James Beard Publication of the Year 2017

When Going for Seconds at a Breakfast Buffet, Salad Is Never the Answer

When Going for Seconds at a Breakfast Buffet, Salad Is Never the Answer

Dungeness Crab in the Pacific Northwest

While the rest of America slips into summertime and flip-flops, the Pacific Northwest lingers in what we call Juneuary: the wet, warm, and unpredictable purgatory we endure before arriving at summer. Real summer begins when our dependable sun-filled days are long and luxurious thanks to our northern geography. Until then, we take our chances with the outdoors in Juneuary.

My boyfriend and I had plans to bike a trail that follows old railroad tracks in Snohomish County. We were going, rain or not. The forecast was for clouds. To steel myself for what could be a wet ride, I suggested breakfast at the Eagles Buffet in the Tulalip Resort Casino, not far from the trailhead.

We entered the casino and walked past the lights and ding-ding-ding of slot machines, some of which tempt the human weaknesses for wealth and food with names like ‘Lobstermania’ and ‘Jumpin’ Jalapeños.’

I’m a veteran of the buffet and explain the rules of the eating game to Abe: focus on the novelty items. Round two is the sweet spot. If you’re carrying plate number three, you might have gone too far; proceed at your own belly’s risk. Don’t forget we have to get on bikes after this. He nods and we grab a couple warm plates.

I find the Dungeness crab stacked in ice. The man behind the counter assesses the pile and picks out the cluster with the biggest legs. Steamed hot or served cold, he asked. I take the crab cold, like the Pacific water it came from, and slide a small bowl of hot butter and lemon wedges next to it.

I go next to the carving table and say yes to prime rib and wild salmon. It’s only 10 a.m., so to keep up the appearance of breakfast I add to my plate a buttermilk pancake, a savory potato pancake dotted with scallions, and a raspberry-cheese blintz. I nudge in a small bowl of hot maple syrup, and on the way back to the table I pause at the fruit bar. I make a bowl of melon, pineapple and grapefruit.

A server brought mugs of coffee, and seeing the crab, left packets of wet wipes. We each took a leg and got to work cracking and pulling chunks of sweet crabmeat to dip in butter. Maple syrup from bites of pancake dribbled onto the prime rib in my crowded plate.

I wondered out loud if I should get salad for round two, keep it light for the bike ride. Abe paused from dismantling another crab leg and looked at me. “What’s the fun in that?” he asked.

I went to the buffet and glanced at my watch. I decided it was late enough that it wouldn’t be inappropriate to have a barbecued beef rib.

On our way out, Abe played a few bucks in a slot machine and won $14.
We got to the trailhead and pulled on our rain gear. As I biked down the trail, a spray of rain brushing my cheeks, I thought about how beautifully prime rib and maple syrup go together.

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