Wednesday, September 5, 2012

FoodTrek: PAX Snax

You're walking through the downtown streets of Seattle and you catch a glimpse of a demonic-looking clown with a big red wig and glittery nose, sipping a beer on a patio. You turn your gaze to find a leather barding-clad warrior with mech-like gauntlets and an oversized greatsword casually slung over his shoulder as he's waiting for the "walk" sign to change at the crosswalk. But you don't panic. You don't even wonder if your sanity is about to shatter into a million little pieces. You're just making your merry way to the Seattle Convention Center because it's Penny Arcade Expo 2012 (PAX) and you've got three days to party down like a nerdy maniac.

If you hadn't already heard, PAX is the annual video game conference put on over the Labor Day weekend by the creators of the insanely popular web comic, Penny Arcade. You're thinking, "Oh that's quaint, how nice to have a little event so people can play video games and dress up in superhero outfits made of old sheets." Maybe twelve years ago it was quaint, when PAX used to be held in Bellevue's Meydenbauer Center, but since then, it's an anime-spherical-slo-mo-explosion-blast that has created an exponentially larger expo. It attracts all the mega PC and console game companies like Nintendo, Microsoft/XBox, Sega, Ubisoft, Konami, along with numerous smaller, but no less popular game companies, which thereby cause an attendance swarm of around 60-80 thousand people. Yes, that number is fo' reals. It's an epic nerd army descending upon Mordor for three days to get precious playtime on as-yet-unreleased games, attending panels of game industry experts, and one of the rare times you can bust out that handmade Yu-Gi-Oh! costume and not get beat up for wearing it. Granted, I have yet to make it through all three days of PAX -- I made it to the opening day on Friday and was completely overwhelmed by The Great Wall of PAX Attendees. I spent most of Saturday there, but skipped out on Sunday, due to the nearly 14 hours of sleep my body desperately needed.

Revenge of the Nerds - Photos by Wasabi Prime
And the crazy thing is? I don't really play video games. I love tabletop games like Dungeons and Dragons or Dominion, because I'm analog like that, but after losing feeling in my hands after too much time on a Gameboy, I backed off games and left it to the experts. I mostly go to support the Mister and the gang at Runic Games, this year more than ever, since they used PAX as a venue to announce the release of the heavily-anticipated Torchlight II -- September 20th, if you haven't already marked your calendar with a big, squiggly, serial-killer red Sharpie circle.

Torchlight II - highly anticipated by humans and Mutant X carriers alike - Photos by Wasabi Prime
I like attending PAX to see old friends, take some crazy photos and honestly, just spend whatever spare moments I can with Brock, as I'm pretty much in Game Dev Widow purgatory before and during the show. But it's not just spousal duty, PAX is a fun, safe environment where capes, purple hair and battleaxes are the New Normal. People in costumes are pretty cool about getting their photos taken, eager to show off a battle pose -- of course they'd be fine with it, otherwise why else would they dress up? But I appreciate the eagerness to be photographed. And for the most part, attendees are pretty nice, albeit a little shy. You get a wide mix of people who attend PAX: the timid, foot-shuffling gamers who patiently wait in 3-plus hour lines to play a precious 10 minutes of an unreleased game; the attention-seekers who don't even dress in a recognizable costume, they just fly their freak flag and wear something outrageous that screams PLEASE DEAR GOD, LOOK AT ME!; the high-functioning nerds who likely work a corporate job or at one of the game companies, so it's a big networking boondoggle to see old friends; and then there's the self-important douchebags who think the only worthwhile universe is one within the screen, and can't bother to be civil to anyone else. Yes, these mouthbreathers exist and every year I seem to run into a few of them, which gives good, upstanding gamers a bad name. Thankfully the nice and pleasant folks far outnumber the Worthless Trolls.

The most important rule of PAX: DON'T BE A DICK. Or this guy will cleave your ass - Photo by Wasabi Prime
The one thing that kills me every year at PAX is the endless parade of greasy pizza slices and flaccid sub sandwiches. It's an Atkins Nightmare, all the overprocessed carbs floating around the convention center. My Gluten Sense is tingling and it's saying: Stop the Madness! I realize sandwiches and pizza are fast and convenient, but I wouldn't say inexpensive, given the event area/tourist pricing. The Starbucks in the con center is priced higher than the regular Starbucks barely a half block away. The convention center had flyers for food suggestions -- they were always out so I never got a chance to see what their suggestion list was, but I could already guess it was chain restaurant/fast food hell. There's nothing wrong with going to a national chain to grab a bite, but if you're an attendee, not working as a vendor with limited break times, you have an incredible city of deliciousness within walking distance!

It's a world of pure im-a-gin-ation... - Photos by Wasabi Prime
In between taking photos, I use PAX as an opportunity to, as Aziz Ansari would say: Treat Yo Self. I take in my favorite restaurants or spots I'd been meaning to visit, and it's usually at odd hours, so no wait time, just a relaxed cocktail and nosh break. Take note of some of the previous and just-enjoyed PAX lunch/snack break spots that are within reasonable walking distance:

Six Arms Pub - It's a McMenamins brewpub with tasty grub. Sandwiches, burgers, wraps; very casual with funky-cool interiors - great for lunch. Spicy tater tots and a microbeer = primo. About a 10 minute walk uphill from the Con Center, not a typical PAX spot, so not usually crowded. Mentioned in a previous PAX WP post.

