Dinner at Matt's

Customers feel at home in this market hideaway
Kate Chynoweth

More often than not at restaurants, the kitchen is invisible, its colorful banter, fast pace, and delicious cooking aromas all hidden behind a thick swinging door. But eating at Matt's in the Market, a well-loved hideaway on the top floor of the Corner Market Building in Pike Place Market, is like attending a dinner party where everyone crowds into the kitchen, no matter how small a space that happens to be.

On any given afternoon, the 23-seat restaurant's long, narrow room, dominated by its open kitchen, bustles with activity and noise. There's the hiss and spit of pan-frying fish, lunch-counter regulars reaching across their neighbors for more hot sauce, and servers doling out the fare that has turned this place into a local mecca. Customers can't get enough of dishes like wasabi-crusted seared albacore tuna sandwiches, smoked catfish salad, and hearty daily specials like duck and green lentil soup.

Matt Janke, the restaurant's self-described "owner and dishwasher," is right at home in the middle of the hubbub, turning up the volume on his favorite tunes (polka), joking with the cooks, planning menus, and greeting everyone. "I like this place, because everything's within reach," the Washington native says with a laugh.

From the standpoint of its patrons, too, the real beauty of the restaurant is its smallness. Because there's barely any storage space, Janke and his staff make as many as five or six trips down to Pike Place Market each day to buy fresh ingredients. "The market is a way of life," Janke says. He routinely stops to ask vendors for advice on ingredients and to trade stories and gossip. He shops at the market even on his days off, drawn by the consistent quality and the vendors' specialty knowledge. He points out that despite the crowds, this kind of shopping doesn't have to feel like work; one of his favorite methods is to drop off a list with each vendor and adjourn for an afternoon espresso or glass of wine.

The pleasure Janke takes in his job is infectious. Locals often spend entire afternoons in his restaurant, and dinner sometimes evolves into a polka-dancing soiree. Janke admits that there are times when it's hard to close things down at night. "I'll put on hollerin' music when I'm trying to get people to go home," Janke says, referring to Appalachian "songs" that consist mostly of shouting and no instrumentation. "Half the time they like it, though, and then I can never get them to leave."

INFO: After 5 p.m., the Pike Place Market Garage (1531 Western Ave.) offers free parking with validation for those dining at Matt's in the Market ($$; lunch Mon-Sat, dinner Tue-Sat; reservations recommended; 94 Pike St., Ste. 32; 206/467-7909).