I have a lot of love for my quirky little neighborhood PCC (Aurora represent!). However, with a rooftop seating area, yogurt bar, grain bowl bar and a sit-down cafe, the Ballard location beckons.
As with many grocery stores, there’s a lot available in terms of grab-and-go items. But what’s rare for PCC is a fast-casual restaurant within. The Ballard location is the only one, opening daily at 11 a.m. with a brief seafood-focused menu of just four items.
Choose from seafood cioppino, clam chowder with bacon, and clams or mussels in your choice of a garlic butter sauce or red curry with lemongrass. Each dish is accompanied by a hunk of fresh baguette, butter and a little pile of flaky sea salt.
There are a handful of beer and cider options on tap, as well as wine sold by the glass. However, if you order alcohol, it must be consumed within the cafe eating area — no beers on the rooftop.
We ordered the cioppino ($12) and the mussels with red curry and lemongrass ($12). They’re cooked from scratch in a steam-jacketed oyster kettle that is in full view of the dining area. For the cioppino, a scoop of herbed butter goes in the pot alongside mussels, clams, whitefish and prawns, finished with a ladle of tomato-y broth. The curry starts with a full pound of mussels and a stick of lemongrass, a generous squirt of lime juice and then a ladle of curry broth.
The steam kettle cooks the dishes within minutes. You pay at the counter and your order is brought out to you quickly, set on a tray, complete with silverware and an empty bowl for shells.
Sure, it’s fast-casual — but the flavors are bold and the portion size feels right for the price. The curry mussels were finished with cilantro and a lime wedge, while the cioppino was topped with a spoonful of pistou. The baguette is perfect for sopping up broth — but if you don’t want bread, you can always hit the hot bar for a scoop of white or brown rice.
Which might just be the best part of dining at a grocery store. Still feeling peckish after lunch? We grabbed a scoop of passion-fruit yogurt off the yogurt bar ($8.99/pound) and a couple of cookies from the bakery. Just about anything your heart desires can be found in an aisle and used to round out lunch if you choose to share a dish.
We also ordered a taco salad with pork adobado ($7.99) from the taco bar, but it was overall a little too salty for me. I much preferred the mussels, which were tender, with an assertive amount of lime that I loved. The fish in the cioppino was perfectly cooked, and the prawns retained their snap. The tomato broth was herbaceous with the perfect hint of brininess from all the seafood.
I’m definitely looking forward to summer, grabbing a bowl of mussels or clams and bringing them up to that rooftop for lunch, but for now I’m just as happy to get a little shopping done after eating a steaming bowl of mussels or cioppino.
PCC (Ballard): store: 6 a.m.-11 p.m. daily, restaurant: 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; 1451 N.W. 46th St., Seattle; 206-538-0130, pccmarkets.com/stores/ballard