Victrola Coffee Roasters - Located near Six Arms along Pike, it's the much-needed upper after a sleepy microbrew downer, as you make your way back down to PAX. Incredible coffee with the strength and power to see you through the rest of the day. If you're coming all the way to Seattle, you absolutely have to get a luxurious latte, topped with a pretty foam design. Mandatory! Mentioned in a previous PAX WP post.

Blueacre Seafood - Off of 7th, barely a stone's throw from the Con Center, you've got a great place for seafood. Don't let the delicious creatures of the sea be reduced to greasy fish n' chips or an excuse to stuff your face with chain restaurant cheese biscuits. The ocean is tasty, and you'll learn to appreciate oysters and shellfish in a new way, as I did at a dinner with friends a while ago, which has continued to bring me back to Blueacre. They also do box lunches, so FYI to PAX booth workers who wish to break free of their soggy club sandwich fate. 

Vessel - Cocktail hour just got more awesome. Just reopened on Olive/7th, it's the famed cocktail bar that will up the ante of spirit-drinking in the main downtown area. Cosmopolitans, no more! I visited Vessel on Friday night, which was comfortably filled with locals and PAX-goers in the know who wanted a damn fine frosty beverage. I need to go back, I spent far too little time here. Will definitely be on the Mister's hit list for post-work cocktail hour and I'll have to join them!

Urbane - Located in the Hyatt, maybe a block away from PAX, they've got a beautiful menu that's deliciously local. I was there Friday night during dinner rush, and while every place was packed, their bar was open and a welcome calm from the PAX storm. You can stick with comfort zone favorites like a hamburger or ooey-gooey mac n' cheese, but give their lamb meatballs and fried chickpeas a try. A just-right amount of food that leaves room for a cocktail (or two). Their Little Negroni is a smoother variation to the classic Negroni, using Aperol instead of bitters.

Bar snacks and cocktails at Urbane - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Chan Seattle - Head towards Pike Place Market, and nestled in the courtyard of the Inn at the Market is this little gem. It opens at 5, so it's perfect for a post-PAX nosh. Delicious Korean food, and don't be afraid if you're not familiar with the cuisine, you can start off with modernized spicy pork or bulgogi beef sliders, as seen on a previous post, and then move on to the more traditional market bi bim bap.

Seattle Coffee Works - Yes, you could see the first Starbucks in the Market, but why not go to a one-of-a-kind coffee shop with powerful brews and a chance to taste and appreciate different beans? Before making the trek back towards PAX, get your favorite coffee drink or wait a spell and have one of their unique cold press coffee drinks. It's worth the wait; the flavor is smooth and less bitter, as heat is what tends to draw out the bitterness of the bean.

Cocktail hour at the Market - get out from behind that computer and get drinking! - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Alibi Room - It's hidden, but use the Gum Wall in Post Alley as your guidepost to finding this place. You could have sad, soggy pizza at PAX or walk down to the Market and grab a table at the Alibi Room and have one of their amazing pizzas made fresh with ingredients right from the Market. Their happy hour goes from 12-6pm on weekends, even more reason to take a break and power-up with something delicious.

Steelhead Diner - Also in the Market, near Chan, this diner is great for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Beautiful view of the water and the menu is a perfect way to appreciate local flavors, whether you're a visitor or a local. As for me, I indulged in the Canadian favorite, Poutine (fries, gravy and cheese curds from nearby Beecher's), and a summery gin gimlet because it was such a sunny, beautiful afternoon.

Steelhead's Poutine - comfort food done right! - Photo by Wasabi Prime
Cafe Campagne - Feeling more like French food than French Fries? Cafe Campagne is another Market spot that I like for lunch or breakfast. It opens early, which is nice if you're downtown before the typical 10am brunch starts. I like their Pâté de Campagne, as seen on a previous post, but if liver isn't your thing, their croque-madame, a grilled gruyere and ham sandwich topped with a fried egg, is like a breakfast sandwich on happy pills. And no one will throw a sidelong glance if you're having a glass of bubbly with breakfast.  

Local 360 - A longer walk, 15-20 minutes, but worth the trip north, towards the Belltown neighborhood. Incredible way to taste the Northwest, as the majority of its menu is regionally sourced and perfectly prepared. Fantastic hamburger and the bacon Bloody Mary is a kick, as seen on a previous PAX post.

Dota Tournament and world-record breaking bubble-blowing for Kirby - Photos by Wasabi prime
This list of foodery/drinkery locales by no means covers every potential meal option -- there are many more places to visit that don't have to include the Golden Arches, and Michael Phelps has enough millions, so skip the meatball sub in lieu of something truly fresh and local. It breaks my food blogger heart to see so many people visiting the cuisine-smart city of Seattle and hitting the "fast food" button when there are so many amazing places nearby. You'll be more likely to find Seattle-based game studio devs and artists sipping small-batch distillery cocktails or microbrews because they know it's the good stuff, and they know life is meant to be enjoyed equally, both in front of and away from the computer screen.

Keep eating all that junk food, you'll wind up looking like these guys - Photos by Wasabi Prime

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