In the dead of winter, brightens up the shoreline at Gene Coulon Park. In the throes of spring, diners gather in sunshine at picnic tables like hungry sea gulls. A franchise of 31 seafood bars and three full-service waterfront dining rooms, this is the grand-daddy of Northwest seafood restaurants thanks to iconoclast Ivar Haglund.
The more I learn about Ivar, the more I am fascinated... Ivar's Scandinavian grandparents purchased Alki Point in 1869 from Seattle pioneer Doc Maynard. According to HistoryLink.org, Ivar's father was a vagabond baker who 'had jumped ship in Port Townsend and hidden in the woods.' So it comes as no big surprise that Ivar Haglund was to make his business start with a carnival-like waterfront aquarium.
Ivar was a musician at heart, but in opening an aquarium on Pier 54 on downtown Seattle's waterfront, he soon needed to offer fish and chips to his hungry audience. A star was born, and not the kind he expected. Ivar's illustrious career continued when he bought the Smith Tower in downtown Seattle. The Chinese Room (atop Seattle's tallest building west of the Mississippi before the Space Needle) was furnished with finds from Ivar's steamship trip to the 'Orient' in 1976.
Appearing on the ballot in a 1983 election prank, Ivar Haglund was appointed Seattle Port Commissioner, the sign of a true Northwest legend. He died of a heart attack getting out of bed in 1985, just before his 80th birthday. His legend lives on.
Renton's hosts one of Ivar's Seafood Bars, in what some call the most scenic location. With the snow-capped Olympics in the distance and Lake Washington at your feet, this is fast food with a million-dollar view.
The Good, Bad, And Not-So-Much:
AHOY: Wild Alaskan Salmon Chowder $3.99 8-ounce bowl
Fire-roasted corn kernels and chunks of smoked salmon make this tomato and cream-based soup delectable come rain or shine. No saltines required.
SMOOTH SAILING: Caesar Side Salad with Crab $7.28; Ivar's Super Combo $7.99
The Caesar Crab Salad is not on the menu, but the kitchen obliged at my request. They charged me for a Crab Cocktail ($5.29), and instead of serving the seafood in a plastic cup, they placed a huge portion of fresh Dungeness on top of my Caesar salad ($1.99). I had to show pictures to my friends to make them believe what a deal it is. The Caesar itself is standard fare.
Ivar's Super Combo lands you a piece of their battered Pacific True Cod, fried clam strips, battered baby prawns and a handful of fries. Ivar's fried cod is what started it all--this is the original recipe from 1938. You get a tender chunk of battered white fish, golden clams and sweet baby prawns, skin-on potato shoestrings, and all sorts of sauces to christen your paper boat. Ivar's serves their own pepper vinegar, malt vinegar and tartar sauce.
ABANDON SHIP: Red Clam Chowder $3.49 8 oz cup; Halibut N' Chips $15.79
In placing our order, the Ivar's staffer said, "You know that's fifteen dollars, right?" "We Need to tell you that," chimed in her counter-mate. Yes... Right now the first of the season Alaskan halibut has arrived, caught on Ivar's own vessel, the Katie Ann. Fried, it's a waste. Thin and dry in comparison with the cod.
As for the Clam-hattan Red Clam Chowder, initially I was not a fan. My leftovers pleased me much more when not compared side by side with the surprisingly slurpable Wild Salmon Chowder.
Spring is here... Come be a part of a Northwest tradition and enjoy the view at Gene Coulon Park with a side of clams.