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Food Network actually did come here

December 31, 2007
The PX parked

The PX in front of Mike’s Chili Parlor

Seattle, like a lot of other cities, has changed a lot in the last decade or so.

Back in the day, most people in Seattle earned a living by doing something that got their hands dirty: building stuff (not just airplanes, either… Todd Shipyards and Kenworth Truck Co. were, and are, significant employers), loading and unloading ships, fishing commercially.

But these days, lots of folks toil in the digital salt mines, lots of folks who used to, cashed out their stock options and retired; the future will likely see most people working in the fields of biotech or philanthropy.

As a native and longtime resident (I’ve lived other places, thankfully) I find my bearings a bit out of whack, what with all the recently-dug big holes and new residential & commercial buildings rising out of them. I mostly wish I’d had it in me to not yield to the classism of the people who surrounded me in my youth, and gone into the construction trades. Last time I checked, electricians made something like $60/hr.

But for me, what sucks the most is the increasing scarcity of places in a reasonable scooting distance where one can get a simple, inexpensive meal. A recent article in the P-I touched on the acute lack of 24-hour eateries, cheap or otherwise.

Passing the scene below, regularly and often, made me realize I needed to stop at Mike’s Chili Parlor, and soon.

Mike’s Chili Parlor

Clichéd as it might sound, walking into Mike’s really is like stepping into a time warp. The decor is totally ad-hoc, and the place used to be smoke-filled, until a recent citizens’ initiative made it against the law. Country music blares from the jukebox, and the menu’s on a reader board, highlighted by the “Big Ass Bowl” of chili ($9.50). Also noteworthy were the extras: cheese and onions are 50¢ each, but abuse is free. It says so, right there.

I go for a bowl, with cheese and onions. No jalapeños, thanks. And a Bud Light, which ironically is served in a pint glass with a big Miller Lite logo.

The bowl arrives, a big pile of minced onions and finely-ground cheese on top of ground beef and beans in a thin brown sauce that’s laced with orange rivulets of grease. A recipe handed down through the generations, this is.

The first spoonful results in a sensation in the back of my throat that’s not unlike having it rubbed with 60-grit sandpaper. As Emeril always says, “oh yeah, baby!” I can only imagine how this would’ve tasted—and burned—with jalapeños.

Like the burgers at Dick’s Drive-Ins, this is how they do it, folks, and it must be working because both places have been around forever. There is a simplicity and honesty here that goes completely against the American-Korean-French fusion place that was about to open in Wallingford a few weeks ago, when Safety Ed and I were in the neighborhood. And the building is a well-used, authentic bit of Art Deco architecture, not some silly retro annoyance.

Before I bought a scooter, I tended to ignore places like this, until I discovered their charms on group rides. Now I seek them out, and try as best I can to support them by eating a meal there once in a while, and by encouraging friends to do likewise.

Just what would American-Korean-French fusion food taste like, anyway? Favicon

  1. December 31, 2007 5:43 pm

    I doubt that the “fusion food” would have the 60-grit appeal of Mike’s. Great post.

    Happy New Year,

  2. December 31, 2007 5:58 pm

    Bill, after talking to the owner of the “fusion” joint, Safety Ed and I speculated about just what American-Korean-French food might be. Our conclusion: $22.00 meatloaf…

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