Tacoma’s Sixth Avenue neighborhood is designed for food lovers, but on Tuesdays when the Sixth Avenue Farmers Market springs up in the late afternoon, it’s where I head for in-depth “foodsploring.”
A recent trip found Old Milwaukee Cafe selling desserts. There was fresh pie, locally made cheese, ice cream, seafood and produce, too. A caterer called Miss Monica’s Bayou Oasis served Southern fare, and a new startup company called Hilltop Pop Shop had just begun selling its frozen treats there.
What I like is that the market is compact and easy to navigate, and it is just a block from the Tacoma Food Co-op, a store centered on selling Tacoma-made food and products.
A final destination after “foodsploring” on Sixth? Primo Grill for happy hour. The restaurant’s new $5 happy hour menu makes it one of the best deals in town outside of Masa’s all-day happy hour Sundays-Tuesdays (in the bar, they’re across Sixth from Primo) and Pacific Grill’s half-price bar happy hour all day, every day, in downtown Tacoma.
I popped in to Primo Grill on a recent market day and found a redesigned happy hour menu of 13 $5 eats offered from 4 to 6 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. (There’s a late-night happy hour, too.) Select wines by the glass are discounted to $5 and beer at $3.50.
On the happy hour menu that started in June are compact versions of popular appetizers from the dinner menu as well as dishes only found at happy hour. The wood-fired oven, on display in the heart of the dining room, remains the soul of the smoke-tinged menu, creating the mini pizzetas, smaller versions of Primo Grill’s famous wood-fired pizza, some of the best of that type of pie in town. Our $5 pie showed up with a chewy crust with real tug and blistery edges – the fire-licked crust always tastes better than anything made in a plain old oven. Spicy marinara tasted more bright than zippy and kalamata olives dotted the pie that came blanketed with just enough cheese to consider it a pizza. Best five bucks I spent that week. I recognized the mussels with curry from the dinner appetizer menu. The $5 portion was generous considering the briny bivalves came from Totten Inlet’s Kamilche Sea Farms. The cream curry sauce reminded me of a Thai style green curry – it was velvety smooth, thick with basil, and worthy of continuous dunking. We asked for extra bread to do just that. Garlic shrimp were snappy fresh, flanked by a smoky Moroccan pepper puree, preserved lemon and a side of flatbread.
For first-time visitors to Primo Grill, happy hour proves an affordable introduction to the food of chef-owner Charlie McManus, who has operated Primo Grill with his wife, Jacqueline Plattner, since October 1999.
They also own Crown Bar, just down the street, which they opened in September 2007. Consider McManus and Plattner the mom and pop of the Sixth Avenue food scene – they opened Primo Grill a solid half decade before it became the restaurant and nightclub destination that it is now.
Primo Grill is a Mediterranean restaurant drenched in Northwest flavors and ingredients. Of all the restaurants in town, I find Primo Grill one of the most consistent in offering locally grown and raised bounty, explained competently by the menu and servers. McManus currently is cooking with produce form Tahoma farms, pigs raised by Tacoma farmer Cheryl The Pig Lady and chicken from Mad Hatcher in Ephrata. Sister business Crown Bar does the same – I recall local berry cocktails last summer, something McManus said is being repeated on the bar menu this summer with fruit from Tahoma Farms.
Tip: The restaurant also offers around 25 cooking classes a year. Check their website for the schedule.
Where: 601 S. Pine St., Tacoma
Info: 253-383-7000 or primogrilltacoma.com
Hours: Serving happy hour 4-6 p.m. Mondays-Fridays, 8-10 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 9-11 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays. Serving dinner 4-10 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 4-11 p.m. Fridays, 5-11 p.m. Saturdays, 4:30-9 p.m. Sundays.
Sixth Avenue Farmers Market
Where: Sixth Avenue and North Pine streets, Tacoma
Hours: 3-7 p.m. every Tuesday through September