While driving around after a Sunday breakfast at The Tides in Gig Harbor, we scouted out some other interesting places to eat. I contacted a friend of mine and after discussing the possibilities, we set up a dinner date for the two of us and our wives. The MarketPlace Grille is sandwiched between Anthony's (on the left) and Devoted Kiss (on the right). Peg and I like both of them. My buddy, Jeff Wilbert is a contractor specializing in building and remodeling custom homes in Gig Harbor and Fox Island. His company is J Wilbert Fine Homes.
Jeff actually owns the building the MarketPlace Grille is in and has been renting the space for about eight years. Two narrow buildings had been joined sometime in the deep, dark past. The building sits on pilings and has been a fixture at that end of the harbor for many, many years. In his single days Jeff lived in the apartment beneath the restaurant, almost directly on the water.
When we arrived, Peg and I walked into the opening hallway and were greeted by a nicely positioned, stained-glass leaded window giving a preview of the glorious view to come.
The hallway leads down to the apartments, while doors at the top of the stairs lead to the main dining room of MarketPlace Grille (left door) and the kitchen and a very small dining room (right door) where we went. It was cool when we came, but the heat from the kitchen and late afternoon sun of a beautiful day made me almost reconsider my choice.
We wound our way around the kitchen area to what would have once been a back porch . . . a small back porch.
There were five empty, mismatched tables. We chose the one we thought would accommodate the four of us and sat down. The table was next to a window that provided a nice cool breeze, as well as a glorious view.
As we looked at the various Formica-topped kitchen tables from the fifties and the worn condition of the walls, I remembered that Jeff had described the decor as "funky”. Goodwill Industries might be closer to the mark. Peg grew up in a house with a red and white Formica table in the kitchen where all six kids (at that time; another was to come) and parents ate all meals. She has it in her art room now.
In my various travels around the country, I often look for places off the beaten track; some of my favorite food memories took place in the unassuming places like we see on Food Channel's Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, so I held back any assumptions.
The one bright note in the decorating scheme at the MarketPlace Grille was their wall lamp. It's a metal sculpture of overlapping salmon. The glow of the bulbs behind the fish spills out around them and their speckles and markings provide extra pin-holes of light. Very nice.
Now, from my description, you may think that I didn't feel comfortable or didn’t find the restaurant appealing. Not so. The additional dining room across the hall had more room, but was devoid of panache. I'm glad we chose the first one. Relief from the cramped quarters was provided by picture windows that looked towards the mouth of the harbor with Mt. Rainier peeking above the Douglas Firs that frame the entrance to this lovely, secluded harbor, just minutes from our North Tacoma home. Relief was also provided the cheerful and personable owner, Carleen, and the tasty food.
Jeff and Judi joined us and the fun began. Peg and I had never met Judi before, a self-confessed good cook. We ordered some appetizers and then got acquainted. Judi and Jeff had just returned from a short boat trip.
I think the very informality of the restaurant made it easy to chat and learn more about each other.
We ordered the calamari appetizer. It was served brown and crispy and yummy. The rings were tender and not overly coated. They came with a lemon garlic aioli. The sauce had a nice zest to it, but perhaps a little too salty. If they had razor clams cooked the same way, I would eat there as often as I could get there!
You can't eat the view, but the view can certainly improved the dining experience. Munching on calamari, sipping on wine, beer, and lemonade and drinking in the view made for a relaxing evening.
The salmon spread appetizer would have been improved with chewier bread, so I would pass on that next time. The Grille was out of crab cakes, coconut prawns, and scallops. Knowing what they have on their menu, I think next time I'll call ahead and reserve scallops and crab cakes, seeing that seafood is our favorite dinner out, or at home. The cakes come with a mango and peach salsa, which was calling to me, just not delivered. In the future with a group of four I might order the two pounds of steamed clams for $17.99 for sharing. But, I would worry they'll serve the same French bread that came with the salmon spread. I like good crusty bread for dunking in broth.
Jeff and Judi were easy to talk to. They've been married sixteen years.
The Wilberts obviously love each other. Judi loves to cook, but makes sure the food is healthy for them. Peg does the same; however, it looks as if Jeff may listen more than I do.
We had a great time talking about food, wine and restaurants.
An upcoming trip to Seattle ignited comments of Judi's favorite places, and our favorite places. Of course all this does is make me more hungrier in anticipation.
I know Jeff and Judi love each other because they boat together. Being confined on a small boat for weeks at a time can cause friction no matter what. Jeff has owned the Zaftig for just a little longer than he and Judi have been together (over thirty years). The Zaftig (far right sailboat) was tied up less than a hundred yards away, part of our harbor view.
We look forward to a little cruise aboard the Zaftig. Jeff had invited us to join them before or after dinner, but afterwards I knew my pillow would be calling me and prior to dinner we had our bathroom sink being repaired by Bob Larson Plumbing, my favorite plumbers in the Sound Puget Sound area.
"Zaftig" is a German word describing a pleasantly plump female figure.
Judi ordered the Peppered Prawn Salad for dinner. It was beautiful and came with coconut lime vinaigrette and a citrus dressing that the diner combines to their taste.
The fresh fruit and greens looked refreshing, but the prawns actually had my name on them. Oh, well . . . I can't try everything the first time around. We'll just have to return.
MarketPlace Grille is very popular with the salad set. They highlight them in a sign at the front of the building. I might share the Peppered Prawn Salad with Peg next time. They have a chalk board on the street with the daily salad specials.
Both Peg and I ordered the fried oysters. We would have preferred to have one of us order oysters and the other scallops, because we share the bounty, but we don't always get what we want.
Peg had her oysters served with white rice and vegetables, and left all the unadorned rice. I had the potato chips and vegetables. Both of us loved the vegetables, but I thought the potato chips should have some tasty sauce served with them. Owner Carleen suggested ketchup, but that pedestrian choice didn't appeal to me. Judi gave me her little tumbler of citrus dressing and that really sparked up the house-fried potato chips. The left-over aioli from the calamari worked well, too. The chips were good, but they needed just one little touch to make them unique and unforgettable.
We had a rich chocolate cake for dessert, served with four forks. Everyone had a bite or two but there was a were two bites leftover. Chocolate is always a nice, rich way to end a meal. Of course the cake brought up comments about places for our favorite desserts in Seattle. Judi mentioned a Tom Douglas restaurant gingerbread bread pudding that has been chewing around in my mind for the last twelve hours.
Just around the bend of the harbor at the Skansie Brothers Park, the Gig Harbor Tuesday Night Concert was revving up. Except for missing the wonderful view at the MarketPlace Grille, the thought popped into my mind that items from their take out menu spread out on a picnic cloth just a mile away on this fantastic August evening, would have given us an unforgettable dining experience . . . oh, well . . . next time.
We had a great evening with Jeff and Judi Wilbert. Owner Carleen had been attentive, suggesting wines, and food. We laughed with her . . . a lot. Jeff explained that they would like to open up the street side front walls with overhead sliding doors, which would offer a French cafe sidewalk dining experience, cool breezes and wonderful evenings. You can't always wait for dreams, however. We'll return, anyway . . . but reserve the scallops and crab cakes in advance.