelhead Diner (95 Pine St., Seattle, 206-625-0129, www.steelheaddiner.com) and co-owner of Jus Bar in Columbia City (4908-A Rainier Ave. S., Seattle, 206-420-2535, www.jusbarseattle.com).
How do I know him? I’m a longtime fan of this Steelhead longtimer who’s been running the kitchen since big boss Kevin Davis decamped to open (bigger) sibling Blueacre Seafood (1700 Seventh Ave., Seattle, 206-659-0737, www.blueacreseafood.com). But I only just learned that Polizzi has been having it both ways: serving glorious gumbo and kickin’ fried chicken in Pike Place Market while turning Columbia City on to juice cleanses, soups, salads, sandwiches and smoothies plus hearty specialties like gluten-free lasagna.
What gives, bro? Blame it on Jus Bar’s top banana: his girlfriend, Tiana Garrett. After leaving her post as Steelhead’s GM, Garrett studied business at Seattle Central Community College, explains her resident soup-erman. Among her assignments: locate a business for sale and develop a new plan for the site. Way to do your homework. Hello, Jus Bar. “Once Tiana got in there and talked to the owner,” says Polizzi, “she got all giddy about the prospect of buying it.” And so, in 2012, they bought the joint, and later moved into the upstairs apartment. (“Tiana loves the commute.”)
New year, new leaf. Sell me on the juice thing: “A juice a day will make you feel better. A lot of people think it’s hocus-pocus, but all the ingredients have something nourishing. I’m on a green kick,” says the chef, who favors Jus Bar’s “Green Gift of the Gods” — a blend of kale, parsley, green apple and ginger. “Parsley is high in iron and magnesium, apple flushes the system.” And wouldn’t you rather spend an extra buck or so on a cleansing juice, he asks, “than spend $5 on a coffee that will have you artificially energized with caffeine?”
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Thinking, thinking, thinking: No! Not if I can sip my caffeine at a window table at Le Pichet (1933 First Ave., Seattle, 206-256-1499, www.lepichetseattle.com), where we met up for breakfast, tanked up on Caffe Vita (your secret’s safe with me, pal) and tried not to sob when the table next to us got the last of the house-made brioche. “You snooze, you lose,” sighed Polizzi.
Our Pichet picks: For him: the oeufs plats ($8), aka broiled eggs and ham (“that’s comfort food”) and the salade verte, a bounty of bibb lettuce simply dressed with mustard vinaigrette and toasted hazelnuts ($6). For me: assiette de charcuterie ($12) built with jambon Serrano, two types of salami, saucisson Lyonnaise, smoked ham sausage, pork pate, pork rillettes and langue de boeuf (beef tongue!) for layering over the best baguette in town.
Hooray for Pichet! We’re here because “it’s got a great feel. It’s small, casual, relaxed,” says Polizzi. And if he must, he can dine and dash off to work down the street. Besides, he confides, “It was my first job in Seattle” after moving from L.A. in 2005. He waited tables here part-time while attending culinary school at the Art Institute of Seattle. But first he did a stint as a pantry cook, according to Le Pichet owner/chef Jim Drohman. He remembers Polizzi, who turns 35 this week, as “a sweet kid” whom the dishwashers called “Spider” for reasons that remain undisclosed.
Polizzi’s Pike Place Market must-stops: Don and Joe’s Meats, City Fish, La Buono Tavola, DeLaurenti, Frank’s Quality Produce, El Mercado Latino. He’s been shopping these joints since his civilian days, but “as a chef, these are the people I go back to because I had that contact, that sense of community — where you know who they are and they know who you are.” As for his secret Market haunt? He’ll direct you to World Spice Merchants, which (lest the Market folks harp on either of us) is in fact on the Hillclimb, not in Pike Place Market proper (1509 Western Ave., Seattle, 206-682-7274, www.worldspice.com). “They blend and grind to order, and you can get ingredients you don’t typically see everywhere, like an assortment of curries and masalas.”
Let’s talk pizza: You’re Italian. A New Yorker. Where to? “I like DeLaurenti’s (1435 First Ave., Seattle, 206-622-0141, www.delaurenti.com) because it’s cut square, thicker, a little crispier crusted, Sicilian-style.” Close to home, Columbia City neighbor Tutta Bella gets the nod for its thin-crusted Neapolitan pies (4918 Rainier Ave. S., Seattle, 206-721-3501, www.tuttabella.com).
Royal flush: For a drink and live music, Polizzi grabs his girl and hits The Royal Room (5000 Rainier Ave. S., Seattle, 206-906-9920, www.theroyalroomseattle.com), a cool club offering an eclectic mix of musical styles and bartenders who mix a proper cocktail. Call? “I’m a Manhattan guy,” says the Long Island native who’s partial to Bulleit bourbon. It’s Garrett’s drink, too, though she prefers Bulleit rye — hold the kale and parsley.
Yo, Ant’ny, I gotta ask: You related to Nicole Polizzi, aka Snooki of “Jersey Shore” fame? “No.” Fan or foe? ”She reps the clan badly.”
Nancy Leson is The Seattle Times food writer firstname.lastname@example.org