Shiny new restaurants are a dime a dozen in Seattle, but our old-school, solid-gold greats deserve the love, too — before it’s too late. Well-priced, locally owned, community-centered and timelessly tasty is what we’re after in this series.
Market House Meats: 1124 Howell St., Seattle; 206-624-9248 or markethousemeats.co; 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday.
“Let us know if you’re still hungry!” owner Mazen Mahmoud calls after somebody picking up their order at the counter of Seattle’s Market House Meats. This is a joke, clearly: The beautifully classic, no-frills spot has been making “WORLD FAMOUS CORNED BEEF / SINCE 1948,” and every sandwich comes stacked so high, it takes a champion of appetite to eat the entire thing. Mahmoud prides himself on the amount of meat you get for the price — $12.49 — and on including a big blob of picnic-perfect potato salad, a pickle spear (sometimes two) and a funny little lunchbox-reminiscent sandwich cookie.
Also overheard: “What do you recommend?” “First time? You have to try the Reuben.” Truth — the Market House Grilled Reuben is a masterpiece, served hot with sauerkraut, Swiss and Thousand Island dressing, and while its specially made Franz marbled rye is not entirely equal to holding the bounty together, you’ll never be happier to have meat falling everywhere. (They give you lots of napkins.) The turkey club is also a large-scale paragon of its form, loaded with thin-sliced bird and unruly-curling bacon sticking out the sides; tomato and shredded iceberg may be added at your discretion, along with mayo and yellow mustard from little rectangular packets. If you venture to try “Seattle’s Finest Barbeque Beef Brisket,” be warned: While the brisket’s tender indeed, the barbecue sauce, along with grilled onions, swerves the sandwich toward quite sweet.
The one-story building with the iconic signage is now marooned among new and imminent high-rises in Denny Triangle, and Mahmoud says business from hungry construction workers has balanced out street closures and lack of more permanent patrons. The third owner in the place’s history, he came here from Jordan in 1979, got a degree in civil engineering at the University of Washington, and, in 25 years in the business, has owned multiple Subway and Taco Del Mar franchises along with three Greek restaurants; he and his wife still run the Greek Kitchen in Shoreline. (He’s also very proud of his three kids.) Mahmoud knew nothing about corned beef when he bought Market House a few years back and — brace yourself — considered changing it to another Greek place, but quickly realized what a gem he had on his hands. He says he thought, “This is crazy. Just leave it!”
Max Embry, son of second owner Vic Embry, still works at Market House, and they still brine massive amounts of brisket on-site for three-plus days. Mahmoud takes pleasure in showing off the rosy-pink color of the corned beef you can buy to cook at home for $9.49 a pound. (He knows you can get it cheaper, but the quality — “That’s what makes us.”) Metropolitan Market carries Market House corned beef; now-defunct Goldberg’s relied on it; and also-classic Glo’s on Capitol Hill serves it, as do many other places that would prefer that you assume it’s theirs (including one restaurant group with a very big name). Mahmoud just laughs. He’s fine with that.
St. Patrick’s Day is bananas at Market House Meats. “It’s like Christmas in March for us,” Mahmoud says. Leading up to it, business becomes “nothing but meat.” Day-of, they’ll sell 300 Reubens, easily — a normal day might be a third of that. St. Patrick’s falls on a Sunday this year, and while that’s usually their day off, they’ll be there, from 8 a.m. to 4 in the afternoon.
Mahmoud has expanded the Market House menu a bit — the turkey club is new — and plans to add more seating and dinnertime hours. He also talks about the possibility of opening retail-and-sandwich spots on the Eastside and in the north end. He’s got only the highest praise for his staff: “Fabulous!” he calls them all. He believes that since the parcel of land upon which Market House stands is small, the lease situation is fairly secure; if he ever lost it, though, he’d reopen elsewhere, for sure.
“I’ve owned 11 restaurants, and this is my favorite,” Mahmoud says. “By far.
“I love it. I love this place.”